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Brand Tune-Ups for Tough Times

By Mike Brown – Author, Brainzooming – A Daily Strategy and Innovation Blog

2008 presented fundamental brand building challenges, and based on who you listen to, 2009 may result in as many or more.  GE CEO Jeff Immelt has discussed the current economic crisis as a “reset” creating profound changes in what businesses stand for and how they approach accountability. He talked additionally about the importance of leaders helping shape fear into confidence.

A Three-Step Strategic Approach
Jeff Immelt provides a great insight. How do you get through the reset as strongly, innovatively, and confidently as possible? Here’s a suggested three-step strategic approach:

  1. Although some things have diverted from the expected path, determine what important fundamentals are still in place from which to move forward.
  2. Imagine the range of relevant possibilities that could unfold. Amid what may be presented as tremendous uncertainty, look for common elements among the possibilities. Figure out moves you can take that make sense irrespective of which scenario plays out.
  3. Identify what everyone else is doing in reaction to short-term swings and irrelevant possibilities. Then dig deep for the fortitude, wherewithal, and mental composure to move forward relative to the long-line with your sights toward what happens after the reset.

Against that backdrop, step 1 is largely industry and business specific. You have to do the homework of understanding your business situation and how the economic shift is affecting its fundamentals.

In addressing step 2, however, we’ll discuss seven B2B brand building moves that should make sense almost irrespective of your markets and what the next twelve months hold. Finally, step 3 calls on not only business, but personal strength. For that, there are seven personal brand building ideas that any marketer should be thinking about acting on for success.

Business Branding Actions
Maximize What You’ve Got – Inventory all your creative that’s already developed and make sure it’s being used in every way possible, i.e. Can customers get collateral as web downloads? Can you get your new TV commercial to customers in additional ways? When developing new creative, think through all potential uses before beginning. Get the extra paragraph, photograph, take, or edit that will extend its uses or effective life.

Align Messages and Audience Targets – Pushing all-out for increased sales can create a proliferation of messages as you try to ensure every possible product and feature gets visibility. One downside can be confusion and lack of clarity among both customers and the internal sales organization. Prioritize your target audiences based on current and expected demand then revisit a solid strategic messaging platform, working hard to tie messages back to it to improve clarity.

Develop New Capabilities – Are there processes or skills that you’ve been putting off developing within your marketing team? Now might be the time to create a skunk works effort and get a new approach to an old challenge underway. To develop your team, involve staff members not typically on your usual list of participants. Investing in developing team members who might otherwise be considering new opportunities on the other side of an economic recovery can also pay dividends as well.

Monitor Competitors’ Efforts and Share of Voice (SOV) – Most – but not all - companies cut back on marketing investments during challenging economic times. Gauge what’s happening among your competitors. Has everybody in your market pulled back, signaling an opportunity to maintain investment (or reduce it at a lower rate) and increase your share of voice? Or are certain competitors using a longer-term approach, investing for the eventual business recovery? Knowing your industry’s situation helps shape decisions on your brand’s best approach.

Spread Out or Heavy Up - Based on SOV insights, determine how to spread your marketing investment across channels. If share of voice is down overall, consider extending your investment into new areas while still maintaining enough frequency and relative presence. If you’re being outspent overall, it might be right to mass your investment in fewer places and “own” what you can, using other means to point customers and prospects to the areas where you’ve heavied up.

Consolidate Marketing Partners - When every dollar of marketing investment is precious, you need maximum efficiencies. One approach is to look at your external marketing partners and determine if there are process and cost advantages in working with fewer partners. Making this type of reduction allows you to manage fewer relationships (time efficiency), grow deeper relationships (message alignment advantages), and negotiate for lower per unit costs (investment efficiencies).

Generate a Guerrilla Tools List - Revisit and expand your list of available marketing tools, particularly low-cost and “free” ones that may be underutilized. A great starting point is the website for Jay Conrad Levinson, the father of guerrilla marketing with its list of 100 guerrilla marketing tools. Additionally, you can customize and expand the list of tools for your business. Be sure to consider blogs, podcasts, and social networking sites that allow you to inexpensively reach new parts of your audience.

Personal Branding Actions
While step 3 calls for taking a longer-term business view, it’s also important on a personal basis to be prepared attitudinally to deal with challenging times. These seven actions will set the stage for you to strengthen your personal brand performance now and flourish in the years ahead:

Understand Your Distinctive Talents – Think through your talents. Identifying those at which you’re best (and improving all the time), that bring you the most energy, and that benefit others. After identifying your “distinctive talents,” use them in as many work and personal situations as possible to maximize your positive impact.

Tune Out Negative News Before Work – I used to wake up to talk radio and listen to it until arriving at work. That was until seeing speaker Ed Foreman who asked, “Why would anyone want to fill themselves full of downbeat news to start the day?” Now, I awake to upbeat music, avoid the newspaper in favor of uplifting reading, do quick creative tasks, attend a daily religious service, and listen to energizing music or helpful presentations in the car. The result is a more positive attitude when arriving at work.

Give Yourself a Break – Tough times lead to greater pressure to achieve goals. Compensate by figuring out what mind-filling tasks or situations you can eliminate to give yourself a break. Get up earlier and start the day so you aren’t running behind. Stop reading a redundant industry magazine. Set a slightly earlier time to leave work. Consciously live below your means. These and other ideas can help reduce self-induced pressure.

Stop Thinking so Much about Yourself – Go out of your way to serve others – at work and in your personal life. Instead of turning inward, increasingly reach out to others. Apply your talents to help others be more successful in their challenges. This may seem counter-intuitive, but I’d rather be known for contributing to a lot of other peoples’ successes than simply focusing on mine.

Be a Joy to Be Around – Smile, laugh, cheer people up. As tempting as going into a cocoon when everything seems crappy may be, don’t do it. Be a source of calm and enjoyment, bringing comfort and light-hearted moments to others. Find whatever works with your personality. Often, it’s as simple as smiling, greeting people warmly, and not focusing on life’s negatives during conversation.

Be Visible – Use your talents to be visible inside and outside your company. If your talent is speaking, develop content and present to local organizations and universities. If it’s writing, submit articles to publications looking for content or start a blog on your expertise. If you’re good at building, cooking, or other essential skills, volunteer in your community. Make sure you’re using talents to help others and expand your network.

Take Care of Your Physical Fitness – Exercise and I were never good friends until my wife signed us up at a nearby health club and arranged for me to work with a trainer. This brought a new health focus, helping relieve stress through exercise, and resulting in losing 30 pounds.  You can’t be prepared to take care of your business or serve others if you’re not taking good care of yourself.

Putting It All In Action
Ultimately, we can’t predict the future, and there’s no panacea for handling an economic “reset” successfully.  But by doing foundational homework, considering an appropriate range of possible outcomes, and taking smart across-the-board actions, you’ll be ahead of most businesses and individuals in surviving and thriving through today’s economic reset.

Mike Brown Biography
Mike Brown ( is the author of, a daily website featuring articles on strategy and innovation, and is a frequent keynote presenter and facilitator in marketing best practices, innovation, and strategic thinking.
Additionally, he’s written a new e-book called “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation” and is co-authoring and illustrating an upcoming book titled “Creative Instigation” about spurring creativity in yourself and your team.

His personal branding approach has been highlighted in “Fast Company” magazine and his material has been featured in publications for the Transportation Marketing & Communications Association, Frost & Sullivan, and the Business Marketing Association.

Mike is Vice President – Market Strategy for YRC Worldwide, a Fortune 500 transportation & logistics company based in Overland Park, KS where he leads the research, business intelligence, marketing communications, and e-commerce areas.

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