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Words of wisdom from a web of voices

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"Should your marketing messages reference the harsh economy or not?”

A few weeks back, I posted this question on my Facebook and LinkedIn social networks. Within two days, I'd received dozens of thoughtful responses (nearly all from LinkedIn). Marketers, agency executives and former publishing colleagues — not to mention a relative or two and some pals on Facebook—shared their opinions.

Was there a consensus? Not really. But there was a common theme: Marketing messages must be relevant. Campaigns that use the awful recession for borrowed interest—itself a pun, given the dreadful state of the U.S. economy—will, and should, fail, many suggested.

The following, edited for space and in no particular order, are some of the replies:

“Context is everything. If your product in some way helps customers deal with the economic fallout, or save money, then absolutely—it's a positioning point. ”—Chris Kenton, founder and CEO, SocialRep

“The economic situation is obvious and unavoidable. Everyone expects b-to-b companies to react and respond.” —Danny Flamberg, managing partner, Booster Rocket

“Real case studies that show cost reductions or quicker/better ROI may be the way to retain the attention of the overworked, underbudgeted, overwhelmed [customers]. Ultimately the product or service that a marketer offers should prove its value in both good times and bad.” —Joseph Zuccaro, Marketing & Sales Consigliere

“My gut response is this: Hell no. People are already scared about the economy. Adding to their fear around it in the marketing of your product isn't going to make them buy it, much less like you.” —Josh Kamler, creative director and principal, Language in Common

“Stay away at all costs if you're stretching, trying to put a value face on a premium product. This smacks of the "greenwashing' that has happened around environmental messages, which only served to engender skepticism and alienate buyers.” —Michael O'Toole, president, PJA Advertising+Marketing

“If your product or service can help someone or some company deal with the economic downturn, mention it—perhaps prominently. If it does not, you are probably going to have fewer sales anyway.” —Mark Amtower, member, board of governors, Tower Club

“As someone dealing with clients one-on-one, I usually let them bring it up. What I have to offer definitely stands to help them recover lost revenue. But I'm not a fear-monger, and they don't need me to tell them they're losing money. Maybe they're not.” —Tennyson E. Stead, 8 Sided Films/Unified Pictures

“To not acknowledge the condition of the environment [market] is not just the equivalent of burying one's head in the sand. It's literally missing a huge opportunity to demonstrate where your product can provide unique antidotes to whatever is ailing your target customer at this point in time—no matter how harsh it is.” —Tom Bertels, managing partner, Sullivan Higdon & Sink

“To use the fear factor may be viewed as disingenuous, whereas knowing other hot points to touch may work better in this economy.” —Trish Cunningham, manager-business development, Brookwoods Group

“Recognizing and reflecting a prospect's pain has always been the key to connecting to their values—and should be the key to creating compelling value propositions in this economy.” —Chris Schermer, president, Schermer Kuehl

“If you sell a product or service that clearly and directly reduces costs, then my answer is yes.” —Larry Pearl, director-business development, FreshDirect

“If your audience won't see it as a ploy, and your product or service can realistically alleviate suffering, then there is no ethical problem. However, your brand still might be perceived as predatory or exploitative by your audience.” —Dave Hendricks, exec VP-operations, Datran Media

“A general reference to the economy will never be as effective as addressing your targets' specific pain points. Yet letting them know you understand their current concerns, from downsized staffs to downturns in revenue, and that you can help, will set the stage for more specific and productive conversations.”

—Cindy Lieberman, VP-branding and marketing communications, Celsis International “When it's raining outside the shoe store, sell galoshes, but keep the red high heels in the display window. .... Position your product and service so the harsh economy is a backdrop that frames both your product/service's practicality and emotional attributes pointing to "a better tomorrow.' ” —Brad Canham, director-marketing, Cyber Power Systems Ellis Booker is editor of BtoB and BtoB's Media Business, and can be reached at ebooker@crain.com.

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