Marketing: Tribute to front-line workers

July 8, 2020

A while back, we began to explore how customer service is shifting as businesses reopen after an eight- to 10-week shutdown. In that piece, we talked a lot about the importance of preparation. This is a measure twice, cut once moment in time. With everyone’s emotions as raw as they are, you want to get this right. A mistake can cost you a loyal customer or a devoted employee.

Today, I’m going to assume you’ve prepped and are ready to go. Now we’re going to turn our attention to what we need to be thinking about once we are open. One of the most heartening trends coming out of COVID, according to a May 2020 study by Accenture, is that, as consumers, we’ve never been more motivated and excited about buying local.

That bodes well for us, whether we sell direct to consumers or to other businesses. At this stage, you’ve decided as the business owner or leader which rules you’re going to choose to enforce when it comes to masks, the number of people in your establishment at once, client face-to-face meetings, etc. You’ve met with your team and briefed them on the rules.

Hopefully, you’ve done some brainstorming and role-playing, so they are feeling prepared as well.

Now it’s time to open the doors. The work you’ve done with your team isn’t done yet. In this phase, they need you to:

  • Help them enforce the rules with lots of visual cues and specific language to use with your clients.
  • Model well. They’re nervous, so they will be watching how you respond to your customers. Let them know when they handle a situation well. Thank them for helping you enforce the “new normal.”
  • Show grace. No one will get this 100% right, so come to work with an abundance of grace and give it out generously.

Your employees aren’t the only ones who are going to be a little anxious. Your customers are too. They may have been out and about for some time, but for others, your business location may be one of the first they’ve entered since March. For many of us, it was the grocery store, pharmacy, home, and repeat for quite a while!

Here’s how you can make it easier for your clients to walk through your door for the first time since the quarantine.

  • Paint a clear picture of what to expect before they show up. Whether it’s how the chairs in the conference room will be arranged or what inventory you have in stock, eliminate as many surprises as possible. Take advantage of all of their senses. Have prominent, bold signage that points them in the right direction, floor markings if that makes sense, PA announcements, and more live help than you usually might have.
  • Stationing someone at the door to greet your customer and help them navigate through your space will ease their worries significantly.
  • Show your excitement and be genuinely happy to see them. Remember, if you’re wearing a mask, facial cues are lost, so speak up and welcome them with warmth.

In this phase, you’re going to need to be very attentive and observant. Watch for signs of anxiety, discomfort, or confusion and be quick to jump to that employee or customer’s needs. Don’t worry if they’re not ready to buy yet. Just getting them back into your location and engaged is a win.

Slow and steady is going to win this race. Our job as business owners and leaders right now is to reconnect with our team and our customers.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record as one of Drew’s weekly columns.



How do we address black lives matter?

July 1, 2020

I admit that I have some trepidation tackling the inequality issue that is dominating our country and the world’s focus right now. But that’s sort of the point, isn’t it? If we don’t get over our discomfort, or in my case, my feeling that this isn’t my time to talk, then we can’t advance solutions all that far when it comes to addressing Black Lives Matter.

I will ask for your grace as I muddle my way through this. Like you, I am appalled by George Floyd’s death and am hopeful that the movement it has inspired will help us actually deal with the inequality that permeates our country.

I’ll never know what it’s like to experience discrimination as a consistent part of my reality, so I can’t speak to that. But I do know how we, as organizations, approach and talk about important and sensitive social issues can either serve our community and our companies well or put us quickly into crisis mode.

That’s the very specific lens through which I believe I am qualified to offer some guidance.

So, how should our businesses be responding?

If your company has already made or is planning to make a public declaration in an ad, shared a meme or made a statement on social media, or sent an email to your team or clients, then I believe you must commit to doing more than that.

We’re already seeing organizations being accused, often by their own employees, of hypocrisy and posturing, rather than genuinely being committed to being part of the solution. From a communications standpoint, how do we make it clear that this isn’t just for show?

This problem wasn’t created in a day, and we aren’t going to eradicate it in a day. It’s going to take many daily decisions, policy and program changes, law changes, etc. And we need to live those choices and actions out loud.

As we move past our initial expressions of outrage and actually start taking action to affect change, we need to expose our efforts and our progress to our employees, customers, and community.

One idea that I think has merit is creating a report card for your organization. On the report card, list all of the areas where inequality exists in your company. For example, if your employee population lacks diversity, depending on how severe the problem is, you might give yourself a D.

