It's not uncommon during difficult economic times for companies to go into survival mode. The focus naturally turns inward—companies cut costs and conserve cash; figure out how to function more efficiently and improve internal processes; and challenge their employees to “do more with less.”
Considered “discretionary spend,” budgets for marketing, advertising, PR and research are often the first to get cut when financial times get tough. Innovation is put on the back burner, and a common question heard in the hallway is: How can we save 20%?
What should be asked is: What would you do with an additional 20%?
When the majority of an industry puts innovation to the side, the outcome is a wonderfully quiet backdrop for others that dare to focus externally—to listen, innovate, build and deliver new messages, products and services that fulfill customers' needs.
Bold companies took the opportunity to innovate during the Great Depression and through subsequent recessions—from Apple and its iPod to Kellogg's Rice Krispies, Chrysler's Plymouth, Kraft's Miracle Whip and ConAgra's Healthy Choice frozen meals. As a result, they came out on top.
A major opportunity exists around innovating during a down economy. When the world bounces back, those companies that have been hard at work investing, building and developing are already creating momentum with their news, rather than scrambling to catch up.
At the end of 2008, when it was evident that the aviation industry was going to get hit hard and suffer the backlash of negative perceptions, my company, CitationAir, for the first time decided to double our marketing spending and embark on a company relaunch.
Why? We recognized that companies that embrace change show strength at a time when customers want stability. They have something positive to communicate at exactly the time their customers want to hear from them. They display leadership qualities at a time when the marketplace is looking for leaders. And they offer up solutions that strengthen loyalty among their most valuable customers.
For CitationAir, the result has been significant. In the first year of our reorganization, inquiries quadrupled, the number of Jet Card hours sold increased by 34% (over the previous year) and our relationship with Cessna Aircraft Co. was cemented with our full acquisition in February 2010. Our employees and customers felt that, more than ever, CitationAir was where they belonged.
And that is enough reason to believe that focusing “up” in a “down” economy is the right direction in which to head.
Steven F. O'Neill is CEO of CitationAir by Cessna. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.