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How to make your brand work harder in tough times

How to make your brand work harder in tough times

By Shaun Westgate, Creative Director, Westgate

‘Global crash’, ‘severe economic downturn’, and ‘credit crunch’ - the headlines are full of dire warnings for the UK economy, and naturally whenever there is a sniff of a recession, as brand owners your immediate reaction is to review costs. One of the first casualties is marketing spend, typically advertising, PR and branding.

But recession or no recession, you have to deliver good results to your investors. In tough times this means cutting costs and trying to inch up sales, and many brand managers make the mistake of temporarily forgetting about building brand equity and focus solely on driving sales. However if you take the initiative, you can position the downturn as a golden opportunity to build your brand by increasing your market share over your competitors.

As a savvy brand marketer, you can re-evaluate your marketing spend and streamline your plans by putting an emphasis on core marketing activities, rather than marginal or experimental ones. This is a great opportunity to convey your competitive edge and display your wares in the most compelling way; this provides a very clear message to your competition that you are prospering and leading the way, giving your brand credit as a viable long-term entity.

One of the most important elements in the current environment is that your marketing and branding activities are value for money.

How do you judge if your brand is working hard enough?

The first step is to measure your current market position and that of your competitors’ so that you are aware of the impact economic changes are having on your brand. Follow-up research on a regular basis will be vital to measure the precise contribution marketing makes to your business.
As a second step, you need to review your marketing strategy and undertake a visual audit to analyse your brands’ strengths and weaknesses. At this stage, there are some key factors to be aware of when analysing the effectiveness of your brand:

1. Does your marketing strategy match your business objectives?

2. Do you have a distinct position in the market place that has real stand out?

3. Is your offer and promise unique and compelling?

4. Are your key messages the most persuasive in the current climate?

5. Does all your marketing collateral really help sell your uniqueness?

6. Does your marketing material clearly communicate to your target audiences in the most creative and original way?

In an economic downturn the visual expression of your brand is one of its most powerful forms of communication. A skilful marketing agency can make the brand tangible and express powerful sales messages in the most compelling way. For them to be effective it is important to involve your agency in the whole strategic branding process, giving them an understanding of the big picture and your business objectives.

A creative agency can make the key messages emotive through creating
style, tone and ‘voice’ for the brand. Far too many brand-related campaigns fail to connect and engage with all of their different audiences, yet the brand audience will ultimately drive the direction of the brand. It’s the agency that will bring the brand to life.

The right partnership

Gaining the competitive edge in a challenging economic environment takes a great deal of commitment and enthusiasm from brand managers. It also requires that, as brand owners, you choose the right brand partner to help develop and implement the most effective marketing strategy.

This is perfectly possible without breaking the bank. Any professional marketing agency will be able to advise you on how to develop your marketing strategy to suit your budget, but remember the following checklist when embarking on a new relationship with a marketing partner:

1. Are they experienced in delivering effective marketing programmes that are real value for money, working to a pre-determined budget?

2. Does the agency deliver original creative ideas that demonstrate a real business benefit?

3. Has the agency actively contributed to the commercial success of their current clients and if so, how?

4. Do they have a proven track record in your sector?

5. Can they provide relevant client references and do they tend to keep their clients in the medium-to-long-term?

During an economic downturn, the process of developing a high-impact brand strategy requires more focus, energy and commitment. But through laying strong communication foundations now, your business will be in an even stronger and more high profile position to take full advantage of the inevitable upturn in the market.

Once the foundations of a marketing strategy are securely in position, development of collateral - from advertisements and sales brochures, to the website and the all-important annual report - can begin and your organisation will reap the rewards.

David Ogilvy, the advertising guru, once conducted a survey to assess companies’ advertising spend during times of recession. He discovered that those who pulled back on their advertising during an economic downturn were less likely to be in business when the economy took a turn for the better.

This is a powerful, but clear demonstration that a dominant brand must consistently connect with its audiences in an authoritative and engaging way - in good times as well as bad.

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