For each area on the report card, work with your employees to create an improvement plan, and then publicly review your grade quarterly. Be transparent about your plans, progress, and challenges. You might even consider posting your report card on your website.

Depending on the specifics, you could invite others to participate in the quarterly scoring. For example, your employees could weigh in on your diversity training efforts or your corporate giving practices. You can ask your customers to give you feedback on how safe and respected they feel when they’re in your place of business or interacting with your employees.

What I like about this idea is that it represents the reality that we’re going to be addressing this issue for a while, and it’s going to require incremental growth and change. It also makes it clear that your company and its leaders are not just giving lip service to this social concern.

This level of transparency will build trust and confidence in your efforts and encourage your employees, clients, and our community to support and ideally, join you in your efforts.

If the report card idea isn’t for you, then take its basic tenants and create your own accountability tool. But that’s what it’s going to take – us holding ourselves and each other accountable as we tackle the systematic and institutional racism that exists in every facet of our society today.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.


Overcommunicate Upfront

June 24, 2020

As businesses reopen and invite customers back into their establishments, it’s safe to say everyone is on edge.

Business owners are understandably concerned. Just because they’ve reopened or their employees are coming back, that doesn’t mean the clients will.

Employees are anxious too. They are worried about their physical safety, but they’re not sure if their jobs are secure or what they’re going to do with the kids this summer. They’re also wondering how the clients are going to react to the new restrictions and rules.

Your customers are also feeling uneasy. There are so many unknowns. Are you going to have new rules, new hours, or service delays? Should they be out and about at all? Will you be wearing masks? Do they need to wear masks?

There will be three critical stages of communication as we march our way back to post-COVID normal. We’re going to take a look at the pre-visit communications you need to have with your team and your customers.

Your employees know it’s going to be their job to help you manage all of the changes that come with your post-COVID reentry. The more you can prepare them, the more comfortable they’ll feel, and in turn, the more they can put your customers at ease.

Here are some things to cover with your team:

  • You own your company’s rules. Be very clear about what you want and what you are willing to accept.
  • Your staff needs to have a high level of clarity and permission to enforce the rules. Remember, they typically have more client contact than you do.
  • Role-playing and scenario discussions can be very helpful in this phase. No one has done this before, so nerves are high and confidence is low.
  • Help them imagine all of the special requests and brainstorm possible responses.
  • Define your protection of them, so they aren’t afraid to take action. Make sure they know you have their back.
  • Remember, they’re feeling a lot of emotions too. Show them that you care about those emotions.
  • Check-in with them personally. Ask about their families and what’s going on in their personal life. Remember that COVID has affected every aspect of people’s lives, and that can influence how they show up at work.
  • Ask about their worries, excitement, etc. as you go back. Get them to open up by sharing how you’re feeling. You’re also going to want to level up your communications with your customers so they can picture in their heads exactly what to expect. The more they have a sense of what their experience is going to be like, the quicker they’ll come back.
  • Describe the experience, so they know what to expect. Help them understand what is and isn’t changing.
  • Use visuals whenever possible. Help them literally see how you’ve reconfigured things, what they’ll see when they walk in the door, and all the ways you’ve made it easy for them.
  • Posting FAQs on your website or your Facebook page will be helpful. Every time you get asked a new question, update the FAQs.
  • Be clear about suggestions versus rules. Help them honor your rules and avoid being chastised or embarrassed when they walk in the door.
  • If masks are optional, be very clear about that. If you’re going to turn them away if they show up without a mask, you don’t want that to be a surprise.

What this is really about is you demonstrating your compassion for your employees and your customers by reducing their anxieties about reengaging. Next time, we’ll look at how to communicate while everyone is actually in your place of business.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.


Marketing: Have you met your new customers?

June 17, 2020

As Iowa reopens, we are being greeted by brand-new customers. Even if they look like our old customers, they’ve been changed. Two+ months of isolation, deprivation, and raw emotions can alter anyone’s perspective.

We have to remember that we’re not to the new normal yet. We’re in the temporary, abnormal phase of reentry. What complicates this phase is that no two people are reacting to the idea of our state’s reopening in the same way.

That makes the decisions you need to make as you invite your clients back to your location a little less black and white. Please do not make the mistake of assuming your customers will behave the way they did pre-COVID. Typically people don’t change much in 60 days. But there’s not all that much that is normal right now.

The discomfort and nerves are showing up in a wide range of reactions. Between COVID and the protests, it’s no wonder that most people are a confused cocktail of emotional responses. You’re going to interact with customers who are exhibiting a mix of fear, frustration, anger, and delight at being able to leave their homes. These emotions are distorting people’s perspectives and expectations. Some will be so happy to be interacting with you in person, they won’t notice much else.

