The [Ad]vantage: Put on Your Game Face

The [Ad]vantage: Put on Your Game Face-Kirk DrummondFor years now, I've been competing in various endurance sporting events, such as marathon mountain-bike racing and expedition adventure racing. Possibly over-invested in the idea of working hard and playing hard, I find these types of sports have always been mental and physical energy outlets when outside the office, providing me with the rare opportunity to boil life down to a small collection of primal and survival instincts (and lots of super cool gear!). Simply put, it's difficult to think about running an advertising agency when you've been racing for 36 hours and all your body and mind has the capacity to do is put one foot in front of the other.

My highlight reel of memories includes paddling Class IV whitewater, trekking through a jungle at night at the base of an active volcano, racing a mountain bike for 28 hours straight, kayaking with alligators and a pod of dolphins, dangling from a rope 225 feet off the ground, and crossing the finish line first on more than one occasion. Having shared these "moments of clarity" with friends, I've become used to the typical responses, including "You're crazy," "I don't get it," or, my personal favorite, "That sounds like a bad idea." But like many things, it's all a matter of perspective.

Although I originally became interested in these sports because of the physical challenges, I soon realized they brought with them many great life (and business) lessons. As an avid adventure racer once so appropriately put it, endurance races are just like life: full of challenges, obstacles, highs and lows, and amazing rewards for those who choose to persevere - only amplified and compressed into a few hours.

Many companies and marketing professionals may have unwittingly entered the business equivalent of an endurance race. The event? Today's challenging economy. At risk? Your job and business. The goal? Survive, if not thrive. As marketers and brands hunker down, one of the most common strategies is to pull back on marketing, slash budgets and go quiet, waiting for the economy to heat back up before returning to the market. Certainly, on the surface, this makes total sense. After all, if consumers are spending less, why spend money on futile marketing efforts, right? Well, that depends. Are you trying to simply survive? Or win?

Endurance sports are often referred to as races of attrition. In other words, teams who can work together, continue moving forward and simply stay standing - all as things become more challenging - will often find themselves ahead of the others, maybe even winning. This strategy is built on a major factor that's often overlooked in sport and business: The course itself and the required effort to endure can take out your competitors. Therefore, the longer you stay in the game, the better your odds of getting ahead. In order to stay in the game, leadership must resist the urge to cut back and wait out the storm. Reducing your marketing efforts is the equivalent of stepping off the course, lying down and allowing your competition to pass you by. Doesn't sound like such a good strategy, does it?

Analysis of the 1981-82 recession indicates that B2B companies who maintained or increased their marketing during this period grew at a faster rate than those who didn't (per McGraw-Hill and the International Journal of Research in Marketing). In addition, according to American Business Media, brands that maintained mind share during an economic downturn saw a direct correlation to growth in current and future sales at a much lower cost than a brand attempting to rebuild their mind and market share after a period of inactivity.

Although it's important to maintain a brand presence, it's far from business as usual, and spending doesn't necessarily equal winning. Integrated marketing campaigns can be a perfect approach during times like these given their efficient production nature and ability to have a positive combined effect when compared to individual executions.

Today's marketing events have quickly adapted to address these questions; Marketing Connections 2009 includes several sessions on marketing in a tough economy. Although these sessions are clearly a sign of the times, let's hope they're short-lived, and that next year we have more fun things to talk about - like how you crushed the competition when they least expected it.
3 comments about "The [Ad]vantage: Put on Your Game Face".
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  1. Rich Carr from Carr Knowledge, December 29, 2008 at 8:03 a.m.

    Great analogy and attribution of facts to support it. Strong article.

  2. Tripper Lowentritt from Low + Tritt, December 29, 2008 at 8:06 a.m.

    If you "slash advertising", few will know you've "slashed prices". To save money, retail client needs to consider turning off the lights - instead of turning off the advertising. If the lights are off, the customer thinks you're closed. If the advertising is off, the customer doesn't think about you. Tomorrow's client needs to evolve.

  3. Kirk Drummond from Drumroll, January 11, 2009 at 10:40 p.m.

    Thanks Rich.

    Tripper - I totally agree. I think the key for decision makers is to evolve, just as you said, in all aspects of business including operational practices and survival plans. Of course, as we both know, when staring at growing risk and shrinking revenue it's hard to make the call.

    Thanks for the comments.

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