Magazine article Marketing

Mark Ritson on Branding: Attack Recession with Brand Defence

Magazine article Marketing

Mark Ritson on Branding: Attack Recession with Brand Defence

Article excerpt

A few years ago I was working for one of the major wine brands and analysing the Japanese market which, as always, was proving fascinatingly difficult to understand. The more I looked at the data, the more unlikely the story became: throughout the 90s, a time of unprecedented economic woe in Japan, the consumption of high-end wines increased dramatically.

My French boss was greatly amused with my confusion and eventually took me aside. 'Listen Mark,' he said. 'Let me explain. If you are on a plane, and the plane is about to crash, you don't drink piss.'

Perhaps not the most elegant of explanations, but one that has stayed with me, and one that should be top of mind as we enter 2008. Marketers with long memories or a keen grasp of macro-economics already sense that there is more in the New Year's air than the cold wind from the Continent.

It was lurking overhead throughout the Christmas festivities. You could see it in the barely concealed looks of fear on the faces of chief financial officers and central bankers profiled in the FT. It was the subtext underpinning almost every word of Gordon Brown's New Year outlook. Whisper it quietly: recession is on the way.

As a marketer, allow yourself an extra shiver of trepidation, because we suffer more than most when the economy slows. We are the guillemots in the oil-slick of recession - the first to suffer and the ones hit hardest. Marketing spend will decline, agencies will close, and a legion of marketers will leave their roles with 'no job to go to'.

The arrival of recession means it is time for brand managers to change tactics and put away the big white book entitled Brand Building Justifications During Growth, while blowing the cobwebs off the smaller, leaner black book, last used in 1990, entitled Why Brand Equity is Your Best Defence in a Recession.

For a generation of marketers, this will be the first time they have resorted to this very different approach. But follow the greyer heads in the office and you will be fine. Learn to talk about the power of strong brands in the face of declining customer spend. Explore the topic of brand loyalty, not in terms of growing share of wallet, but retaining it in the face of lower-priced value alternatives. Most importantly, remember to point out that the brands that continue to build their equity in the recession will be best placed to enjoy the fruits of their labour when the economy inevitably returns to growth. …

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