Others will be so anxious that they’ll notice everything.

How do you meet their expectations? It starts with understanding what they are. If there were ever a good time for a customer survey, June 2020 is it. A recent study done by Accenture identifies five new consumers that we’re all going to encounter.

Twenty-one percent of consumers are worriers. They are typically 56- to 69-year-olds who have some underlying conditions that make them take the stance that they’re not willing to take any chances.

Twenty-two percent of them are what Accenture called the individualists. They’re more frustrated by people acting stupid by hoarding toilet paper than they are about being exposed to the virus. They tend to fall in the 18- to 24-year-old range.

Thirty-nine percent of consumers would be considered rationalists. They are not concerned and believe that all they can do is to keep things clean and hope others do the same. They tend to fall into the 25 to 31-year-old age group.

The activist subgroup is about 8% of the population. They believe it is their social responsibility to socially distance. They also tend to be in the 25 to 31-year-old age group.

Eleven percent of the population is indifferent. They think the situation has been seriously blown out of proportion. This attitude is most prevalent in 40- to 55-year-olds.

As you build out your survey, be sure you ask your customers how they feel about some of the changes you’ve had to make during COVID. What may surprise you is that they fully expect you to keep the modifications they personally like. Whether it’s to-go margaritas or private shopping by appointment, you may be planning to abolish something you thought of as a temporary fix, and they saw it as a valuable enhancement.

Another insight you’ll need to probe to identify is exactly what will make your clients feel like it’s safe to come back to your location. They may be ready to be out and about but are they ready to come back specifically to your establishment? This is a dangerous place where many assumptions live. Some consumers will absolutely feel safer if you require everyone to wear a mask. Others will choose to avoid any business that has that policy.

It’s always been smart marketing to have a deep understanding of what your customers are thinking and feeling. Right now, as we navigate these completely uncharted waters, it’s essential.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.


Does it even matter?

June 10, 2020

Two months ago, we couldn’t imagine anything worse than the coronavirus pandemic. But at least we were in it #together. And now, in the past week, we’ve seen just how not together we all are as we watch our country unravel in cities far away and right here in Des Moines. As I write this, people are afraid to leave their homes, not because of the virus but because of their neighbors.

There have been moments in my life when I have questioned my professional calling. Surely I could do something nobler than marketing. I can’t do blood, so being a doctor or nurse was never in the cards. But I could have been a lawyer or a policeman or run a non-profit.

Would the world have made better use of my talents in one of those professions?

I suspect some of you may be finding it challenging to even think about business or marketing right now.

You may be wondering if it even matters. Is anyone listening, or is the world’s noise so insistent that they can’t even contemplate anything beyond their own survival?

I believe what we do does matter, and I believe we have a unique role in helping the world be a better place for all human beings.

It’s probably always been true, but in the last decade, the marketplace has made it very clear. People want to do business with companies that stand for something. Who defend something. Who fight for something. Who believe in something and, most of all, who are willing to take action to change the world in alignment with those beliefs.

That’s not to say you can’t or shouldn’t sell your products or services. In fact, the research is clear. When you declare your corporate position on whatever issues you choose to tackle or help resolve, your consumers want to buy even more of what you sell. That’s their version of high fiving you.

Whether you are a solopreneur or the CEO of one of the largest companies in the US, the opportunity is the same. We can build a community made up of our employees, our customers, and our prospects, and we can share those beliefs. We can talk about what we are doing to accomplish social change, and we can invite our community to be a part of our efforts.

I’m not suggesting that every business should jump onto the #blacklivesmatter bandwagon because of what is happening right now. If that is genuinely an issue you want to fight for over the long haul as an organization, by all means – stand up and be heard.

But for this to work, for both the world and for our own hearts, who are wondering if we’re making a difference in our career of choice, this can’t be a superficial cause of the month situation. As we have seen time and time again, systematic change is neither quick nor cheap. You don’t just run an ad out of solidarity and then go back to business as usual. If you are not ready to devote resources to this and weave the fight into all of your business practices and policies, then don’t bother.

The world is reminding us, loud and clear, that each of us plays a role in the kind of world we share. While we all can and should speak up as individuals, some of us can do even more.

I believe as marketers and business leaders, we have a unique and powerful opportunity to have incredible influence in shaping the future for ourselves, our neighbors, and future generations.

You have a platform and a megaphone. Use them well.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.


