Call me a masochist, an idealist or an optimist, but I believe the recession is one of the best things to happen to our industry in decades. While I have great empathy for people who lost jobs, agencies that lost clients, magazines that closed their covers and brands that didn't make it, I have a deep respect for those in the industry that did - and are still - surviving the recession. Necessity truly is the mother of invention as recessionary survivors were forced to innovate, re-invent and think more strategically.
Here are some trends that Gullan&Gullan believes have come about as a result of the recession. Trend # 1. Brands as life enhancers
It may seem counter-intuitive to move away from sales-driven marketing campaigns in favour of long-term brand strategies that add value to your consumer's lives in the midst of a financial melt-down, but consumers have less cash, are more discerning and therefore will only consider brands that add value. Examples include FNB that enables you to trade shares online, the Apple iPhone that enhances user's lives by enabling them to customise their handsets, the Women's Health brand that is more than a magazine but an online portal, DVDs, events, books and hardworking applications.
All these brands are giving consumers much more than they pay for. And what's in it for the brand? Enhanced relationships with their customers, loyalty, engagement, word-of-mouth referrals and a greater understanding of their customer needs and behaviours. And the best part is you get all this for less than the cost of repetitive ad campaigns. Trend # 2. Brands as sources of information
Recession-surviving marketers are definitely placing a strong emphasis online, providing consumers with a myriad of useful, relevant and related info about brands. This also means that brand professionals have - to a great extent - lost control of their brands. It's ok. Let go a little and provide consumers with brand information that they can own, use, edit and importantly share with many others in their online community.
The upside to this trend is that marketers no longer have to spend Rmillions developing microsites, but can work fast and smart with tactical ideas that revolve around specific consumer needs or specific communities, allowing consumers to access content across primary websites, microsites, applications, social networks and mobile devices. If need be, they can enjoy rich experiences without ever visiting the primary brand site.Trend # 3. Customer service as a vital part of the mix
While a quality brand remains your biggest asset in achieving success, never before has the vehicle of customer service become one of your best methods for connecting with consumers and building lasting relationships that engender word of mouth.
Also, conversation and community is vital. Brands that encourage and engage with consumers feedback thrive. If consumers are able to post public feedback, trust is built and if they trust the community, they will extend trust to the brand. This is the evolution of customer care. Good customer care breeds the right word-of-mouth and brand awareness will follow. Trend # 4. Integrated authentic brand values
Consumer spending will continue to be replaced by consumer's interrogation of what your brand stands for and whether or not it has value and therefore is valuable. This is trouble for brands with no authentic meaning. Consumers no longer buy into shallow emotional manipulation. Consumers are informed and cynical and not afraid to call brands on their promises. If your brand's authenticity is believable, it will enjoy enhanced consumer engagement. Trend # 5. Engage with consumer
Marketing heavyweights around the world are coming to terms with the fact that consumers control their brands and that this power shift has far-reaching implications. As Procter & Gamble CEO A.G. Lafley noted, "we now have a greater opportunity to move beyond transactions to relationships, but to do so requires that we strike the right balance between being in control and being in touch. Ironically, the more in control we are, the more out of touch we become. But the more we're willing to let go, the more we're able to get in touch with consumers."
Today's brand strategies have to include methods to engage with your consumers by capturing their hearts, minds and conversations throughout the purchase and relationship cycle, while remaining brand-centric™ at every touch point. Today's consumer generates their own brand commentary and content and you would be remiss not to facilitate this. Personal consumer involvement with your brand is a trend that is not going away. Post mortem
Embracing these trends will require a post-recession paradigm shift. A massive recession is always tough, but it's safe to say that someday, when the marketing sun is in full shine, we will find that some good came from it. Whether real recovery has begun or is still on the way, start planning for growth without forgetting the important lessons learned in 2008/09. That way you'll be ready for any market condition.