Three Ways Brands Drive Value in Turbulent Times
Companies often want to cut back brand marketing during recessions. It’s a mistake.
Buckle up, brand marketers. While a recession is by no means certain, it’s clear that the markets are unsettled. As consumers cut back on their spending, layoffs start and revenues slow, jittery leadership will begin to look for ways to slash spending. Brand marketing budgets are often high on the list.
However, that’s a mistake. A well-built portfolio of brands is critical in a recession–or even just a downturn. Healthy brands generate more trust, they’re more in demand and have more resilience and strong brands retain customers, even in the face of lower-priced alternatives. In fact, in past downturns, companies that held marketing budgets steady or increased them bounced back best, reports the Harvard Business Review.
For example, Reckitt Benckiser increased marketing spending by 25% during the 2008 financial crisis, as rivals trimmed their budgets. With a larger share of voice, the UK-based consumer goods company saw revenues gain 8%, and profits rose 14%. Most of its competitors posted profit declines of 10% or more.
The 2021 Prophet Brand Relevance Index® (BRI), which was fielded in late 2020 during the pandemic and a period of high market uncertainty, proved this point. . As obvious as it seems in hindsight, consumers flock to names they trust in times of instability. They’re less inclined to take risks, and trust is significant to them.
In the 2021 BRI, the average relevance score of the top brands jumped 5%. In other words, in a time of uncertainty, these leading brands became more relevant than they had been in times of relative calm.
Strong brands allow companies to justify and maintain pricing power because consumers understand the value equation. Products from companies like Apple, KitchenAid, Dyson, Bose and USAA on the whole cost more than competitors. But because consumers appreciate their value, they are willing to pay more.
That advantage holds for B2B companies as well. When selling through intermediaries, B2B firms that deliver greater value can retain a negotiation advantage with channel partners. Weak brands have less leverage and are easier to squeeze.
An economic downturn may mean fewer people are spending on a given category, reducing the size of the pie. But strong brands get to take a bigger bite. Here are three ways to protect and build brand value, even in stormy economic periods:
1. Strengthen the Brand’s Foundation
Strong brands, often with a years-long history of consistent investment, already have a robust foundation. Brand equity stems from clarity of purpose. These brands know what they promise and how to deliver on that promise in the market. That clarity of purpose ensures an efficient spending of dollars.
Even companies that believe they’ve adequately defined their brand’s purpose need to take a closer look, finding new ways to sharpen, deepen and extend that focus. Purpose–the reason a brand exists in the world– should be clear internally. And it should shine through to customers in every offer, channel and message.
This is also a great opportunity to lean into the stakeholder networks. With a well-defined purpose, it’s easier to ask key stakeholders–customers, employees, investors, influencers and community members– to step in and act as brand ambassadors. They can amplify a brand’s voice and purpose. Because trust matters so much more right now, word-of-mouth endorsements carry even more resonance.
2. Make Sure the Story of Value is Clear
While this is most evident in B2B marketing, it’s just as important when dealing with consumers. People are worried about money, especially with inflation and interest rates rising. There’s an increased focus on the value equation of their purchases. They want to understand all the trade-offs they make between price and quality.
Customers have a lower tolerance for confusion. This is a moment for marketers to be exquisitely clear about the value in each part of their portfolio. It’s too much to expect people to confront a number of brands and sub-brands and understand why they are priced or marketed differently. Spell out precisely what they get by trading up or down within the portfolio.
3. Stay Nimble, Rebalancing Brand and Demand Investments
Agility is important. Marketers should be having earnest internal debates about how and whether to rebalance spending between brand and demand marketing.
Brand marketers will–and should–argue it’s an important time to continue building trust and equity. Demand marketers, as well as financial leaders watching revenue trends most closely, will want to focus more on driving immediate sales. Our latest research, Brand and Demand Marketing: A Love Story shows that brand and demand marketers must find ways to work together – and those that do are able to deliver better outcomes that are tied to the overall business goals. Everyone wants to ensure they are the brand chosen at the end of people’s purchase decision.
We’re betting that a year from now, CMOs will have plenty to say about how they’ve threaded this needle and which investments yielded the best results. But right now, brand and demand need to work in tandem, more closely than they have in the past.
Strong brands can be confident that they’ll continue to lead the way, delivering the innovations that matter most to consumers.
As economic conditions continue to soften, brand marketers should brace themselves to defend budgets–even if the U.S. enters a recession. And they should take steps to ensure those brand investments. By shoring up brand purpose, clarifying each offer’s value, tapping stakeholders’ networks and carefully considering the balance of brand and demand marketing, they can keep brands strong through every downturn and in the next cycle of recovery.
Get in touch with our team today to help make the case to your board and executive leadership team on the value of investing in your brand during uncertain market conditions.