Now what?

June 3, 2020

Most business owners, leaders, and entrepreneurs appreciate having a plan and things going according to plan. If we’re seasoned – we know it’s not all going to go according to plan, but it helps to have confidence that we’re at least heading in the right direction.

We rely on past experiences, external cues, advice from advisors, and our own entrepreneurial instincts to guide our efforts. Nine times out of ten, we end up pretty close to where we were trying to land.

Which is one of the reasons this whole pandemic has us so uneasy. We have no direct past experience. The external cues are changing hourly, and there’s little consistency among all of the voices. Our advisors are as in the dark as we are, and it’s scary to trust your instincts.

As Iowa opens up, this uncertainty gets more pronounced, rather than less so. If we open up, will our customers come back? If we make our dining rooms available, will we have patrons? If we plan on heading back to the office, how will the employees react?

In some ways, being locked down was easier. It was very clear what our customers and we could and couldn’t do. But as Iowans ease back into life outside their own homes, everything seems more tenuous.

I believe that many people saw the state’s reopening as the end of this. But really, for most of us, it’s the beginning. We have to navigate doing business in an environment of fear, worry, financial challenges, and as always, it seems political polarization.

Assumptions have always been dangerous when it comes to marketing. It’s so easy to apply our own bias to any situation and get it very wrong. That’s even more true when it’s an emotional issue, and C19 has escalated everyone’s emotions.

Now is not the time for you to guess. The stakes are too high. An empty store or dining room can cost more than being closed. Silent but disgruntled employees can impact your ability to serve customers or recruit additional help.

I am always a fan of knowing more. Knowledge and insights are rarely wasted assets. As you venture back towards pre-COVID normal, now would be an excellent time for you to have candid conversations with your customers and team members.

I know there’s discomfort that comes with hearing reactions, worries, or sentiments that you do not want to hear. But if there was ever a time for not stepping out in complete darkness, now is that time.

Ask questions. Listen with unbiased ears to the answer. If you can’t remove your own bias, hire an outsider to listen on your behalf, and help you interpret the data.

Previously, I outlined the kinds of communication and information that clients want from you right now. Marketing should never be a monologue anymore. We don’t have to revert back to that. But if there was ever a time for dialogue, that time is now. Rich, compassionate, deep dialogue that will help you anticipate what the next month or two will bring.

No one is going to fault you for caring enough to ask, listen, and then act based on what you heard. You can also use that effort to explain to your audiences why you are making the choices you’ve made. Let them know they played a role in helping you set the course for the next phase of this moment in time.

Push aside your fears about what you will hear, and let’s answer the “now what” question with as much insight as we can garner in these early days of reopening the state.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.


In these unprecedented, challenging times of togetherness

May 27, 2020

We have reached the saturation point for trite phrases (unprecedented, challenging) that signal to your audience that you are trying to acknowledge the fact that pandemics are not the norm. These words and phrases have been overexposed to the level that they are now like chalk on a blackboard – creating a screeching noise in our mental ear so distracting that we actually lose the point of the message.

I am pretty sure there is not a human being on the planet that does not know we’re living through an unprecedented and challenging time. Which means you can skip the setup and get right to the message.

Here’s what people want to know from you now:

Are you open: If so, have your hours changed? Do you require masks or some other change in how they’re used to interacting with you? If you’re a retail establishment, are you controlling the number of people in your store at the same time? Do I get a number or do I check in somewhere? How/where do I wait?

If you’re a B2B organization, are you back in the office? Are you conducting face-to-face meetings again? Have any of the rules of engagement changed?

Are you doing business differently: Are you shipping your products in a new way? Is there a change in your payment policies? Are you keeping some of the delivery models you developed during the lockdown? Are you delivering some things virtually that you used to do in person?

Are you having issues with your products or services: Will there be delivery delays or are there certain products or services you can’t offer right now? Is there a longer than usual window for deliveries? Are you anticipating any problems with your supply chain that may impact me?

How are you staying safe and keeping me safe? Have you increased your standards or the frequency of your cleaning schedule? Are you wiping down surfaces between customers? Is your warehouse doing anything different so my items are packaged in a noncontaminated way? How are you helping other customers keep their distance and protect us from each other?

How can you help me right now? Beyond your products and services, are there any special deals or arrangements you’re offering because of the current circumstances? Different delivery models? Relaxed payment schedules? Added incentives or bonuses for buying now?

How are you? They genuinely want to know how you and your business have fared through the last few months. Are you okay? Were customers nice to you during all of this? Did you have to let go of some of your team or close a location?

