We Are All In This Together

The conventional wisdom that a looming recession should bring about a pullback in advertising and marketing initiatives is a fallacy.

That’s according to Gordon Borrell, the CEO of local marketing data company Borrell Associates. He made his case on Tuesday during a special crisis marketing webinar — and he came armed with examples.

“We have a history lesson here,” he explained. “The Great Depression hit [in 1929], and the big cereal of the day was Post. And they did what every other business did when the Great Depression hit: It reined in expenses and cut back on advertising.”

But Kellogg’s, one of Post’s chief competitors, decided to embrace a different approach.

“Kellogg’s doubled its ad budget, moved aggressively into radio — which was the new medium of the day back in late Twenties and early Thirties. It pushed its new cereal, the economy cratered, and Kellogg’s profits had risen almost 30%.”

The webinar, “We Are All In This Together,” was presented by Borrell Associates along with Beasley Media Group as part of Beasley’s “Community of Caring” initiative. Tuesday’s free event was one of several scheduled to help local businesses assess strategies as the coronavirus pandemic brings the U.S. economy to its knees.

Borrell also emphasized that while consumer confidence has tanked over the past two weeks, consumer spending has continued unfettered — and that money, he says isn’t simply going to household essentials.

“Think of your habits of the past two weeks,” he said. “Ok, you’re going to say, ‘It was toilet paper and it was Lysol.’ No. There was a lot of other stuff that was purchased. People are online buying right now… and there’s stuff in local markets that can be bought — and people should be supporting local businesses. So get the word out. This is a great, great time.”

Jim Brown, the president of Borrell Associates, emphasized that times like the present, where so much uncertainty is in the air, “communication” is king.

“You don’t hear a lot of us throw around the word ‘advertising,’” Brown said. “You need to stay in touch with your customers and communicate to them. The messages may change right now, but you want to make sure you’re staying in touch. One of the things you can do is use the phone… There’s no substitute for picking up the phone and talking to some of your best customers.”

Brown emphasized some key points that should govern communication strategies for local advertisers: “Be careful what you’re messaging,” he said. “Do not feed into the panic. Don’t downplay people’s concerns, either. And don’t provide medical advice unless that’s the business you’re in. You should tell people what it is you’re doing to take care of their needs.”

Another non-“advertising” theme that loomed large during Tuesday’s webinar: promotions — special offers that could be events, typically created for a short period of time to drive immediate or short-term business.

“Many marketers use these promotions not only to generate sales leads, but also to build lists of customers and potential customers that you can communicate with over and over again,” Brown said. “The more you drive opportunities for people to engage with you — filling out a form, giving you some information for a contest — the better off you’re going to be, because you’ll then have an opportunity to communicate with them more frequently.”