ANA Conference Report

Six Ideas for Growth From the ANA

How to Build Your Brand in Tough Times, and Why the Recession May Already Be Over

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The recession has ended. For all you marketers who planned to begin reinvesting three to six months before the recession ended -- and, according to the ANA, that's 73% of you -- you'd better get a move on. That, at least, was the message from Liz Ann Sonders, senior VP-chief investment strategist at Charles Schwab & Co. Ms. Sonders told attendees at an ANA conference themed "Brand Building in Tough Times & Beyond" that the recession probably ended in January or February.

"I'm not a lunatic optimist ... but I think there's a reasonable chance the recession is already over," she said. "Readings on the economy aren't good, but they're less bad than they have been." Ms. Sonders went on to caution that a "W-shaped recovery" is possible, where things get worse before improving for good. "I think we're probably somewhere between despair and hope; unfortunately, it could be the car on the hill," she said. "We could roll back down. There could be some fits and starts."

That was likely the biggest takeaway for many marketers at yesterday's conference. But the ANA promised at least a dozen ideas or your money back, and speakers were keen to deliver. Here, a half dozen of Ad Age's favorite ideas for short-term and long-term growth:

1. Don't abandon recession-friendly messages.
Plenty of marketers have gone into high gear, tweaking taglines and focusing on value. But marketers shouldn't be too quick to scrap those messages just because the recession is going to end -- and it will end. Many think that this recession will signal a fundamental shift in consumers' buying behaviors. Frugal will remain chic. Saving will remain en vogue. For that reason, Cynthia Ashworth, VP-consumer engagement at Dunkin' Donuts, said the marketer won't be tossing its "You Kin' Do It" tagline anytime soon. "It would have to be executed a bit differently," she said. "But I don't think that once the economy improves 'You Kin' Do It' is gone, and we're on to the next campaign."

2. Focus on innovating existing products, not creating new ones.
Most new products generate only 5% of sales. For beer in 2008, it was 2%. Given that, Patrick Edson, VP-marketing innovation at MillerCoors, said the company is focused on adding value to "the stuff that's already on the shelf." The best example to date is the brewer's focus on delivering consumers the coldest Coors Light possible. It introduced color-changing mountains on its cans, created a draft that could be served below freezing and produced a 12-pack that could double as a cooler. Those innovations led to millions in additional revenue for the Coors Light brand.

3. Put yourself on the other side of the table.
Even in tough times, you don't have to do it alone, said Steve Bratspies, senior VP-dry grocery at Walmart. The retailer has rolled out successful co-branded marketing with Better Homes and Gardens and Coca-Cola, among others. But for those who don't have the heft of Walmart, Mr. Bratspies said it's important to think about what the person sitting across from you wants. If you can meet that need, you can strike a deal. He's taken the same approach when it comes to marketing budgets. The executive controlling the purse strings is looking for efficiencies, so focus on that. Then go after the extra cash.

4. Redeploy your assets.
Fender Musical Instruments pulled out of the summer tradeshow put on by the National Association of Music Merchants. It was a decision that ruffled a few feathers, but it freed up $2 million that Richard McDonald, senior VP-global marketing, could put toward helping retail partners make sales. The tradeshow, which highlights new products, wasn't of any use to retailers who couldn't move the products they already had in store, he said. The "Soul of Tone" promotion that resulted has brought thousands of customers into stores across the country. "I stopped in my tracks and changed my plan," he said. "Do not be afraid to do that right now."

5. Hire your customers.
Fender is the world's leading guitar manufacturer, yet it has a relatively modest team of about 30 to handle all aspects of marketing. Agencies are rarely brought in to handle the occasional project. So, how does the company do it? "We hire our customers," Mr. McDonald said. "They are passionate. They'll work all night. They'll help keep you on track."

6. Understand the difference between a consumer and a shopper.
The two are very different, according to Jason McDonell, VP-general manager, customer strategy at Frito-Lay. Consumers are making purchase decisions well before they enter the store. They're flipping through circulars, making a list and deciding where they'll find the best deal. Shoppers, on the other hand, are bombarded with messages in store and are often distracted. "We're trying to truly understand that whole cycle," Mr. McDonell said. "I'd argue that [consumer-package-goods companies] and big agencies haven't really clicked when it comes to understanding shoppers."

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