Feature

The Crisis Clientside

This quartet doesn't believe in the maxim, 'when you're in a hole, stop digging'. Tough times are precisely when they start working for advantage ...

RICHARD HUDSON - MARKETING DIRECTOR, BMW UK

I have just enjoyed a summer break, but my BlackBerry was never far away. What has surprised me was the number of unsolicited approaches I received promising Holy Grail solutions to marketing in a downturn.

Sadly for the senders, the delete button was never far away. If, as a business, you do not have solutions already in place or plan for a tougher business climate, then many new solutions amount to a closing of the stable door some time after the occupant has left.

What does this mean in advertising and communications reactions? This is where the short-term approaches, often with price-led offers, come out. These do little to improve perceptions, certainly for premium brands.

Now many of us are measured on both brand strength and market (often sales) success, so we do recognise that solutions are required. This is where longer-term solutions and forward planning come to the fore.

Put simply, this means using the right propositions in the most appropriate channels. We can often over-complicate channel planning but I know that trying to attract a new car "browser" with a heavy price-led proposition is not the best way to spend BMW's money. These browsers are weighing up their choices but also thinking about the more emotionally exciting aspects of their next purchase (BMW or Mercedes? Coupe or saloon? Sporty or luxury?), rather than price. So a solely price-led approach might seem the solution in that it gives immediate visibility (and pleases sales teams) but it's not always the right message in the right channel for many car buyers.

As marketers, we have to maintain the confidence but brand preference remains a key motivator, especially for larger ticket items and emotional purchases such as cars. In good times and tougher times, strong brands with consistent promises act as lighthouses.

That said, in tougher times all brands need to balance brand strength communications with sales push activities and this is where knowing your customers and good channel planning come into play. And many of BMW's DM activities ably communicate some sales push propositions to the right people at the right time. These are prospects who have already put you on their shopping-list, so now's the time to talk some more about the specifics. This is where those below-the-line programmes really give you payback: customer magazines, enquiry follow-up activities, well-constructed websites.

Getting your retailers in line is also essential. There's little point in brand-building advertising and below-the-line activities if your retailers are not communicating the same message. Getting them in line is easy if you own the retail network but if you have dealers or a franchise you need different approaches. A "stick" can work short-term, but I prefer a more constructive approach. Every BMW dealer in the UK gets regular briefings on national activity followed with specific action plans for their locality. There is an online shop where they can order any material they need, from point of sale to advertising. Such positive solutions, attractively priced, mean it's rare that a dealer will break rank and implement distressful communications.

Finally, preparing for a downturn is not just about channel planning; tailoring the content to the climate also gives you the edge. This is where BMW is ahead of the competition and I'm afraid here is the sales pitch. BMW has developed "EfficientDynamics", award-winning technologies that have got BMW recognised as the manufacturer that has done the most to reduce emissions and improve consumption.

In the UK, we began to use these tax-saving, emission-reducing and fuel cost-saving strengths to attract prospects as far back as 2006. The challenges facing car manufacturers are more extreme (social influences, tax, oil prices etc), but being a conviction brand, BMW has been able to make a competitive advantage and brand-building virtue out of them.

SALLY COWDRY - MARKETING DIRECTOR, O2

While an economic downturn can be difficult to navigate and the temptation may be to become internally focused on margins or costs, it is more important to stay close to shifting customer needs, to ensure that marketing propositions continue to deliver to these changing insights.

During a credit crunch, customers are searching for companies and brands that look after them - they want reassurance and understating, not a sharp change in the way they communicate, pricing policy or product quality. These companies gain long-term trust.

This economic environment affects different people in different ways. Some will encounter difficulty in meeting all their financial commitments and will have to give some things up altogether. Others will make more careful choices when it comes to value for money. Others are frankly a bit down and just want some fun.

Understanding different segments is key to avoiding inappropriate mass communication, and our focus is on targeting our different messages to the appropriate customers - be those money-saving ideas through text or minute bundles, offering free calltime rather than a free handset, or a pie and a pint at an England game!

We look to stay creative with how and where we communicate with consumers. This may be in the form of new target markets or by finding new ways to relate to a consumer base.