Your marketing messages should be focused on what your customers and prospects actually want to know. That’s not a C19 recommendation – that’s just marketing 101. But given that everyone’s on edge and any little thing could deter them from buying at this moment – it’s even more important to be sensitive to what they really need.

But even more than that — if there was ever a time to humanize your marketing, it is now. Everyone’s emotions are raw. Everyone has suffered loss over the last few months. And everyone is gingerly stepping out, afraid of what might be waiting around the next corner.

You have an amazing opportunity to demonstrate your compassion, understanding, and commitment to your audience by stepping away from the trite phrases and communicating as authentically and empathetically as you can.

Invite them back, help them remove as much of the worry and anxiety about doing business with you that you can, and encourage them to share input and feedback.

Demonstrate that you actually are in this with them, as opposed to just using the hashtag.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.


Are you ready to pivot?

May 20, 2020

Iowa is readying itself to reopen for business, and some parts of the state have already done so. But just because people can dine out, stroll through mall stores, or start holding face-to-face sales meetings does not mean that they will.

If the behavior of consumers and business buyers in other countries and states that are ahead of us is any indication, our return to what we define as normal will be slow at best.

And even if your customers come flocking back in droves on day one, how they come back, how many come back at once, and how you interact are all going to require, at the very least, a temporary change or pivot.

Many B2C and B2B consumers are saying that they’re not ready to go back out into the world as before. They’re going to continue to either stay at home or only go out or have contact with others when it feels essential.

Are you ready? Depending on what you sell, you may have to look at adopting and adapting to some of the shifts that we’ve watched other businesses make as they worked to continue to serve their customer base through the pandemic.

E-delivery: Are you used to sitting at a conference room table with your prospects and clients? Is that face-to-face contact how you sell or how you deliver your products or services? Many businesses that believed face-to-face was the only option have been forced to admit that there is another way. It may not be the ideal way to deliver what you do – but it may be more convenient for your customers, and they may not be excited to go back to the old way, at least for a bit.

Reaching the end-users: Many brands who have worked through distribution channels in the past have used COVID-19 as an incentive to connect directly with their end-users. If you typically sell through a dealer network or some other intermediary, you may want to consider augmenting your marketing and brand activation to include those end-users who are looking for brands to believe in.

Contactless delivery/concierge offerings: This is one of the business pivots that I suspect will last long after C-19 is gone for good. We have all gotten very used to everything being delivered to our front door. For some businesses, like Pizza Hut or Amazon, this has been their model from their inception, but now just about everyone is delivering or modifying their product or service so you can take advantage of it without ever leaving the convenience of your home or office.

Now would be a brilliant time to survey your customers to ask them what elements of how you’ve worked together for the last two months will still be appealing once we open back up. Odds are, you’ve bent over backward to be accommodating during the crisis. It’s highly unlikely that your clients are going to be excited if you go backward and are less accommodating as we work our way back to a post-COVID reality. Why not allow them to help you shape the future of what you sell, how you sell it, and how you deliver it?

There are two irrefutable truths to this moment in time. The first is: It will pass. The second is: It will change us in many ways forever, including the work we do, who we do it for, and how we do it.

Now is the exact right time to be having these exploratory conversations with your team and your customers. Who knows? Maybe the new normal will make you even more valuable and more essential to the people you serve.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.


The new rules of engagement

May 13, 2020

Previously, we looked at the results of choosing to advertise or not during economic downturns, and the results were pretty clear. Decade after decade, there was data that showed the brands that continued to communicate with their prospects and customers during a recession or the depression came out of that time with a stronger position, a dominant position in their category and were able to rebound much faster than the brands who stayed silent.

We know you should be talking to your prospects and customers, but how do you do that with sensitivity to the current situation and in a way that your audience is actually receptive to hearing?

Now is not the time for a hard sell. But that doesn’t mean you should be silent. Here are the core tenants we should be wrapping our communication around right now.

Informative: Now is the time for us to keep every stakeholder informed. Don’t forget how vital your internal team is at this point. You can’t over-communicate with them. This is a time of uncertainty, which is disconcerting. The more certainty you can provide by consistent communication, the better.

Service-oriented: Be one of the helpers that everyone is looking for right now. How can you and your organization serve the community? You can and should be sharing useful information, tools, and services. Don’t be shy about inviting your customers to participate in your acts of service. Everyone is looking for a meaningful way to give back.

