When Hard Times Return, What is Your Brand’s Respond-Ability?

Run and hide, or reboot and rule? With forecasters falling over each other to predict just when in 2020 the feces will hit the fan, it’s best to reflect on how a recession might affect your business; and, more importantly, what you’re going to do about it.

One thing is certain: you can’t control the outside forces that shape the macro-economy. But you do have the opportunity to control how you respond to those events. It’s your respond-ability that will make the difference.

Why Wait for a Recession to Bolster Your Brand?

The first order of respond-ability is to avoid over-reaction and procrastination, particularly when it comes to your branding and advertising efforts.

On the subject of over-reaction, smart companies don’t slash their marketing budgets when the economy tanks. They stay the course knowing that weaker-minded players will follow the herd and turtle up, cut back and hide. Big mistake.

When the economy does turn around, brands that stayed relevant and kept building on the relationships they’ve created with their brand community, will have grown their market share. Meanwhile, their competitors will be stuck playing catch up.

As for procrastination, waiting for a slump to hit before you invest in your brand is like ordering the lifeboats from your supplier after you’ve hit the iceberg.

Now is the time to assess the strength of your brand strategy and corresponding brand messaging and imagery. The end result is to develop and deploy a compelling brand narrative that presents your product or service with energy, optimism and currency, provided it’s based on the fundamental truths or core values that define your brand.

A man who stops advertising to save money is like a man who stops a clock to save time.

Henry Ford

Explore, Discover and Re-Affirm Your Brand Purpose

The second fundamental of respond-ability is clarifying the purpose for your brand.

Start by assessing your core values. What does your brand stand for? Will your values and your fundamental business proposition endure in a shifting economy?

The digitally addicted, knowledge-based and trust-deficient consumer, that every business is dealing with today, is looking for promises they can believe in and buy into. These people are searching out and evaluating the promises you’re making and counting on you to deliver.

So it’s vital that you fully understand and support your selling proposition to ensure it’s firmly based on the defining values that motivate your business in the first place.

A proven way to evaluate your core values is in a workshop setting like the one we offer at Blade. (Learn more here.) What you want out of that investment is a clear understanding of what your brand stands for, along with the strategic framework you’ll use to get the message out there. That is the essence of respond-ability.

Engage Your Customers and Competitors 

One further way to enhance your respond-ability is to enlist your brand community in the discussion around your brand. Survey your customers to assess their engagement in your brand and invite suggestions from them on how you can better serve them. Then act on those suggestions.

Also, review your key competitors to discover the gaps in their offerings and how you might fill that gap with your product or service. Innovation is best applied in a business if it’s part of your culture, not just a once in a while reaction to a threat.

Content is King – and Queen

Now more than ever, content rules. And you need to play by the rules because everything that delivers the story of your brand – websites, social media, traditional and digital ads, media releases, events or inflatable purple gorillas – is content. The most effective content creates emotions in the recipient, causes those people to think about their feelings, and encourages them to explore the supporting truths about your brand.

The most effective content reinforces your values, rings true with your brand community and reaches both existing and prospective buyers.  Keep the content soft on hype and high on value. Better to be useful and motivational than constantly pitching product for price.

Keeping your brand messaging and imagery fresh and current is an essential way to keep your brand community interested and engaged. Take the time to fully understand how your key branding platforms are working to build community – and how well your messaging and imagery are getting the job done.

Dive deep into your web presence, including all touch points like your website and social media feeds; assess who’s visiting your brand online, how they found you, and what they’re telling you – and their friends – about your brand.

This due diligence will produce a “state of the brand” summary that should provide a clear view of where your brand is at; and what updates are required to keep messaging and imagery stimulating and relevant.

Key Content Tips:

In a recessionary environment, consumers are more anxious and even less attentive than usual, so …

  • Tilt toward more reassuring messaging.
  • Offer helpful advice and show empathy.
  • Present your brand as a trusted ally during tough times.
  • Confront any pricing issue to demonstrate your transparency.
  • Re-emphasize your value proposition.

Unless of course your sole motivation in business is to buy people’s old jewellery. OOOH Yuck!

Rationalize Media Investments for Results

Car maker Henry Ford had to say about the subject of investing in advertising: “A man who stops advertising to save money is like a man who stops a clock to save time.”

Curbing your ad budget is certainly an option when times get tough. However, it will invariably lower your profile and might signal abandonment when your customers are searching for you and find nothing.

Target your ad spending in platforms where you can measure activity and results. Sure, be ruthless about your spend. But keep investing.

Measurement is a critical component in the delivery of your brand messaging and imagery that will tell you how well your investment is performing. If you’re working with an agency, demand transparency and detail. If you’re not clear on something, ask for an explanation and never accept anything less than a comprehensive brand ecosystem report.

Some key metrics to demand in your brand ecosystem report should include:

  • Top referring sites to your websites
  • Number of pages and duration of visit
  • If you offer downloads, how many people are requesting your content?
  • If you’re on social media, are people just glancing at your messaging and applying a cursory “like” to it; or are they engaging and consuming the content – or sharing it with their own comments?
  • If you’re investing in Google Adwords, access the advanced tools on their desktop to understand the scope of competitive opportunities you could exploit to push your ads to the top of the page.
  • Also, ignore any agency’s promise that they’ll get you on the first page guaranteed. The hard truth about that empty promise is that unless you PAY to get there, it’s not going to happen.

How MUCH you’ll pay depends on how good your agency is at understanding the dynamic Google landscape – and how the kind of keywords you select will drive traffic and leads.

Most importantly, measure your efforts at least monthly, so you can optimize and redeploy.

Embrace Respond-Ability – Inside and Out

If you’re ready to update your brand’s respond-ability be mindful that, whatever state it’s in, you can’t turn it around in a few days.  It shouldn’t take months on end either; but give yourself the time to do it right.

Apart from the money and time you’ll need to invest, it’s just as important to have the willingness within your own corporate culture to invest in skillful and compelling branding initiatives.

Branding reaches every part of your business, inside and out, so getting your own team enlisted is a critical first step. After all, opportunities to grow your business are right inside your company with your motivated and committed staff.

When in Doubt, Act!

Fretting about the future is a lot like waiting for a bus that’s never coming. Keep your focus on the “now” … and keep your vision on the future you want to create. Investing in your brand and branding, will help you shape that future. That’s what respond-ability is all about.


Wayne S. Roberts

The Globe and Mail calls Wayne S. Roberts "an ad industry provocateur." Maybe its because he's never seen the point of playing by the ad game rules that place awards above results, while offering spec work instead of real value to win accounts. Throughout his career, Wayne has maintained a defiantly independent streak characterized by his insistence that agencies must be honest, direct and passionately invested in their clients' success. His pioneering work in espousing the brand community perspective has been a touchstone of his belief that branding is more than just logos, websites and ad campaigns; it is the fundamental way human beings connect with each other to create communities and launch movements that have changed our world.

Wayne S. Roberts has 52 posts and counting. See all posts by Wayne S. Roberts

Wayne S. Roberts