Marketers look over their shoulders as recession hits
So we’re officially in a recession. That explains those paranoid marketers looking nervously over their shoulders. They know what’s coming.
Most businesses treat marketing as a discretionary expense, making it an easy target for budget cutters. It’s as if marketing is a luxury afforded only when times are flush. Less customer demand, less we can afford marketing, or so conventional thinking goes.
But really, can we ever afford not to market?
It’s natural to want to preserve cash during a downturn. I was an employer for nearly 14 years, so I’m sympathetic. But the tendency is to make deep cuts in marketing when sales head south. Companies often start by reducing or eliminating outside expenses, such as advertising, events, sponsorships, research. And when that’s not enough, they lay off marketing employees, sometimes the entire department.
The net effect of gutting marketing is to stifle generation of customer awareness, demand and retention just when these things are needed most. It’s a penny-wise, pound-foolish decision.
Management guru Peter Drucker contended, “There is only one valid definition of business purpose: to create a customer…Because its purpose is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two-and only these two-basic functions: marketing and innovation.”
Drucker believed “true marketing” starts with customers, including their demographics, realities, needs, values. “It does not ask, What do we want to sell,” Drucker writes. “It asks, What does the customer want to buy? It does not say, This is what our product or service does. It says, These are the satisfactions the customer looks for, values, and needs.”
Notice, he doesn’t equate marketing with branding, advertising and promotion, as it has come to be broadly perceived and practiced today. Above all else, the marketing function is about engaging, understanding and pleasing our customers. It involves deep listening to customer needs and then helping the business respond with innovative products and solutions that satisfy those needs better than the competition. A recession might curtail how much you spend on marketing, but the function remains essential under all economic conditions.
If you’re contemplating cuts to your marketing program, ask yourself this: Do I truly understand my customers, their needs, their values? And is my company converting that understanding into innovative products and services that my customers value over other choices in the marketplace?
If the answer is no on both accounts, then it’s time to restructure and refocus your marketing efforts so they perform their function. Sure, you may need to trim spending here and there in marketing. Taking an ax to it, however, is your worst move. You’ll only sever connections with customers when you can least afford to lose touch.
If you answer yes to the questions, pat yourself on the back. Your marketing is doing its job. So why mess with what’s working? Find ways to preserve the people and the processes you use to market. They are more valuable than ever as the recession tightens its grip and each customer becomes more precious.
Devotion to sustainability as a company doesn’t exempt you from the fundamental need to market in bad times as well as good. In fact, there’s never been a better time to distinguish your company from the competition and prove your relevance to customers. You’re part of the solution to what ails us. Time to let the world know!