Building a Strong Brand in a Weak Economy

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Building a Strong Brand in a Weak Economy Powered By Docstoc
					?Let's get the bad news over with: To say that the U.S. economy is facing the most
challenging economic time since the Great Depression is not an overstatement. Last
week, employers shed almost 600,000 jobs. Today, 11.6 million Americans are out of
work. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate has
officially risen to 7.6%.

"This is the largest 13-month job loss since the payroll employment series began in
1939," Christina Romer, the head of President Obama's White House Council of
Economic Advisers, said in a statement on February 6, 2009. "These numbers, and the
very real suffering of American workers they represent, reinforce the need for bold
fiscal action. If we fail to act, we are likely to lose millions more jobs and the
unemployment rate could reach double digits."

So, what's the good news, you say? Given these data, how do business, political, and
nonprofit leaders reignite confidence in their ability to lead? How do they exemplify
brand integrity, and any good will their organization may have? Is such a thing even
possible, given current levels of consumer confidence and general economic malaise?

It is not only possible to build a strong brand in the current economy; there is untold
opportunity to thrive. Using time-honored rules, one can strengthen brand trust and
grow share of wallet and voice, even in these difficult times. Two great opportunities
to leverage those time-honored rules come to mind: Opportunity #1) Competitors are
reducing their marketing spend, and Opportunity #2) Stakeholders are more
perceptive during times of uncertainty.

Competitors Are Reducing Marketing and Research Budgets

In 16 years as a marketing practitioner, I have often told clients, "You NEVER stop
communicating with your stakeholders when times are difficult." When confidence is
low, customers and employees want their trusted institutions to exude competency,
integrity, and a core of humanity. When competitors "go black" to cut costs; savvy
marketing practitioners use the opportunity to fill the void with communication that is
relevant to the lives of their stakeholders. These days, he who provides comfort,
confidence, constancy and consistency wins. Here are a few inexpensive, yet powerful,
methods to produce significant rewards:

1) Social networking media. A number of organizations are using Facebook, YouTube,
LinkedIn, and Twitter to communicate directly with the public. These are great
message tools; but they are also great listening tools. Spend some time listening to
chatter about your brand. If you're a small business - generate some positive chatter!

2) Corporate Social Responsibility Initiatives. For example, Company XYZ
employees can work together mentoring young people, helping a local charity, or
providing expertise to a budding young company. These initiatives are not only good
for the region, they tell a great story about the soul of the company (even when times
are tough).

3) Consumer Advisory Boards. This is a tool that we recently suggested to a client
with a limited research budget. We helped them recruit a group of core customers of
varying levels of loyalty and satisfaction to help the company with product re-design
and message development. Your customers can do a great job of keeping you honest,
if you let them.

Customers, Employees, and Shareholders are on High Alert

Whether you lead a small business or a multinational corporation, every message that
emanates from your organization (and brand) during this challenging economy takes
on additional significance. Your stakeholders are listening to what you say and
watching what you do. Consumers are not spending as much; but they are listening to
the signals organizations send. Employees are anxious, however they are paying close
attention to the moves their leaders make. With every new data point, stakeholders
either have increased trust in your brand - or you lose them. This is the time to deeply
establish your credentials as a trusted brand. Here are three critical actions to
establishing a strong brand in a weak economy:

1) Exude Integrity. This is the most important element of building a trusted brand.
Recently, I was conducting an interview for our upcoming Trust in Leadership Series,
and an Executive VP of a global hotel company told me that the way his organization
has been able to thrive in this economy is that his brand, "Always delivers on its
promise. There are no exceptions." My words to him were, "Of course... What else
would you tell me?"

He said something really interesting, "It's not about what I say to you, it's about what I
do for my customers all over the world."

He had recently visited one of his high-end hotel chains in a major U.S. city, and was
told that a (now former) employee blatantly lied to a longstanding customer about a
service offering. That particular corporate customer had held their annual convention
at the hotel for many years. They were very profitable, and brought a positive stream
of national press every year. He concluded, "The situation was ultimately resolved,
but I felt that our integrity was in question. The following weekend, I got in my car
and drove across three states to apologize to their board members, and refund a
portion of their fees." His integrity will not be forgotten.

2) Showcase Organizational Capabilities. It's one thing to talk a good game, it's
another to deliver. Stakeholders want to know that the product works the way it is
supposed to, and that your team has the technical knowledge to deliver on the promise.
Take this opportunity to increase your organization's institutional knowledge. Take
advantage of high-alert stakeholders' interest by educating them. Become a trusted
source of knowledge, transparency, and information in your industry or sector.

3) Emanate Goodwill. Authentic goodwill, particularly as the public suffers, drives a
powerful message across organizational channels and throughout your marketing mix.
For example, companies with a long-term investment in sustainability practices are
shoring up credentials as brands that "do good while doing well." Other organizations
have taken cost-cutting measures to save the jobs of long-term employees. Even small
businesses are getting into the act by contributing their limited time and money to
worthy causes.

Leaders of corporate, small business, civic, or government institutions have a unique
opportunity to build lasting and strong brand trust, even in an ever-weakening
economy. The key is to lead with integrity, highlight your individual and institutional
abilities, and let your stakeholders know that your company has a soul. Organizations
that show strength of character now will reap the benefits of a strong and trusted
brand when times improve.

About the author:

Rachel Y. Daniel is the CEO of Synergy Marketing Strategy & Research, Inc. Synergy
has been designing data-driven strategies that build trusted brands for over seven
years. Working with Fortune 500 companies, government entities, universities, and
mid-sized businesses, Synergy uses its proprietary Five Pillars of Brand Trust to help
clients extend brand reach, increase customer loyalty, leverage employee passions,
and maximize stakeholder relationships.

Rachel completes her doctorate at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead
School of Management in May 2010. Her research interests include brand and
organizational trust. Her dissertation examines antecedents to perceived brand

Perhaps Rachel and the team at Synergy can help build your organization's brand
power. Please visit or to find out more.

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