THE BLOG
05/21/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

"Punk Marketing" In a Recession

You don't need to be told that we are in the depths of a steep recession. Jobless claims are up, GNP is down, and most importantly for marketers, ad spends are projected to fall a whopping four percent this year. Trust in corporate America is non-existent. Things are bleak.

It is easy to curl into to the fetal position and wait out the warmer economic days, but if you do that, you are missing out! You see, friends, Recession actually *creates* opportunity. When there is less money, marketers have license to be more creative. The people who are scared will retreat into the traditional, boring methods of marketing -- another billboard? Now? -- while those who think outside the bun a little bit will have the chance to be creative and thrive.

Sounds easy, but at this point you're probably wondering how you can be part of the "in crowd" who makes a buck during the downturn. Let the gentlemen from Punk Marketing give you some tips. Key is to keep a few straightforward concepts in mind and the rest will take care of itself...with finesse and vigor!

First, you have to realize that consumers -- not the media or marketers -- control the market. What do consumers want? They want you to be there for them. They want to know they are buying a good product. Consumers want you to hold their hands and show them what to buy. They want to feel like they are part of American-led innovations.

Example: A recent Brooks Brothers ad entitled Generations of Style may as well have been clipped from a 1949 life magazine. the message: "We are an American institution, it's OK to buy from us!"

Once you've determined the right angle with which to position your product, remember that marketing in 2009 is like war, but less bloody. We are fighting people who never want to leave their homes, and when we capture them, we shower them with love. After you get consumers to consume, you must reward them for taking the plunge. Reassurance is one of the big changes that needs to be made to adjust.

OK -- you know how to position your product, you know how to treat your customers after you get them to buy, but how about the actual marketing?

Simply put: Tone is more important than ever. Your message is meaningless today if you say it with the wrong tone. Your messages should be WARM in the cold recession. Fill people with warmth. People need to feel good about what they are buying, not just adequate.

Take for example, the latest Crown Royal TV spot -- the typical alpha male pool shark wins every game at the pub, but leaves early every night to shoot a game or two with his dad, while enjoying Crown Royal. Isn't that precious? Kind of makes me want to spend $35 on a fifth of bourbon, just to feel better.

Beyond the message and its position and tone, there is a very practical aspect of selling that many marketers completely miss: focus groups do not represent your customers. Your customers represent your customers. Listen to them! Do not make your customers feel stupid by telling them what research presumes they are thinking! Original Punk Marketer Henry Ford once famously said that if he listened to what his customers thought they wanted, they would have said "a faster horse."

Your message should be crafted in a way that provides people with the idea that they are getting something of value when they purchase your product instead of just a low price. Cheap is what chickens do! People want to feel like they are getting a deal on something that costs a little more.

Nissan's latest move is an excellent illustration of this. It started selling a $12,000 car -- the Nissan Versa -- for just under $10,000. All of the sudden, car buyers were getting a deal -- a brand new car for below the psychological barrier of a five digit price. Excellent move, Nissan.

The line between low-cost and value is often precarious, and complicated even further by the fact that in a recession, consumers do not want to spend large amounts of money. Big ticket items are no longer the big sellers. Huge capital outlays are for the birds. You need to pick and choose what kinds of products fit the bill: Instead of selling that 52" plasma, how about selling a Blu-ray disc with a pack of microwave popcorn?

Just as consumer spending is principled these days, all recession marketing must be similarly principled. Stick to your customers like your job depends on it, because it does. Now is perhaps not the best time to be over-aggressively pursuing new customers. You need to hang on to your existing customers. They already love you with their wallets!

Creativity plays a big part of the successful recession marketer's arsenal. There are a few sources of media left that consumers actually listen to. The Internet is one. This is, remember, 2009. There is no excuse for dismissing the online world as fringe. Start using some 2009 methods to get the message out. Twitter, Wordpress, Facebook, Wikipedia, Ning sites, etc. are your friends -- these are not cliches in any way. Using them is no longer optional -- it is compulsory. Everybody uses a computer now. Don't you think you ought to start? Everyone and their mother is carrying an iPhone or a Blackberry these days -- isn't it about time you figured out how to get to them via their mobile device?

Along with a solid, disciplined message, consumers want clear and concise choices. Don't confuse them with options and bells and whistles. Be one thing -- one really great thing. Tylenol sells no less than 14 kinds of sinus medication. Don't make your buyers have to become experts on the ins and outs of your product. Hit them over the head with focused and deft marketing, and the rest will take care of itself.

The well-informed, principled, disciplined, and savvy marketer must always keep in mind that marketing is not always the most important thing that your company has in mind. You absolutely must choose your battles. As a marketer, you aren't going to get every dollar you want. That's where that noggin of yours comes into play. Didn't get the $15,000 you wanted for billboards? No big deal. Think up something better to use in hopes that you get the $2,000 for AdWords on a great and unexpected content site. Money is finite -- and companies aren't likely to give you all the dollars you need. Don't let that be an excuse for running yet another lame radio ad, ok?

Look friend, things are bad, no doubt. Chances are they are going to get bad before they get better. This is where you earn your stripes as a marketing pro. Stick to what we know works well and ride out this downturn. This can be your time to shine -- if you choose to make it your time to shine.

On Twitter: www.twitter.com/laermer; paperback of the book Punk Marketing on sale 5/15. The site is on 24/7, right? www.PunkMarketing.com.