Updated September 2011
THE UPSIDE OF DOWNTIMES
A Leader’s Guide for Turning Turmoil into Trust
By Gary Szenderski
Every organization, both public and private, is affected by today’s global economic turmoil. Leaders are faced with difficult and complicated scenarios where problems cannot be fixed easily, yet something has to be done “now.” Based on our experience working with brands and companies in transition, we’ve noted some common situational problems and identified five conversion principles – easy to remember marketing axioms – which leaders and owners can apply today to create positive momentum and change for their organizations.
Conversion Principle # 1 – No news is bad news.
The problem: Our business is down due to external forces beyond our control. Because no two recessions are alike, neither are their recovery periods, so it is very difficult to predict a way out. Market conditions can be impacted by credit restraints, monetary fluctuations or simple consumer fear and though problems really may not be our fault, they may create an opportunity to take ownership of the situation. You can do this by owning the facts: what, where, how, when, why, why not, how come, who made this happen etc.?
Learn what you can, and try to give it some perspective that you, your staff and partners can apply moving forward. As a leader, silence won’t make it better or make it go away whereas the facts can be your ally. Keeping communications fluid with staff and stockholders is critical and when you can share solid data and insights you also position yourself as an expert and resource in the category.
Conversion Principle # 2 – Downtime becomes think time.
The problem: This slowdown is creating vacuums of “dead time” where we just seem to be going through the motions. This is a chance to recruit your entire organization and enlist them in helping to solve problems or, even better, to create new concepts and opportunities. You never know where your next winning business concept will come from and if you have people in the company that care – or simply want to keep their jobs – this is the time to ask.
Involving your team can provide them with a sense of control and hope. Setting aside time for brainstorming and open forums with management allows you to hear and better understand what your team needs from its leader. You will be mining the downtime, not simply filling it. It’s a win-win.
Conversion Principle #3 – Attacking creates space.
The problem: The company is feeling wedged in by circumstances and fear among our channel partners and in the general marketplace. It’s a good bet that if you’re feeling the economic pinch, your competition is probably trapped too; you have them where you want them. Maintaining or even increasing market presence during a recession has been proven to improve a brand’s position once the recovery takes hold and is fueled by pent-up demand. By differentiating your brand from competitors you create space in your target’s mind for you to reside permanently. It is therefore essential to preserve the strongest possible connections to your existing customers while beginning new connections to your competitors’ customers. They snooze, they lose.
Market share during downtimes will not remain consistent. As buying habits and purchasing trends evolve and shift, openings for gain will emerge for leaders on the offensive.
Conversion Principle # 4 – Good news will be used.
The problem: Customers and consumers are on hold, afraid to spend, waiting for something good to happen. In downtimes there are three types of customers: Those that will wait for better times to buy, those that will buy because they can’t wait, and those that need a nudge to buy.
Leaders that can share some good news – modify their pricing, add value, a bonus, a deal, rebate, a free whatever – have a chance to push reluctant buyers back into the market. This is especially true in the business-to-business segment where, like you, your customers want to emerge ahead of their competitors. Waiting too long to get re-started can be disastrous because once the spending begins again for everyone you could find yourself lost in the crowd.
By recognizing that some customers are reluctant but still want to win, you can position your firm as an asset and resource. Leaders that can provide support or special incentives not only reinforce the relationship with their customer, they join them on the road to success.
Conversion Principle #5 – Taking the lead creates trust.
The problem: Our team feels weary, fearful and tentative. The reality of economic downturn and recession is that people lose their jobs. Prudent leaders facing business realities have to do the math. So what about those that remain?
Leaders that apply the first four principles demonstrate that they are not just reacting to market conditions but creating opportunities to not only survive, but to prosper. These leaders recognize that leading is not telling someone what to do, but listening to what they think about what they do. Effective leaders open their minds to the possibilities and build trust by providing encouragement and empathy for their staff and organization.
In any successful endeavor there has to be a leader that not only calls the play, but lets everyone know exactly what their role will be. In today’s world, many decisions are analyzed and scrutinized by a public and workforce that want integrity, honesty and respect from the boss. Today’s leaders can’t be successful in the marketplace if they are not successful as human beings.
The Reluctant Recovery:
One of the most difficult aspects of this recovery has been putting people to work. It’s very likely that Congress will pass some version of a new “jobs” bill soon. The impact it will have is not clear, but some money will be invested some where and as a leader you want to be ready to take advantage. Turning things around is never as easy as it sounds. Leaders have to start with good reliable information, enlist support from their team and be candid about business realities. They need to stay engaged with their customers and exploit competitors that are stuck in neutral. Right now people are desperate for some good news and leaders they can trust. They are looking for an “upside” to their lives and they need it now.
I hope this article has been helpful and I’ve referenced many sources if you’d like to know more. Timing is everything, but only works for those prepared to act.
Harvard Business Review – How to Market in a Downturn (April 2009)
Harvard Business Review – The Essential Advantage (2011)
Wall Street Journal – The Value of Advertising
Brand channel.com – The “What’s Next?” process
ADWEEK.com – Tough Times or Not (March 2009)
SZEN Marketing – Culture as a Fuel Source (online whitepaper)
Book of Szen – Ongoing Insights on Managing Change
Influencer – Patterson, Grenny, Maxfield, McMillan, Switzler (2008 McGraw Hill)
Contributors – Jane Gibb, Sherrie Good and Jerry Walters
Gary Szenderski is a Senior Partner at SZEN Marketing, home of Visionization© – a marketing methodology designed to assist owners and top management in adapting and refining corporate visions to maximize marketing efforts and potential. There are many variables to consider as every organization has a unique character or personality that must be assessed. SZEN Marketing leverages its decades of marketing experience with companies and brands in transition to provide the tools to translate corporate goals into realities, to capitalize on your company’s unique point of difference and vision and align it with the opportunity, and to take it to the next level. To learn more, contact Gary Szenderski for a free consultation. © 2011 Szen Marketing, All Rights Reserved. [email protected]