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Smart Brands Continue to Market in Tough Times

Article by
Tom Denari
President & CEO
Young & Laramore
Placeholder Image? Tom2016

Almost a year ago, Kari Peglar, our Director of Consumer Insights and Analytics, wrote this thoughtful piece, Give Your Brand the Competitive Edge in a Downturn. Back when the economy was chugging along in May of 2019, Kari wrote the essay in advance of a latently anticipated economic slowdown. Understanding that markets are cyclical and can’t sustain boom times forever, she pointed to the fact that the United States was on course to set a record for the longest economic expansion since the 1990’s. And, sure enough, it did.

What was contemplated was your garden variety, cyclical downturn.

Not this.

Over the past couple of decades, we’ve endured bank defaults—creating a financial crisis, a once in a century hurricane, and an unthinkable terrorist attack within our own border. These events changed our behaviors—even how we enter buildings and airplanes—and cratered consumer confidence. Each time, we couldn’t imagine worse scenarios for businesses. Our leaders even stood at podiums encouraging us to get out there, live our lives and support businesses. Spending money was framed as being patriotic.

These times of crisis clearly underline how a vibrant marketplace is literally life-giving. Healthy markets create jobs, incomes and lives for all of us. But now, all of these are in peril—especially when we’re now being told that staying in is the most patriotic thing we can do.

As we’ve seen in past events, when consumer confidence begins to wane, the instinct is to retrench and reduce marketing spending. But, this thinking ultimately exacerbates the problem by reducing consumer confidence even further, creating a vicious cycle that erodes spending across the economy.

As Kari notes in her piece, smart brands have continued to spend during the tough times, as studies show that those brands and businesses that leaned into their marketing spend during a downturn, actually took share from their competitors and came out stronger as the economy emerged.

Is this time unique? Sure. But given our online marketplace and our new pick-up and delivery explosion, America is still largely open for business. To that end, the lessons from the past are clear. If you’re open for business, making sure that you maintain consumers “share of mind” is as critical as ever. This concept can be tough for many corporate leaders to accept, as “share of mind” seems like such an ethereal, intangible idea. Yet, mindshare, familiarity and affinity are arguably the most important assets your brand possesses, ensuring that it will be mentally available to your potential customers now—and in the future when the economy recovers.

Tom Denari, President & CEO at Y&L

As Young & Laramore’s president and CEO, Tom has overseen marketing and communications strategy— from audience observations to creative executions— for brands like Angie’s List, Goodwill, Stanley Steemer, and Steak n Shake. Tom’s expertise in developing sound communication strategy is guided by his continual study of how emotional and non-rational factors influence consumer decision-making, which he's written about regularly for Advertising Age.