Sincere and transparent: Everyone is on edge and highly sensitive to anyone trying to take advantage of the current crisis. Be very clear about your offers, motives, and any small print. Do not leave anything up for interpretation. You can lose your most loyal client right now if they misunderstand.

Emotionally intelligent: I’d like to think we’d always be sensitive about our audience’s current state, but it is mandatory right now. You don’t need to go on and on about the crisis. You don’t need to use up two-thirds of your message to thank others. You don’t need sad, somber music. But you do need to be mindful that everyone is feeling less certain, more tender, and a little tentative.

Flexible: Payment terms, pricing options, delivery models – everything in our world is upside down right now. You’re going to need to find ways to zig where you used to zag. There’s a silver lining to this demand for flexibility. It’s like a free research project. Pay attention to the new offerings that get the biggest positive response from your prospects and customers. Some of what we’re doing for clients now because of C19 is going to stick. It may make what you do even more desirable.

Generous: This isn’t so much about your pricing; it’s much more related to your attitude and spirit. Everyone around us is on an emotional tightwire. Things set them off faster; they’re quicker to judgment and emotional extremes. As you communicate with your team, your customers, and your potential customers – tread lightly. Be generous with yourself. Now is not the time for corporate speak or being inflexible around the rules.

The biggest mistake you can make right now is to stay silent. Your employees, clients, and the people who would benefit from what you do all need to know you’re there. Your marketing needs to reassure them all that you’re stable, and you’re ready to help. It’s time to prove your leadership position by stepping out and stepping up.

The second biggest mistake is to communicate or sell in a tone-deaf way that suggests you’re not re-tooling how you’re doing business, given the world’s reality. Weave these five tenants through all of your marketing to ensure your audience can actually hear you.

Originally published in The Des Moines Business Record as part of Drew’s weekly column series.


Not if but when

May 6, 2020

Sooner or later, every business will need to get back to marketing and selling their offerings. Working from home or no working from home, new case counts, or no new case counts, mask or no masks – our businesses cannot survive silence for too long.

Today, let’s deal with the when question.

Here in the US, we’ve been dealing with COVID-19 for anywhere between six and eight weeks, depending on where in the country you are. For Iowans, it’s been about six weeks since businesses started shifting to work from home, restaurants began to close, and we were all focused on learning as much as we could about this infectious virus and how it was changing our world.

The first phase, which is when we’re experiencing the community outbreak of the virus, is winding down. That’s not to say it’s entirely over, just that we’re moving from crisis to containment efforts.

Until now, it’s felt a little inappropriate to market or sell. But that didn’t mean we should have gone silent. As we’ve discussed previously, we needed to shift our marketing messages to messages of education, community service, and just being helpful. That was true on your social channels, any paid advertising you’ve done, and your website content.

There’s no doubt that the recession most of us have been waiting for over the past two years is now here. How deep of a recession or how long it will last are questions that are above our paygrade, but as business owners and leaders, we have our marching orders — to do all we can to make sure we weather the recession and come out on the other end.

The good news on that front is we have plenty of data that shows us how to handle marketing during a recession. Let’s look back over the country’s history and our past recessions.

1920s: A study was published in the Harvard Business Review in 1927 that shows that companies that continued to advertise during the downturn, were 20% ahead of their pre-recession market share position. Companies that reduced their activity lost over 7% of their market share.

1940s-60s: A study that tracked advertising dollars vs. sales trends for the recessions during this period (1949, 1954, 1958 and 1961) showed that both sales and profits dropped for the companies who cut back on their marketing. Even after the recessions ended, the companies continued to lag behind their competitors, who kept their marketing active during the downturn.

1980s: McGraw-Hill Research analyzed 600 B2B companies and found that the companies that maintained or increased their advertising grew, not only during the recession but for up to three years later. Within the study, companies who advertised aggressively had grown 275% over those that did not.

1990s: A MarketSense study showed that the best strategy for growth during a recession was to invest in building your brand equity (long-term) and promotional short-term sales offerings. Employing this strategy, Kraft Salad Dressing experienced 70% sales growth.

2000s: Harvard Business School studied 4,700 public companies that looked at their performance during the 1980, 1990, and 2000 recessions. The companies (like Target) who increased marketing/sales expenditures and their capital spending while working hard to cut costs and improve productivity, flourished.

Decade after decade of proof tells us that we need to keep marketing during the recession. We have to be talking to our prospects and customers. In the future, we’ll explore the nuances of what we say and how we say it. But in this case, silence is clearly not golden.

Originally published in The Des Moines Business Record as part of Drew’s weekly column series.

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