Positioning During Economic Doldrums
For months now we have been inundated with talk about business failures, bank bailouts, slowing sales, and the scale of the current recession. What is clear to everyone is that the economy has slowed, that people are losing their jobs and are cutting back on spending. No industry or category has been spared. From aerospace to pharmaceuticals to food producers – everyone is feeling the pressure.
Companies have been reacting with the usual defenses – layoffs, budget cuts, and mergers – usually leading to more layoffs and budget cuts. This most often increases the pressure on those who are left to do more with much, much less. You, as marketers, are charged with stopping the blood loss with less personnel and financial support then was available when times were better.
These reductions directly affect your ability to reach customers to convince them to buy your brand instead of a competitor or nothing at all. Times like this require you to rethink your approach and evaluate the impact of every dollar you spend. You need to make every dollar work as hard as it can to win the marketing battle, but where do you start?
The best place to start is – at the beginning – of course. Every message you communicate in every ad you run, in every commercial that’s aired, in every press release you issue is, or should be, derived from your brand’s positioning. Now more than ever is the time to ask; is the positioning strong and differentiating? Does the positioning define the optimal target? Does it define a customer need your brand is attempting to resolve? Does the positioning provide your tactical partners the clarity of direction necessary to make every element of your promotion work as hard as possible? If you cannot answer these questions with a resounding “yes” then your positioning is the first, and best, place to start.
Brand positioning that is loosely put together leaves a lot of “slack in the line”, so to speak. Ambiguity blurs the intention of the positioning and decreases the effectiveness of your overall promotional budget. Every member of your team and every tactical partner involved with your brand needs to understand specifically for whom your brand is intended. Not just in general, but who that person is, what drives their decision, what is the emotional context surrounding the purchase event, why are they seeking this kind of product, and why does it matter if they pick yours. These questions can be difficult to answer and require you to put a stake in the ground. However, they minimize the chance that your true targets will mistakenly think you are talking to someone else and reduce the likelihood of your spending marketing dollars on less valuable customers.
A clearly defined positioning also acts as a yardstick by which you can measure the clarity of all messages and tactics. By comparing what is being communicated through each vehicle to the refined brand positioning, it is easier to determine if each of these components hits the mark and, more importantly, gives you a way to weed out those that do not.
If you think you are alone in having a need to reevaluate your brand’s positioning, think again. Each day we see dozens of commercials, ads, and sales pieces wasting millions of dollars because they have been designed with the guidance of poor brand positioning. Many companies, some of which are your competitors, will face the economic downturn by simply cutting the volume of promotion, leaving them with smaller, poorly developed campaigns. That doesn’t need to be you. The brands that will show the greatest success throughout this difficult period will also have smaller budgets, but those budgets will work much harder than the budgets for the also-rans.
If you agree that efficiency can be wrung out of your promotional budget, where do you start? Once you have ensured that your product’s positioning is clear and precisely spelled out, with all the detail necessary for a well differentiated brand, you need to determine if the positioning is still as relevant to your customers as it was when you created it. This economic climate hasn’t just affected you; your customers are feeling it as well and are modifying their own behavior to cope with fewer financial resources. If you are lucky, perhaps the economic downturn will spell a new opportunity for your brand or even enhance its attractiveness. On the other hand, general economic hardship could simply render your positioning less relevant or less influential.
But by revalidating your positioning, with the appropriate research, you can make the adjustments necessary to move ahead of your competition during this time of uncertainty. Many of your competitors will fail to understand the impact of this environment on customers. Instead, they will just continue what they were doing prior to the economic downturn – just less of it.
After you have revalidated your brand’s positioning and your customer’s frame of mind, you need to reconfirm the clarity and strength of your core communications and their potential to deliver on your positioning. By retesting your core promotional pieces, you are more prepared to anticipate and evaluate the effectiveness of your updated campaign. Creative campaigns that were launched six months or a year ago may be perceived very differently today. Even if they reflected your positioning accurately when they were created, a significant change in perspective due to the economic environment has likely impacted customer perceptions. Tweaks may be necessary, wholesale changes could be warranted. It is far better to understand how your customers have changed, and how you need to adapt your brand, than to waste the precious – and scarcer – promotional dollars you have on a less impactful or irrelevant brand positioning.