Brand Building During A Recession
[Editors Note: Kanon Kulpa and I have been ‘marketing geeks’ and friends for years. We chat often about the ever changing world of marketing and the impact economics and technology have on the marketing landscape. – Jim]
Times are tough right now and it’s a normal reaction for businesses to initiate cutbacks during these trying times. Heck, I’ve cut back on drinking less milk and juice and drink more water from the tap, sold my gas guzzling truck to buy a more fuel efficient car and started a garden to grow my own vegetables. If you look at what I just said you’ll notice I made cutbacks on certain things like what I drink, what I drive and how I get my food, but what I haven’t done is give up on them entirely. I still drink juice and milk, I still drive a car that needs gas to go and I’m still eating my vegetables. In short, I’ve simply adapted my lively hood to overcome the burden of higher prices.
This same concept rings true for branding or marketing your business during tough economic times. It’s not healthy for me to give up on drinking milk or eating vegetables and it’s not healthy for your business to give up on advertising your brand to your consumers or target audience.
During the late 1980s to early 1990s, the United States went through a recessionary period which was peaked by the start of the Gulf War in 1990. During this time, many businesses started thinking about cutbacks with hopes of weathering this recession. The first item on the budget-cut list was spending for marketing/advertising. Many companies all but eliminated their spending on advertising to the point that they seemed almost nonexistent.
During this time, I was employed as a Graphic Designer for a small ad agency in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The agency’s biggest concern was that clients were pulling back from their advertising plans causing the agency itself to fall short on profits and have to possibly enforce layoffs, but the agency owner had a plan. It was time to re-educate our clients on the importance maintaining their visibility in during these weak economic times. After countless meetings with clients, about two-thirds of our clients heeded the message and decided to take steps to build their brand in the marketplace when all of there competitors were in lock-down mode.
Two months after meeting with clients, they began to see payoffs in the form of increased sales. These sales were tracked directly back to our clients’ various marketing strategies that literally catapulted them to the top of their respective markets. It made that small ad agency look larger than life in the eyes of their clients, but what it really was was common sense that was worth repeating.
So remember that when times get tough, it’s also time to toughen up your brand. Let your consumers know that you’re a pillar of strength in the market, that you’re company is designed to handle adversity and that you’ll be here for years to come. By the way, be prepared to see an increase in consumer loyalty to your brand because of it.
I was having another record year until the start of the second quarter. I am a solo entertainer, which helps in good times and bad. Clubs started to cut back and ask for deals. I lost one room because they
cut back all but Friday and Saturday. I lost another when I was underbid on the job: It was far enough
away that I had little room to move. These two venues cost me about $2000.00 per month. It hurt me,
but I was still turning a profit. It’s been getting tighter since then, but I had a plan. I can readjust any
situation in about 90 days. Here’s how I did it.
I knew that the week nights would not likely pick up for a while. I turned my attention to nursing homes
and rehab facilities: there are 20 in my county alone and they’re always looking for people. I need to
net $300.00 per week on Mon. through Thurs. I’m targeting for four 1hr. shows at $75.00 per show.
At this point, I’m halfway there. Previously, I’d gross about $200.00 and expense about $50.00 with
a 100 mile round trip. I will have 4 nursing home shows per week, by years end.
Fridays are never a problem, even in bad times. Saturdays are becoming more difficult to book because a great many players are ‘drasctically’ lowering their prices: A little give is OK, but any more
than 12.5% to 25% is just stupid! You’ll never get it back. If a club owner asks for a 50% cut, he has
no respect for you and the place is probably in real trouble. Look for somewhere esle to play.
Be creative and put some time into your buisness. I find a lot of work, off the beaten path. I also make
a minimum of 10 to 20 sales calls every day Mon. through Fri.. Look for new construction: The smart
guys have their name in before the doors are open. I recently stopped at a restaurant that was under
construction and found out the owner was a venue that I couldn’t get booked at because they had
regular acts for years: I will be starting at their new place in November.
You can’t avoid periodic ‘slowdowns’, but you can shorten their length and impact:
1. SELL, SELL, SELL: Make daily sales calls, even if you have a full book. It lets the owners know
2. SREAD YOURSELF AROUND: House gigs are nice, but they WILL eventually go away for one
reason or another. Play as many different places as you can.
3. DELIVER MORE THAN YOU PROMISE: Don’t brag about your following: Most acts don’t have
any. Sell the owner on being able to hold the crowd. One of the most
frequent comments I get is that someone was only going to stay for one
drink and ended up staying for hours.
4. NEGOTIATE HARD: Don’t be to quick to drop your price. It may seem like you’ve made a friend,
but this is buisness. I hear club owners saying that other acts did them a
“Favor” and cut the price: I’m not here to do favors, but to turn a profit.
5. HAVE CONFIDENCE: If you are the best at what you do, you should be able to command a
higher price: even in bad times. The venue is buying a ‘product’ to
increase their profits. Remember that for every venue that closes,
another will open: When will they learn? If you can produce for them,
they will buy your product.
I could write a book and maybe I will. The point I’m making is that most people don’t have a plan.
When hard times hit, they get hurt. It’s no secret why some keep going and others get “day jobs”.
Get a book on how to run a small buisness: Learn Sales, Marketing, Book Keeping and how to
track your numbers. I was sales manager for an industrial chemical company and use the same
practises in my entertainment buisness. If you’ve got your show down, learn to run it as a buisness:
It will save you in the rough times ahead.
Guitar Dan: I am impressed with your advice and tactics. I do hope that you publish a book based on your marketing experiences.