Somehow, it just doesn’t feel right. In fact, to some it feels tantamount to suicidal – spending money on your brand at the very point in time when the company feels like it can least afford to invest in “intangibles”. To all those people who’ve thrown that argument at me over the years, you’re right. Well, partly.
At the “wrong” time, it absolutely doesn’t feel right.
But that’s the thing about counter-cyclical decisions. They’re out of sync with the spirit of the times – or more particularly, they’re not aligned with your spirit at the time. And, actually, if you’re honest, the feeling that you have about the futility of branding in bad times is probably the same feeling you have when things are going well. Except then it feels like you don’t need to spend money on your brand.
Whenever anyone asks me, “When’s the right time to spend money on your branding?”, I respond with, “When’s the right time to be competitive?”. I’m not being a smart-ass. There’s never a wrong time.
So many people misunderstand the role of brand. They think it’s a synonym for marketing, and marketing is a synonym for media spend.
A brand tells people who to value and why. Marketing tells them how the brand is valued, and where to access it.
The purpose of your brand is to use that perceived value to provide you, through marketing, with sustained sales at a greater level of return than the market is inclined to give you over the longer term.
Every brand should be looking to lift value
The objective of every brand should be to to lift what people are prepared to pay, to motivate people to value you more than they would do otherwise. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a discount brand, a scale brand, a luxury brand or a cult brand, that’s the goal. It doesn’t matter whether these are boom times or bust.
If you’re not a brand, you’re a commodity. You are only worth the value that the market assigns. And in good times, many companies are happy with that. They stop spending, ride the commodity wave and bank the organic growth. They allow themselves to believe the increases are all their own doing.
Things turn pear-shaped though when the wave changes direction. When things get tough, the temptation is to hunker down – to cut expenditure and look to ride out the tough times. The myth of cost-cutting is that it makes you a more competitive company. It doesn’t. It does make you a leaner company, a less expensive company, it does provide you with more cashflow. But it doesn’t generate preference. In fact, it doesn’t generate anything.
If you’re a company in trouble, branding is not a magic bullet. It won’t suddenly save you because it probably won’t lift your perceived value fast enough before you hit the wall. It needs to be used in conjunction with a range of other turnaround initiatives, including efficiency gains. But not branding will almost certainly kill you. Without branding you are, quite literally, nothing special, whether your bank account is telling you that or not.