Perspectives on Branding and Identity from Franke+Fiorella
Issue No.45


Building Strong Brands in a Fluctuating Market

We hope 2008 is off to an encouraging start for you despite the stock market turmoil. While we're not taking a stand one way or another regarding the future state of the U.S. or global economy, we want to share a few thoughts on what it takes to build strong brands in tougher times. And yes, we believe it is possible, but does take leadership and ingenuity.

During the last recession, some brands slashed marketing budgets while others embarked upon brand revitalization efforts. When the economy rebounded, those companies who invested in their brands — Cargill, Boise Cascade and UPS, to name a few — were rewarded.

While the right approach varies by company and brand, in past down-cycles, these strategic approaches have worked for our clients:

1. Stay in front of your end users and customers. Be aggressive. While it's important to trim expenses during tough economic times, it's critical to remain in the consideration set and advance your position. If you don't promote your brand, your customers may think you've disappeared or lost confidence in your product or service offerings, ultimately weakening their perception of your brand. Not necessarily the message you want to send.

2. Ensure ALL communications are on brand. Know what your brand stands for. And be true to your brand promise. Now is not the time to start diluting your message and trying to be all things to all people. So be sure the end result of every communication effort reflects and supports your brand.

3. Be creative. Be bold, be unique, but whatever you do, don't do what everyone else is doing.

4. Don't sacrifice quality for a better price. It is true that a lighter weight paper stock or scaling back the quality of your photography may save a few dollars. Although it's tempting because budgets are tight, you'll risk sending mixed messages which could cost you more in eroded brand perception.

5. Fortify your internal teams. Reinforce employee understanding of what it means to deliver the brand experience. Everyone in your organization is an ambassador of the brand, so it's vital that they understand how to deliver an exceptional brand experience each and every time they interact with a customer or end user. It may be the difference between making the sale and losing it to the competition. And, if you haven't already, this is a good time to incorporate brand-based performance standards into employee development plans.

Obviously none of this is easy, especially when budgets are tight. But please keep this in mind: every time your customer or end user interacts with your brand at ANY point of contact — package, website, ad, brochure, employee — one of three things happens:

1. A more positive perception of your brand is built

2. The existing brand perception is reinforced

3. The existing brand perception erodes

This is the time to ensure that all experiences reinforce and build a positive perception of your brand.

Although it may seem like a challenge, a slowing economy may actually present an opportunity for your brand — an opportunity to demonstrate strength in the marketplace when competitors are displaying their weaknesses. So, be bold and move forward with more consistency, passion and creativity than ever before. You'll be glad you did.