If there were only two essential lessons to be learned from 2016, they were:
1. Expect the unexpected.
2. Count on things to change.
Fate robbed us of too many inspirational artists and personalities while also delivering a sucker-punch outcome to the US federal election. Feeling a bit numb? Same here.
That’s as good a starting point as any for this strategic summary on how to protect your brand as we draw deeper into an era of unprecedented uncertainty.
Business Cycle Moving Toward Recession
A recession, in the view of many prognosticators, is a highly probable economic threat looming on the horizon, if only because historical tends tell us that we’re due for a pullback.
See Gordon Pape’s Globe and Mail piece on the threat to the stock market: A major stock market correction and other predictions for 2017
It’s been about eight years since the last recession which means, in the simplest terms, that the next one is lurking. Market experts, including BMO Chief Economist Douglas Porter, say the time is nigh, if not the precise circumstances.
Suffice to say, any combination of events including a tariff war involving the US and its trade partners, inflationary pressure from a burgeoning US labour market, potential sweeping changes in American tax policy and a spike in global turmoil/terrorism could offset positive growth and send the economy reeling.
Worse still, there’s the strong prospect that chronic unpredictability becomes the new baseline in Washington. A freshly-minted leader habitually shocks Wall Street with spontaneous pronouncements and sends ripples of fear through entire industries with a single tweet. That industry could be yours – or one whose interests are symbiotic to your own.
Bolster Your Brand! By Focusing On Your Brand Community
Brands are never more vulnerable than during a recession when stressed out shoppers run for cover. So it’s time to focus on the ones you love – the dedicated people who make up your brand community. They will help you weather the impending storm and, yes, even grow your business when overall consumer confidence tanks in the next 12 to 18 months.
It can take months, or even years to reinvigorate your branding and improve its resilience. And just refreshing your logo is not going to cut it!
Start by assessing your core values. What does your brand stand for? Will your values and even your fundamental business proposition endure in a shifting economy? Today, in a digitally addicted, knowledge-based consumer marketplace, content that generates consumer interaction is the vital formula that will keep your brand community engaged and growing.
You should be talking to your community on a routine basis, now more than ever. Survey your customers to assess their level of interest in your offerings and invite suggestions from them on how you can better serve them. Then act on those suggestions.
Take a hard look at what your key competitors are doing to see if there are gaps in their branding and marketing efforts that you can exploit.
Audit Your Content to Ensure Its Relevance
Keeping your brand fresh and current is an essential way to keep your brand community interested and engaged. Take the time to fully understand how your key branding platforms are working to build community – and how well your messaging and imagery are getting the job done.
Dive deep into your web presence, including all touch points like your website and social media feeds; assess who’s visiting your brand online, how they found you, and what they’re telling you – and their friends – about your brand.
This due diligence will produce a state of the brand summary; you’ll get a clear-headed view of where your brand is at and what updates are required to keep messaging and imagery stimulating and relevant.
Key reminders: consumers fraught with anxiety are less attentive, more skeptical and more distracted, so:
• Tilt toward more reassuring messaging.
• Offer helpful advice and show empathy.
• Present your brand as a trusted ally during tough times.
• Confront any pricing issue to demonstrate your transparency.
• Re-emphasize your value proposition.
Redeploy Your Brand Narrative With Greater Confidence
The goal is to create content that continually reinforces your message, rings true with your brand community and is disseminated amongst both converts and new recruits as viable, useful and motivational. Messaging that conveys that sentiment that “we’re all in this together” is likely to strengthen the emotional connection that cements brand loyalty.
Once the content audit is complete and you’ve identified what needs to be done you are ready to complete what we call the virtuous circle of the branding ecosystem. Revise, optimize and re-deploy your branding content across all channels.
Rationalize Your Media Investments to Focus on Results
Curbing your ad budget is not an option when times get tough. It inevitably lowers your profile and can even signal abandonment when consumers are searching for reassurance and leadership.
Sure, you might need to cut costs but disengaging from your brand community is self-defeating and more expensive in the long run if those consumers tune out. It will cost you more to lure them back – if they return at all. Instead, refocus on gleaning the highest possible return from precious ad dollars. Long term, there’s more to be gained than lost by continuing to spend.
Remember what Henry Ford had to say about the subject: “A man who stops advertising to save money is like a man who stops a clock to save time.” (Smart guy that Henry. Too bad about the medal he got from Hitler, though.)
Target your ad spending in those areas that you know will produce solid returns, namely, at your core audience which consumes your product almost reflexively and only needs to be reminded of the wisdom of its choice.
Measure What Matters and Be Ruthless About Results
A critical component in the delivery of your brand messaging and imagery is measuring how well it’s hitting its mark and creating the results you want.
In addition to the suggestions listed earlier about customer (and even channel partner surveys), you’ll want to invest in “deep-dive” analysis of your online presence.
• Get into the back end of your website and check the top referring sites.
• Examine how many pages people are visiting, including where they come in and where they exit.
• If you offer downloads, how many people are requesting your content?
• If you’re on social media, are people just glancing at your messaging and applying a cursory “like” to it; or are they engaging and consuming the content – or sharing it with their own comments.
• If you are investing in Google Adwords (you’d better be), access the advanced tools on their desktop to understand, in greater depth, the scope of competitive opportunities that you should exploit to push your ad to the top of the page.
Most importantly, do this review on a frequent basis (at least monthly) so you optimize and redeploy, staying ahead of your competitors who may be a bit sluggish.
In every case, measure against your forecast for results:
• How many clicks, visitors or downloads did you expect?
• How many did you get?
• How many phone calls did you anticipate?
• How many actually came in?
• What about month to month sales?
• Forecast and Actual?
Trouble is Coming – Be Ready to Fight
Look, if any of this seems daunting, chill out. As I wrote earlier, it can take a while to get your business and your brand in better shape. So agonizing about the next recession is like losing sleep over climate change. Don’t sit around fretting about the future. Prepare for it and you’ll stand a much better chance of shaping the future you want.
Keep your competitors close but keep your brand community closer
By taking care of the folks who love you most, you’ll be reinforcing the positive experiences they have enjoyed from your brand. And they will be more willing to tell other people about how great your brand is. Provided you always… always keep your promises.
It’s no guarantee you won’t take a punch or two when the fists fly. But you’ll be much better conditioned to punch back, and still be standing when the last round ends.