When Your Budget Gets Challenged, Play Offense

And Throw All the Conventional Wisdom About Spending Out the Window

By Published on .

If your 2009 budget for branding hasn't already been challenged, it will be, whether in the guise of "finding efficiencies" or by your simply being asked to slash projects and/or head count. You know that bad economic times are not good for branding.

Conventional wisdom says you should hunker down -- in fact, double down your bets, according to Interbrand and other experts -- even though logic would suggest that all that money you spent on branding in the past should pay off now (only it doesn't). You need to work harder to show your C-suite associates that spending now will benefit the business.

Jonathan Salem Baskin
Jonathan Salem Baskin runs Baskin Associates, a global brand consultancy, and blogs at Dim Bulb.
I say the best defense is an offense. Change the topic of debate and throw the conventional wisdom out the window -- only not theirs. Yours. Here's my proposed battle plan:

Voluntarily cut your own branding budget. Go ahead. Pick a percentage, or perhaps a few projects that were never going to be easily (or credibly) explained. Target things that are described as "joining the conversation" and any of that brand-engagement nonsense nobody could value. The organization has never understood your unscientific approach anyway. Nobody else could decide to, say, change a supplier, redefine an accounting rule or invent a job description out of thin air, and only after the fact try to prove it was a good idea.

Then, put half of the savings in the bank -- for real. Call this an "investment in the brand." This equity will grow in a tangible way (however slowly), and you can reserve the right to apply it to actions in the marketplace only if and when the business warrants it. Everyone will applaud your selfless sense of responsibility.

Use the other half to utterly redefine how you go about branding.

Start with a blank slate, not a list of brand attributes you want to promote. Base your planning on the behaviors and associated outcomes you want to prompt: faster or better customer service, more product trials, more-frequent upgrades or return purchases. Then build strategies to deliver these goals, using resources in marketing but also anywhere else in the organization. Involve those fellow C-suiters in creating this new model for your brand.

There's no use in going to the mat over semantics. If your customer is central to your business strategy, why not call the behaviors in that relationship "the brand" (and not simply measures of some otherwise hidden, Platonic ideal of it)? The shock in your organization will be palpable. Everyone will understand you, finally, because you'll have stolen their language.

Things are going to change -- maybe for the better.

Questions to ask about: Redefining your brand

Definitions: Is perspective the difference between tactics and strategies?

Tools: Could behaviors break through the clutter of bad news better than content?

Metrics: Are actions easier to measure and support than qualitative proof?
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