A good brand is more than just a name. It is something consumers can relate to and feel supported by. It creates a level of trust and affinity. For a brand to be successful, its values must be constant but it must be flexible enough to remain relevant through life's ups and downs.

Research and creativity are vital tools for any marketer. Know what is happening in your market; know what your strengths are and where you fall short, and know your customers. At O2, we remain focused on the brand promise and on delivering relevant offerings in changing times.

MIKE HODGSON - COMMERCIAL DIRECTOR, WAITROSE

With the credit crunch tightening its grip on consumer spend, it is important to ensure customers understand what a brand stands for.

The key challenge for any marketer is to avoid knee-jerk reactions and focus instead on what sets your business apart from competitors. This must be a genuine "point of difference" rather than a "pointless difference". A successful brand must have compelling reasons why it's meaningful to customers' lives.

At Waitrose we have a strong proposition. Our shops stand for quality food, offer a uniquely appealing shopping environment and our 39,000 employees, who are co-owners of the business, offer customer service acknowledged as the best in the business.

But this reputation for excellence brings challenges, particularly in the credit crunch. The appealing ambience can perpetuate the perception that Waitrose is a treat rather than somewhere for a regular shop.

While many UK consumers treat themselves to sumptuous food at Christmas, they revert to being "fuelies" who eat to live rather than "foodies" who live to eat, for the rest of the year.

You wouldn't go for a spin in your shiny BMW on special occasions but swap it for a Robin Reliant the rest of the time. Why should food be different?

The Waitrose marketing team will be focusing on the message that Waitrose is for daily life and not just for Christmas; that quality food should be enjoyed all year round; and that dining at home is one of life's great pleasures.

Our recent ad campaign, based on the message "everyone deserves quality food", was designed to achieve just that - by persuading our customers and potential customers that good food should be part of daily life.

Just because our customers are discerning, though, doesn't mean that they aren't price-sensitive. They are only prepared to pay for something that's worth the money. If there's a price differential they want to know precisely what they are getting.

Marketing plays a crucial role in ensuring that customers understand what they are getting for their money - such as that we use free-range egg as an ingredient across all our own-label lines. This isn't about communicating cheapness, it's ensuring customers know true value is a balance between quality and price.

The economic downturn makes it even more important for marketers to target their spend effectively. As well as television and press advertising, and DM, we've integrated other cost-effective ways to maximise brand awareness: targeted e-mails, punching above our weight in terms of PR and using our own Partners as brand ambassadors.

Economic downturns come and go - great brands endure and prosper.

MATTHEW ANDERSON - GROUP DIRECTOR, STRATEGY AND CORPORATE AFFAIRS, NEWS CORP, EUROPE & ASIA

When danger looms for marketers, many pull in their oars. From the last UK recession to the peso devaluation in Latin America, fortunes diverged wildly depending on how companies acted when the going got really tough. At News Corp, we believe there's a lot to play for - share growth and further strengthening our brands.

Beyond the basic argument of increasing share of voice while rivals retreat, the combination of enhancing your product, innovating to give additional benefits and reinforcing the essence of your brand can determine the performance as better times return. While not every category shares the same set of rules, we've found this to hold true in our business, and for many of our partners.

In our UK newspapers, for example, our investment in marketing during the third and fourth quarters of 2008 will be up year on year. Moreover, we wouldn't be investing without confidence that our products are relevant and strong. The response to refreshing the design of The Sunday Times, for example, has been positive. Customers are responding well to our "For all you are" campaign which will come alive even further through the line, throughout the business and in the paper over the coming year. We'll also be breaking new work for The Times that will encourage people to think again about the times we all live in and ensure The Times feels uniquely relevant to them.

These improvements are in part possible due to the £650 million we've invested in advanced printing facilities, which give us greater control and flexibility. Within the M25, customers can now get The Times and The Sunday Times on their doorsteps by 7am.

From the return of "Captain Cash" in News of the World, to The Sun's successful £9.50 Holidays, we're not shy about giving readers value. Promotions both build readership and reinforce what the titles stand for as brands.

To paraphrase a Chinese saying, true relationships are forged in hard times. That's why we're doing our best to improve products, innovate in the way they are made and delivered, give value to customers, and commit to a level of marketing so readers and future readers know what makes us distinct.