How to Come Out of the Recession Alive

A Survival Kit for CMOs

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I have good career news for those of you on the recession front: When the economy improves, the skills and approaches you perfect during these troubled times will better position you for greater riches and fame. The trick will be surviving until then.

You see, you've been set up to fail. Consumers have gotten more disparate, cynical and demanding just as their finances have cratered. Your budgets keep getting smaller, and return-on-investment expectations keep getting more insistent. You're continually reminded that some of the most important influences on consumer intent and behavior don't fall under your purview anyway.

Jonathan Salem Baskin
Jonathan Salem Baskin is the author of "Branding Only Works on Cattle" and blogs about marketing at Dim Bulb.

It doesn't help that as the game has gotten more tenuous and dicey, those in your support network are busy doubling down their bets. Creatives say you should get even more creative and do more of the things that impress other creatives. Technologists are happy to help you invest in gizmos and systems that will magically accomplish what no persuasive argument could muster.

Every social-media zealot and self-proclaimed expert shaken loose by the digital maelstrom declares some newfangled truth (the confusion afflicts the young especially, as they confuse their own experiences with "only" insights).

So this is what revolutions look like from the inside. Here are three thoughts about surviving it with your head still attached to your shoulders.

First, the recession is a symptom, not a cause. The revolution under way is one of disintermediated information: Our society is losing the institutions and mechanisms by which authority, certitude and truth were decided (and shared). No friending, blogging or crowdsourcing has come close to replacing it. So you can't fix these things, and many of the solutions getting pitched to you are part of the problem.

Second, you can entertain your customers to death, but it's no substitute for selling. Need is the new want, as our economy and culture "revolve" back to the practices that predate the mass-media miracle of the 20th century. Strip out the techno-babble, and you'll see the importance of "old" communications tools, such as relevance, utility, consistency, locality and community. You don't need to rewrite the rules so much as relearn them.

Finally, look beyond your echo chamber for answers. The job you save is going to be different after the economy recovers, as your marketing department is already on its way to giving up ownership of marketing (or the brand). So forgo that next meeting with a digital agency, and instead spend time with your operational cohort, such as somebody in finance or even human resources. Their actions are defining your brand more than your favorite viral campaign.

It may be dizzying, but this revolution too shall stop. And then the next one will start.

Questions to Ask About: Sticking around

COLLABORATION: Are you involving other departments at the start of your plans, not just at the end?

DIVERSITY: How balanced is your spending between image and behaviors?

ACTION: Can you rewrite your plans and budgets before someone else does it for you?

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