Marketing Effectively During an Industry Upheaval

June 19, 2015 |

Even the most successful businesses go through periods of rapid change and upheaval: a reorganization, a slow season, or a shift in the market. While our economy is steadily climbing out of recession, it’s critical that marketers understand how to modify—and maximize—their marketing, communication, and branding efforts during turbulent times.

We’ve compiled three best practices from a variety of industries that have propelled companies through slumps, downturns, and reorganizations.

Best Practice 1: Nurture existing customers

When business becomes unstable, some marketers try to right the ship with a focus on generating new business, but nurturing existing customers is just as critical. These loyal customers help establish your brand’s resilience. A strong foundation of return customers enables your company to absorb any blows it takes during an unstable period.

Consider brand-behemoth Microsoft. Because it constantly nurtures its customer base through cross-selling, customer support, content marketing, etc., and has built up an army of brand evangelists, it has been able to weather a number of disastrous missteps (remember Windows 8 and Zune?)

Best Practice 2: Ask your customers for help  

In addition to nurturing your current customer base, you should tap them as a marketing resource. By gauging their perception of the market conditions and your company’s existing products and services, you could uncover new strategies for growth.

Legendary toy brand Lego did just this a few years ago. CEO Jørgen Vig Knudstorp created a “Future Lab” that performed a type of research that the company had never done before: extensive “ethnographic studies” of how children actually play with toys. “There’s the famous quote that if you want to understand how animals live, you don’t go to the zoo, you go to the jungle,” Knudstorp said in an interview with Fast Company. “The Future Lab has really pioneered that within Lego, and it hasn’t been a theoretical exercise. It’s been a real design-thinking approach to innovation, which we’ve learned an awful lot from.” As a result of this research, Lego launched a number of new products and has seen a surge in popularity, increasing sales by 15% and operating profit by 16% in 2014.

Best Practice 3: Create an Employee Culture that Embraces Flexibility and Resilience

It’s important to have a team of marketers who can maintain performance and morale regardless of market or company conditions. Companies should work to create an employee culture that encourages employees to see challenges as opportunities, be comfortable with change, and thrive on the ability to innovate. The only way to build this type of culture is to look for elements of resiliency, grit, creativity, and innovation during the recruiting process (and make it a critical part of hiring decisions).

Major players in the oil and gas industry are accustomed to dealing with a volatile market and know that the next few decades will bring dramatic advancements in technology and shifts in supply and demand. As a result, they’re focusing on attracting and retaining the type of talent that can withstand unpredictability and innovate accordingly. When PWC asked oil and gas executives how they were preparing for the future, one oil and gas CEO explained how his company is building this type of culture:  “We are asking ourselves all kinds of questions about the types of customer, products and services that should be offered. This may lead to a totally different business model. In order to progress into the unknown, we need people who are more transformational in their thinking, with backgrounds outside the industry, and who are not intent on maintaining the status quo.”

And remember, if your particular industry is going through a shake-up, it may be the best time to invest in top talent. Your competitors could be laying off talented employees.

(For further discussion of how to recruit and retain talented employees, check out our e-book).

There are a number of ways to ensure that your marketing and communications efforts are effective and efficient despite the conditions of the market, but, no matter what, you should avoid sticking your head in the sand or “going dark” as a brand. When you’re not openly and actively communicating your value to customers and employees, they will start looking for that value elsewhere.

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