From Recession To Recovery, Re-Invention

By all standard economic indicators, it appears that the U.S. is finally emerging from the worst recession in several decades. Even consumers have begun, albeit timidly, to venture out, shopping for non-essential items. So, it was fitting that the theme of this year's Idea Conference, presented by Creativity and <I>Advertising Age</i>, last Thursday focused on reinvention across a number of industries, e.g., automotive, technology, financial services, art, design, food, music.

The notion of re-invention -- the act of making as if for the first time something already invented whether in a different form or reviving -- is no new concept to marketers. There is a never-ending list of new, reformulated products or services. But, the roster of presenters, for the most part, were unique in how they re-invented or re-imagined their products, during a particularly difficult economic time. For instance:

Dogfish brewery: To create his beers, founder and president Sam Calagione stepped out of the "stylistic straight jacket" of beer manufacturing. Instead, he chose to produce beers that reference the wine world, calling out a brew's recipe lineage or the "nose" impact of ingredients. Beers like Chateau Jiahu, MidasTouch, Pangea and Olde School Barleywine.



LiveScribe: Chairman and CEO JimMarggraff, who re-invented LeapFrog and LeapPad, channeled the process of writing and drawing via pen and paper to develop products like the Pulse, a smart pen or LiveScribe dotpaper. These products let their users capture their thoughts on paper and then share them digitally, in multiple languages and formats.

ING: For Arkadi Kuhlmann, chairman and president of ING Direct USA, re-invention came when the company began looking at retail experience to re-imagine what the banking experience could look like. For him, thinking about the retail experiences opened up "endless possibilities" of what ING Direct could do or offer.

Audi America: CMO Scott Keogh noted that this recession hit the auto industry particularly hard, forcing many to retrench or fall back to a value-pricing model. For Audi America, it meant re-thinking what the notion of luxury meant in an era of tight credit and restrained consumer spending. Luxury was no longer about private prestige but rather public confirmation of purchase of well-known standard. That subtle nuance which is played out in all of Audi's marketing helped sustain Audi sales loss to 9.7% while their competitors were experiencing a 27% decline. It didn't hurt either that Audi, unlike other car manufacturers, choose to develop cars using clean diesel rather than producing hybrid cars like so many of its competitors.

While all of these case studies were helpful, it was the lessons learned -- and shared -- that marketers and brands should take particular note of as they look forward to 2010:

Don't be afraid to make mistakes - but learn from them Several speakers noted their mistakes along their path to re-invention and success. David Chang of Momofuku, for instance, started out his restaurant originally as a burrito bar, which failed miserably. It's the not mistake that spells failure but rather not learning from it to become successful.

Re-think existing paradigms To really see the possibilities, step outside the accepted models; that's where the possibilities lie.

Invest in the product as marketing Too often, products are developed inexpensively and then marketed extravagantly. But, shifting investments to a product to make it unique or distinctive has the potential to serve as a de facto ad campaign or sales person -- which, in turn, lightens marketing's load.

Tell the story. Every product has a story and these stories help consumers connect with the product. Through the use social media, you can even let consumers join in on the story telling.

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