The D Word

By the time establishment economists acknowledged there was a recession, we had, according to their terms, been in one for 9 to 10 months. Nonetheless, not being in a “recession” may have made some people feel better and allow others to lie with a straight face.

For marketers and their customers, a “recession” has little to do with “two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth” or any specific formal definition. The economist’s recession is not the marketer’s and vice versa. It is a perception and more important a feeling.

The same could for the less commonly heard “depression.” Like recession, depression had its origins as a euphemism. Herbert Hoover did not like the term “panic,” which had been used to characterize earlier financial dislocations. That may have been inspired web-smithing and accurate in that panic can hardly be sustained for more than a decade as the Great Depression was.

Use what term you will, customers know what they’re experiencing. The latest (January 2009) employment report shows a loss of 598,000 jobs and that 3,200,000 jobs were lost in the last 12 months.

For most firms, this was not part of their planning assumptions. What marketing messages are we going to say to consumers and firms (including those, which used to employ some of those consumers)? In more general terms, what are we going to do for our markets, which are a lot sicker than we imagined?

Pricing does have to be realistic. Whenever I hear a supplier claim his business is recession proof I wonder how much is delusion and how much dissembling. There may be such businesses, but neither you nor I are in them. Price cutting alone won’t be enough, but be prepared for concessions.

An interesting wrinkle on this are pre-announced price freezes. Professional sports are an example. Demand is down, and not just for personal seat licenses. Demand for this years’ Superbowl tickets weakened such that in the week before the game, ticket brokers were selling some tickets at less than face value.

The response of teams such as the New England Patriots and Boston Red Sox, was to announce there will be no price increases for the coming season. The market was clearly not going to support an increase, so they are trying to take credit for doing the obvious.

This is not a bad tactic, but it is not enough. Prediction: professional sports, like most other marketers will have to offer further incentives to maintain their market share. With customers feeling increasingly gloomy, we’ll need to continually reinforce how we are adding value. How do customers feel about your business or brand, such that you will not be the first one to be cut in tough times?