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The Catch 22 of Marketing through a Crisis

Posted by Flux on 

16 September 2020

Nobody said business was easy.

2020 has been anything but easy for businesses of all sizes attempting to navigate dramatically constrained circumstances – in both the literal social-distancing sense, and in the figurative financial sense.

Economists are now predicting South Africa’s GDP will decline 8% this year (if we are lucky). This means South African consumers have less disposable income (those of them still lucky enough to hang onto a job; given that a 50% real national unemployment rate is a realistic threat) and that business sales forecasts will likewise have to adjust downwards. Not only that, businesses need to brace themselves to budget for tax increases as the government looks to the private sector to patch up its own fiscal leaks and tax shortfalls. In tightened economic conditions like this, businesses need to minimise their own expenditures ruthlessly to give themselves the best chance of surviving the lean months and years ahead. Now, the temptation is to reduce marketing and advertising expenditure as a part of these cost-cutting initiatives. However, that can prove to be shortsighted; by reducing visibility and communications, businesses risk strangling their future lead pipelines – the equivalent of eating the seed required to plant the next harvest.

Hence, a catch 22: businesses have to cut costs to survive the present, but if they cut investment in marketing and sales, they put their future survival at risk.

Conversely, brands and businesses that manage to continue advertising through a downturn can end up gaining a huge advantage in terms of market share and awareness over their competitors who managed to continue promoting themselves when everyone else had battened down the hatches.

Of course, this means that the biggest businesses and those with the deepest pockets have an advantage over their smaller and less-well funded competitors.

However, that sort of vicious-virtuous circle is not guaranteed: history is littered with examples of market leaders scoring own goals by reacting badly or slowly to changing conditions and smaller, less well-positioned upstarts taking advantage of their better positioned competitors’ mistakes.

2020 is not short of case studies here.

Consider the small swimwear brand Summersault that engaged in low-cost (but high future return) business empathy by turning their under-utilised call centres into free counselling lines for stressed and depressed customers  – winning masses of free press and public goodwill in the process.

Or take the SteakUmm brand which turned its frozen meat product’s Twitter account into an unlikely fact-checking hub of sanity and kindness in the midst of the sea of mis and disinformation  – and collected millions of new followers (for free) as a result.

Or Checkers and its Sixty60 grocery delivery app that has “stolen” untold mid and higher income market share from its upmarket competitors – simply by actually delivering the goods within one hour of orders being placed – while its competitors struggled to get orders delivered within a week.

All these examples speak to marketing success being about working smarter, not harder – and to maximising the return on your current strengths and assets rather than just spending more money on me-too promotions (this compilation of virtually indistinguishable ads from big businesses with deep pockets but shallow insights highlights how easy it is to waste money on cliched hackney’d marketing and imagine what a smaller, leaner, smarter, more hungry organisation could have done with the same budget : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vM3J9jDoaTA (see video below)

Marketing through a crisis requires agility, empathy and a ruthless focus on return on investment – there is no room for public relations mistakes or throwing good money after bad.

Of course, actually coming up with and executing a lean communications strategy is easier said than done; especially when businesses are juggling wave after wave of crises and struggling to keep the proverbial lights on. Knowing that there is no room for error or money to waste on mistaken strategy can cause entrepreneurs and big businesses alike to lose confidence in committing to a communications strategy at all (after all, we live in the age of cancel-culture – one brand misstep or misjudgment of the ever-changing zeitgeist can destroy a brand over night).

This is why we have put together a Mini Marketing Masterclass to help business owners, big and small make smarter, ROI-maximising marketing and communications choices with the limited funds they have available. In the masterclass, we have invited some of South Africa’s top marketing brains to give actionable answers and insights to your marketing and communications challenges.

The aim of the Masterclass is to help your business avoids the crisis communication Catch 22 by ensuring your marketing seed is sown into fertile soil that will yield you a sustainable a harvest even after the dry season ahead.

Click here for more information.

Bronwyn Williams
Foresight | Futurist | Strategist | Economist | Trend Analyst

Image credit: Rawpixel

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