Debate continues in the media as to the fate of the U.S. economy: Are we in a recession, or merely flirting with one?
For brand marketers, it turns out, the effect is the same. Consumers, made wary by gas prices over $4.00 a gallon, the mortgage mess and less-than-stellar employment forecasts, have tightened their purse strings. And when consumers spend less, marketing -- traditionally a company's first budget-cutting line of defense -- is in trouble.
Yet there is much evidence, scholarly and anecdotal, that points to the wisdom of maintaining marketing spend during a recession. In fact, a recession is an ideal time to take advantage of consumers' comfort with familiar brands by creating web-based interactive, direct-response campaigns that offer special promotions and savings.
Why web-based? A recent report by the Pew Internet & American Life Project reveals that 81 percent of internet users research products online -- for convenience (78 percent), time savings (68 percent) and the ability to find bargains (ranging from 38 percent of 50-to 64-year-olds to 62 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds).
Tough economic times not only lead consumers to do online research, they lead to more time spent researching and comparing brands and prices. A recent Prospectiv survey, which discovered that 84 percent of those polled had changed their shopping habits due to concerns about recession, gives further clues to consumer behavior in this economic downturn:
- 66 percent are logging more hours online researching and comparing brands and prices
- 74 percent would welcome more online offers, coupons and e-newsletters from their favorite brands and products
- 60 percent are more likely to sign up/join a website or online community that offers recipes, healthy meal ideas, cooking tips and savings they can use at home
As consumers under financial pressure ponder a switch from favored brands to generics, brand marketers must seek out ways to engage consumers online, using direct-response interactive marketing to reinforce the value of brand.
We strongly believe that marketers should consider countering the effects of the downturn by stepping up programs that build strong relationships with consumers who have exhibited interest in your goods and services. Take the opportunity to add to your in-house opt-in email newsletter list and reach out with these tips:
- Consumers are eager for special promotions and savings during tough economic periods -- now is the time to consider a brand-building campaign.
- Consider campaigns designed to generate leads as well as near-term sales. Whether you have a brick-and-mortar store or website, use a well-timed, anti-recession campaign to drive traffic.
- Provide information that's clear, relevant and easy to find online. The Pew study found that 43 percent of searchers were frustrated by a lack of information, or the difficulty of finding information about brands they were interested in. Another 32 percent were confused by the information they were able to locate.
- Be selective in your programs. Market only to consumers you identify who have an interest in your product/brand and have requested your offers and promotions.
- Be aware that some 70 percent of internet users are still concerned about giving out personal information or credit card information online. Treat your customers with care -- many of them are wary.
- Monitor campaigns closely for performance and redirect your efforts as needed to improve results.
- Consider using pay-for-performance lead-generation programs. You'll pay only for results, versus clicks or impressions.
Don't forget the most important metrics of a brand campaign -- quality and relevance. In difficult times consumers aren't shopping for nice-to-haves; they are focused on must-haves. Here, pay-for-performance lead-generation campaigns that build your own opt-in email lists and produce consumers who are interested in your product and brand are particularly useful because they make it easy for marketers to ensure relevance, and simple to measure lead quality at several points in the campaign, before handoff to sales.
Finally, in a down market brand marketers must maintain a laser focus on to ensure high quality leads and maintain a respectful relationship with consumers to build trust and discourage abuse of consumer privacy.
Opportunity for brand marketers comes in many forms. In these unstable economic times, it is incumbent on marketers to reach out to consumers with offers, promotions and information that reinforce brand preference, provide much-needed purchase information, and offer advice, tips and ideas for living well while saving.