Marketing in a downturn: how the best do it

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By Danny Sullivan

We’ve written on marketing in a downturn a few times over the past couple of years - unfortunately, it’s a topic that is close to everyone right now. But I had to come back to the subject again after reading an excellent and insightful article by Beth Comstock, CMO of GE in BusinessWeek.

It’s very refreshing to hear such a frank discussion about how one of the world’s biggest companies is ramping up its marketing spend to capture more market share and position itself for the inevitable recovery. At inmedia, we have long advocated using the downturn as a time to increase the marketing volume rather than cut back, but all too often our words have fallen on deaf ears.

It’s understandable that companies look at marketing as something that can easily be cut back on when times are tough, but such a reaction fails to take into account the immediate opportunity that exists to gain a marketing foothold over other cost-cutting competitors, and does not look beyond the downturn to the time when they will need to be well-positioned to take advantage of the recovery.

Comstock’s example of Priceline outspending the competition to post an 82% increase in profits and improved market share should be enough to convince anyone that there is value to be gained from marketing in a downturn.

Some might say it’s easier for the biggest companies to remain bold during a downturn, but what about those whose revenues are a fraction of GE’s? I believe that the principle remains the same – going silent can only cause one to lose business and market share. The truth is that plenty of business remains to be won in a downturn, and canny marketing investment can help capture that business, while simultaneously ensuring a company’s readiness for the recovery.

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