‘Want to build your brand? Stop selling’: the counter-intuitive rules of growth in a recession

News 6 months ago, Reading time: 4 min

‘Want to build your brand? Stop selling’: the counter-intuitive rules of growth in a recession

What decisions and actions might you have taken differently with your business in 2019 if you’d known how 2020 would turn out?

Would there have been any obvious defensive and offensive strategies you could have put in place to protect and grow your business if you’d somehow peered into the future?

Maybe even with foresight it would have been a task to put the right pieces of the jigsaw puzzle in place to fully insulate you from the impact of Coronavirus.

Everywhere you look – and I mean everywhere – there’s advice and ‘support’ in the form of content and blogs like this one. With such volumes of advice it’s difficult to know where to start in figuring out the right levers to pull on in order to protect your growth.

While some of the advice we’re receiving feels counter-intuitive, it’s well worth spending some meeting time considering, no matter what size or type of business you run.

One such piece of advice is to stop talking about your product or promotion and well, stop trying to sell stuff. When there’s a downturn the business instinct to find any way possible to shift product kicks in. Of course we all need to continue trading however we can. But the tone of your sales outreach can break your brand in a crisis.

Appear opportunistic or crass – look like you’re cashing in on the crisis – and you’re in trouble. Appear valuable, helpful and, in the right moments and with some care humorous, and you’ll be welcomed.

There are many tricks to getting this right: you need everything you say – across all of your messaging – to sound as human and as ‘uncorporate’ as your brand voice will allow. Those of you that have already tuned in to the recent webinar session that comms expert Heather Astbury delivered for Clockwise will be ahead of the curve on this.

Take time to place yourself in your customer’s shoes to figure out what’s relevant. Don’t send meaningless business updates or customer messages with a Coronavirus theme if you really don’t have anything to say (see random Tweet selected from millions of similar posts below).

Possibly the most important advice to brands and businesses looking to be genuinely helpful during a time when so many people are in need is to stay in your lane.

Be sure to wrap your services and products in ways that recognise and speak to your core competence and make it relevant.

It only takes a sprinkling of creativity and imagination to figure out how your business can be a hero to many within the core expertise you’re known for.

Babysitter booking app Bubble has enabled a community of volunteers to offer free babysitting services to NHS workers struggling with childcare while on hospital shifts. Bubble has waived all fees for NHS workers accessing the service.

Retailer The Co-op has pulled its planned £2.5m Easter television advertising campaign and instead donating the airtime to the national food redistribution charity FareShare, encouraging people to support food banks.

Linkedin CEO Jeff Weiner, posted an idea on his own business support platform to provide financial relief to local service providers whose businesses are temporarily shut down but whose services “we will inevitably use again in the foreseeable future”.

Weiner suggested a scheme whereby temporary subscriptions, paid in advance, could support local business owners with no current revenue. “For example,” Weiner writes, “just about everyone is going to need a haircut when this is all over with. For those that can afford to, pay for your next haircut (or two or three) in advance.”

However, while experts are urging us not to focus on sales volumes, they’re also pushing us to protect or even increase our marketing budgets.

Like the warning against selling, this goes against the grain. Most of us are now resigned to the fact that the economic slowdown so necessary to beating the Coronavirus pandemic will result in a deep and difficult global recession.

Bloomberg is reporting that we’re already in a recession and have been since last month.

In such circumstances common sense tells us to protect our cash position. In fact the very smartest business thinkers out there are currently collating empirical evidence and presenting it in easy children’s bedtime storybook terms why investing well in long term brand marketing during a recession will ensure strong business performance and increased market share for up to a decade afterwards.

As Professor Mark Ritson wrote in Marketing Week magazine last week, the effect of investing in brand-building in a budget is enhanced simply because the chances are your direct competitors won’t be gutsy enough to do the same.

Only this week it was reported that television broadcaster Channel 4 is preparing business cuts and staff furloughs as it predicts a 50% fall in TV ad revenues in April and May.

This is a tough time for businesses of all sizes and when our backs are against the wall, our fight or flight responses kick in. Those instincts have kept the human race going for millions of years so are well worth listening to. Now though, in what might be for many of you the hardest climate your business has faced, it’s worth tuning into the advice that goes against your hunch. Your growth could depend on it.