For most organisations, 2008 was supposed to be the best year yet. So, guess what, most organisations planned for that big year, investing early and aggressively in their growth and success. They backed themselves, in other words.
And then came the second half of the year. Everyone felt it at a different moment, but most of us started to feel it somewhere been June and August. The slowdown, the squeeze, the sponge-like nature of what had, just a couple of weeks earlier, still felt solid.
And so followed the inevitable whiplash as the brakes went on. Very quickly, bullish attitudes were replaced by bearish fears for the bottom line. P&L flashes and month-end reports started to feed the pain back to HQ. Marketing budgets, already much diminished by spending in the first half of the year, were slashed or even frozen. Marketers sought to balance their slimmed budgets with their looming sales targets. So an understandable knee-jerk commitment to mass retail activity, sales drives, and price promotions has dominated the second half of the year.
Why should 2009 be any better, especially for those of us in the business of building long-term brand equity?
Simple. You can’t be on sale for ever. Soon enough you’re going to have to reconnect with what your brand stands for (which, for most, is not discounting). And if that reconnection has to be done on modest budgets then you’re going to have to find some imaginative ways to play.
The exciting opportunities? Reassuring employees and partners and being the source of confidence and growth in a sea of same-same pessimism. Inspiring customers at a time when any escape from the gloom will be welcome. Zagging when everyone else zigs, by investing in your brand equity while they are living off theirs. Getting far greater bang for your buck by refusing to buy into the mass-media-led model any longer. Questioning and rebooting everything.
And don’t think of it as creative destruction. Just think of it as trusting your instincts, using your judgement, believing in your brand, taking some risks, and being smarter than ever before.
To get an idea of the kind of exciting places a fresh approach could lead us, check out Seth Godin's radical ideas about rebuilding the US car industry by breaking the model and starting again.
Or, for a look into a less inspiring future, the one where nothing really changes, and where advertising agencies try to do more 'new' and 'viral' stuff but keep charging as much as they always have...read Dom Joly's great column in The Independent.