The news headlines are full of updates on Covid-19, and quite rightly so, as we focus on how best to deal with the human impacts of the virus. And while China appears to be making some headway, new international hotspots are causing uncertainty. This, understandably, is having an impact on businesses and the broader economy, which is now forecast to continue for the remainder of 2020. While our collective focus should remain on the immediate challenges in front of us, Kiwi companies have an essential role to play in keeping our economy improving.

For businesses, that means a clear focus on the health and well-being of their employees first and foremost, while also looking at how they can act proactively and apply some of the lessons learnt during the GFC, to help navigate a way forward in today’s uncertain times. 

The research and learnings from the GFC, more than a decade ago, coupled with the ensuing recession, show that many of the businesses who cut back on their marketing spend ultimately suffered over the long term. So what may have felt like a natural reaction to a financial crisis actually compounded the negative impacts in the long run.

This is something that Samuel Scotts, a columnist at the Drum who writes about integrated traditional and digital marketing details in his article, Marketing in a recession. Scotts lays out all the research, and the message is clear – “Marketing encompasses everything that brings money into a business. Everything else is essentially finance or operations”

In contrast, the companies that grew during the recession increased their investments in advertising, R&D and new products. They also held pricing relative to their competition and reduced administration, fixed costs and working capital. Essentially, continuing to invest in growth while reducing other business costs where possible. 

So on a practical level, how do you apply these lessons to your company to create an advantage in the weeks and months ahead, given the situation many companies currently find themselves in? This is essential under the prevailing pressure to cut back spending, with marketing often one of the first budgets to be considered. 

Here are some things to consider:

  1. FocusI’ve spent the last month interviewing Marketing Directors around the country to help uncover the big things they’re worried about right now. One of the key themes from these interviews was ‘focus’. They mentioned being too stretched to achieve everything that was being asked of them. This is an important moment to step back and refocus on the key things that will drive brand affinity and therefore, sales and business growth. Getting the right mix between long-term strategic thinking and targeted short term tactics is critical for ongoing brand health.
  2. Innovate and challenge everything – Today is the perfect opportunity to look at everything with fresh eyes. Think about your customer experience and what you should reconsider, and potentially alter, to make sure it’s best in class. Now could be a great time to develop new approaches, products and services or experiences that will bring in new customers and grow loyalty with your existing audiences.
  3. Don’t forget to focus on your brand – Is it positioned correctly in the market? Is your brand well defined? Are you telling a compelling story? Experience (and all the best case studies around the world) tells us that you’ll be rewarded for producing relevant, engaging ideas (and content) that drive brand affinity. 
  4. Ensure you’re delivering performance – Ensure you have a robust framework in place that can clearly demonstrate that you’re driving optimal value from your marketing spend. We know the importance of brand building and the damage that can be done when you stop, but it’s important to be able to demonstrate it’s value to other key stakeholders and departments within your business.

The 2009 GFC may feel like a distant memory, but it shouldn’t. If we can draw on the research from that uncertain time, it’ll help us navigate a way forward in the current environment, which is starting to feel like a similar moment of societal and economic upheaval. These learnings can help us deliver both brand health and support for the broader New Zealand economy at large.

This article originally appeared in Stuff

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