Marketers Weigh Anchors During Economic Squall

Jim Stengel of PG Marketers navigating the top global corporations through the economic squall counseled other marketers not to drop anchor, steer to port or reef the sails.

At the annual Association of National Advertisers' Masters of Marketing gathering in Orlando, Fla. last week, Jim Stengel--soon to be formerly of Procter & Gamble--Mike Mendenhall of Hewlett-Packard, and Claire Bennett of American Express were among the speakers who said that now is not the time to pull back on marketing--now is the time to hone it.

Said Stengel in his keynote address: "The lessons are even more important now: people are looking for the right value, and if we are offering [that] and building on relationships, we will get through it."

Becky Saeger, EVP and CMO at Charles Schwab, said the company has put more focus on customer service. "In the past few weeks as the financial crisis has intensified, I've seen new things at Schwab: employees and customers are very engaged and motivated. They are, after all, working with fearful, anxious clients. So, people [at Schwab] in marketing are finding communication is more important than ever; ads need to be relevant, Web sites needs to be updated constantly, PR must be round the clock."

She said that clients who have not logged in for years are doing so in record numbers. "What does it all mean? For Schwab, this is the time to deliver on the brand promise: relationship, long-term equity and profitable business. When the smoke clears, we will have a different relationship with clients."

Joe Tripodi, Coca-Cola's CMO, had a succinct message: "Don't jump, don't let the urgent overwhelm the important; it's easy to panic, but don't let your brand become a commodity. This is death for marketers." He said marketing must become more precise.

"Innovate with purpose across the board--not just at the product level, but at many different levels. Invest in emerging platforms. More than ever, it's critical we balance inspirational marketing with operational marketing--particular with in-store, with better CRM, with technology for engagement."

He says that especially now, marketers must be grounded in reality. "If you begin to believe your own bullshit, you're dead." Claire Bennett, SVP/Global Marketing at American Express, said her company is in a good spot because trust is part of the Amex brand equity. "I think it's challenging, but I think our brand benefits from having been around for a long time with a legacy of trust," she said. Jez Frampton, CEO of consultancy Interbrand, said marketers have to take it upon themselves to campaign for their brands. "Our job as marketers is to talk to consumers who are sitting at the bottom of the bunker asking if it is safe; it's really up to us to stimulate demand in the marketplace again, and if you look at in history, it's an opportunity for great creativity, but it also means you have to understand the problem more and more."

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