Emerging From the Recession as a Leader

Embrace These Steps Now to Position Your Clients for Growth

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Marc Brownstein Marc Brownstein
This topic assumes we are emerging from the recession. Truth is, jobs are still being lost in America. The cost of oil is on its way back up. Customers are not exactly flocking back to stores. And that means your clients are still nervous and hesitant to spend on marketing at the level you would like them to.

What can you do to make a positive difference? There are several things you ought to start talking to your clients about, if you haven't already.

First, consider why some marketers continue to thrive in a recession while others retreat and reduce spending. Some, like Walmart and McDonald's, are uniquely well-positioned for a slow economy. Walmart was prescient when it repositioned its brand just prior to the slowdown, touting the lifestyle message, "Save money. Live better." McDonald's simply offers the right product at the right price at the right time. But there are marketers thriving without any particular value positioning. So what are they doing that your clients should take note of?

Step on the gas. History has proven that marketers who increase spending in tough times, when others retreat, gain meaningful market share. Procter & Gamble, General Mills and Hershey are giving a clinic in this right now, and reaping the rewards with increased revenues.

Go where their eyes are. Many advertisers are still reluctant to embrace new media. Yet that's where many of the eyeballs are now, on sites such as Daily Candy, Facebook and Yelp. Traditional media is still important, but integrating online vehicles is critical if you want to reach consumers where they are spending more and more time.

Be relevant. Understand the voice and mind-set of the consumer today, and you will be more successful in selling your products and services. Consumers have been roughed up: Their savings have shriveled in a volatile stock market; so-called experts like Madoff and Stanford have stolen their hard-earned money, evoking distrust and cynicism; and the unemployment rate hovers just under 10%. So you must speak to the consumer directly and in relevant ways. Hyundai has done this best, in my opinion, with its Assurance Program, which allows you to return your car if you lose your job. Hyundai was first to take this bold approach, in January, and now imitators abound. Results for the Korean auto manufacturer have been remarkable, according to a recent study by the Wharton School: "As American automakers struggle for survival, South Korea's Hyundai Motor appears to be gaining on the pack with bold marketing and broad-based initiatives to improve quality."

"There's a sense that what Hyundai is doing on many fronts is working in terms of actually gaining some advantage during the crisis," says John Paul MacDuffie, a Wharton management professor and co-director of the International Motor Vehicle Program. Hyundai's global unit sales rose 2% in 2008 -- a brutal year for the auto business -- lifting revenue 5%. In the first three months of this year, the company's global market share rose to 47%, compared with 4% a year earlier.

Join the conversation. Many companies shy away from giving their customers a voice in online forums, for fear that they will embarrass the company. But other, more enlightened companies embrace the opportunity to bring customers into the conversation. Comcast, for example, maintains a team of Twitterers to communicate about customer-service issues and answer any questions users may have. This allows customers to be heard and increases loyalty.

Don't advertise. Instead, create a platform for your client's customers to start a dialogue, learn about your client's products, share stories and -- well, just to be in your client's hosted environment. Your client's brand can take a back seat and foster a community where customers are invited to spend a lot of time on your client's site. Think of the many unique benefits that quality time with customers provides.

These are but a handful of ways to take control of your message, and emerge from the recession with the wind at your back. What survive-and-thrive tactics have you put into play?

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