Reaching Your Target Audience

When times are good, you should advertise. When times are bad, you must advertise.

There’s no doubt we’re trudging through some tough times—it’s been this way for at least the past year.

And there’s certainly no “crystal ball” to tell us when it’ll all be over. We might pull out of this down cycle sooner than expected, or we may have to trudge through it a bit longer than we’d like.

The positive news for our industry, however, is customers still want convenience—the tobacco, coffee, foodservice, packaged beverages, beer, snacks, gasoline and every manner of grab-and-go.

With all the clamping on corporate budgets there’s still a certainty for the days ahead: When the market tightens up, the best-positioned players are going to be the winners. My bet is those winners will be the ones who had the courage and conviction to continue investing aggressively in their brands when it matters most.

I often think of the great McGraw Hill, who said, “I don’t know who you are, your company, what you stand for or your company’s reputation … Now what was it you wanted to sell me?”

Retailers need to tell us why we should shop at their store. There’s tremendous pressure to cut costs today, yet somehow advertising budgets are usually considered the most expendable luxury in the struggle for economic survival.  

But executives who succumb to this pressure put the long-term viability of their companies and brands at risk, according to Peter Fader, marketing professor at Wharton School at The University of Pennsylvania.

Today’s economy provides an unusual opportunity to differentiate your brand so it stands out in a crowd, but it takes courage and conviction to get senior management on board. The key here is that a business must craft a message that reflects the times and describes how their product or service benefits the customer.

Some guidelines to consider:

• Be careful to position yourself as the “lowest-price provider.” It could have a long-term negative impact on your brand unless your business model is built on this concept.
• Advertise value: “This is what you get for your hard-earned money at our store.”
• Wunderman COO Dave Sable suggests protecting and preserving your brand equity. Don’t cheap out on products by putting “less coffee in the cappuccino.”
• Sable also said customers need you as much as you need them. If your communications and advertising cuts are too deep, the cost to regain share of voice once the economy improves may be four to five times the cost you saved by making the cuts in the first place.
• While price is important, consumers still factor in the importance of branding.  Clear brand association and leadership comes from communication.
• In our digital world, negative news about a brand spreads like wildfire. It’s critical to give people good reasons to say positive things about your brand. Recessions come and go, but a brand is for life.  
• For c-store retailers, Matt Williams from The Martin Agency said it best: You can position your brand as an ally to consumers in tough times with product development or sponsorship programs that compel consumers to say, “I see by its actions that this brand is on my side.” That will pay dividends not only during a recession but far beyond.

People understand these points to be intuitively true, but most advertising or marketing programs fail for three reasons: You don’t have the guts to do it with enough frequency to reach the threshold of effectiveness; because advertising is misunderstood, it’s often underutilized; and it’s difficult to measure ROI on advertising. Let’s face it, advertising and marketing are largely more art than science, but there’s simply too much evidence to support the effectiveness of powerful advertising to stand pat and do nothing.

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