Continuous Passive Branding During Economic Downturn To Change Customers' Opinions

The current economic downturn has forced many CIOs to significantly reduce the external IT spending. Many projects are being postponed or canceled. This situation poses some serious challenges to the sales and marketing people of companies selling enterprise software. Many argue that there is nothing much these people can do. I would disagree.

Marketing campaigns tend to rely a lot on selling a product using active aggressive marketing that may not be effective under these circumstances since many purchase decisions are being placed on hold. However these circumstances and poor economic climate are ideal to build a brand and paddle concepts with continuous passive branding exercise. The branding exercise, if designed well, could change buyers’ experience around a concept or a product and evoke emotions that could be helpful when a product is actively being sold. Guy Kawasaki points us to an experiment that studied the art of persuasion to change people's attitudes. People should always be selling since the best way to change someone's mind is to sell them when they are not invested into an active purchase decision, emotionally or otherwise.

GE’s green initiative, branded as ecomagination, is an example of one of these passive branding exercise. Last year Climate Brand Index rated GE No. 1 on green brands. GE published a page long ad in a leading national magazine introducing their new green aviation engine. Instead Jeff could have picked up the phone and called Boing and Airbus and said "hey we have a new engine". Instead GE paddled their green brand to eventually support their other products such as green light bulbs. Climate change is a topic that many people are not necessarily emotionally attached to and have a neutral position on but such continuous passive marketing campaigns could potentially change people's opinions.

Apple’s cognitive dissonance is also a well known branding strategy to passively convince consumers that a Mac, in general, is better than a Windows. Many people simply didn’t have a stand on a laptop but now given a choice many do believe that they like a Mac.

The art of persuasion goes well beyond the marketing campaigns. Keeping customers engaged onto the topics and drive the thought leadership is something even more important during this economic downturn. The sales conversation is not limited to selling a product but also includes selling a concept or a need. The marketing is even more important considering the customers are not actively buying anything. The leaders should not fixate themselves on measuring the campaign to lead metrics. Staying with the customers in this downturn and help them extract the maximum value out of their current investment would go a long way since customers don't see their opinions being changed by a seemingly neutral vendor. When the economic climate improves and the customers initiates a purchase that sales cycle is not going to be that long and dry.

The leaders should carefully evaluate their investment strategy during this economic downturn. The economy will bounce back, the question is will they be ready to leap frog the competition and be a market leader when that happens. Cisco's recently announced their 2009 Q1 results. John Chambers made Cisco's strategy in the downturn very clear - invest aggressively in two geographies: the U.S. and selective emerging countries since emerging countries will be a steady state of growth as the countries grow and be prepared to sell in the western countries since they are likely the first ones to come out of this downturn.

“In our opinion, the U.S. will be the first major country to recover. The strategy on emerging countries is simple. Over time we expect the majority of the world’s GDP growth will come from the emerging countries. In expanding these relationships during tough times, our goal is to be uniquely positioned as the market turn-around occurs. This is identical to what we did during Asia's 1997 financial crisis.”

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