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(Recession Marketing 3.0)

by Martin E. Thoma

January 2009


<< Part Two: WHAT TO DO NOW <<


When I wrote the two pieces earlier this year, I thought I'd be done addressing marketing and recessions. Beyond the historical record demonstrating that marketing through is a sure-fire way to grab share and a rundown of proven tactics for outperforming-it didn't seem there was that much more to say.

But that was well before Wall Street and the financial industry blew up, melted down, self-destructed or whatever it did. Reflecting on the state of things brought to mind that there is one other critically important thing to manage in this economy: our own state of mind.

Scary times call for disciplined thinking on the part of brand leaders. The state of the economy calls for an intentional state of mind. Steering a brand through choppy waters requires a firm hand on the tiller, commitment to first principles and the ability to swallow a lot of your own fear in service to the brand.

After all, if you're good, your brand will be around long after you've departed the scene. (Obviously I am not writing for Bear Stearns or Lehman here!)

So here's some help-with acknowledgement to Dan Sullivan of The Strategic Coach and Bill Harris of Centerpointe Research Institute-two thought leaders I frequently turn to for insight and direction on matters like these.

FOCUS ON WHAT YOU HAVE TO GAIN. In this environment, a lot of people have lost a lot: trillions of dollars in investments, millions of jobs, whole businesses. Difficult as it may be, let the past be the past. Looking at it and focusing on it will only trap you there-and serve to perpetuate the losses. Focus instead on the opportunities you have now.

FOCUS ON RELATIONSHIPS. When "fear, uncertainty and doubt" rule the emotional landscape, many people turn inward, become self-involved or feel helpless. Instead of thinking of yourself, turn outward and add energy to all of your relationships-friends, family, vendors, co-workers and customers. When you strengthen relationships you strengthen opportunity-even those opportunities that have not yet manifested themselves.

FOCUS ON CREATING VALUE, NOT SELLING THINGS. Periods of scarcity make many more focused on "moving merchandise" or "making the numbers." Others don't necessarily want to buy something from you, but they do want you to create value. In the best of times, people seek value creation; in the worst of times, even more so.

DON'T GRASP FOR THINGS OR SITUATIONS. Buddhists say that all suffering is the result of attachment. Eliminating suffering is a matter of letting go of attachments. Easy to say, hard to do.

FORGET ABOUT WHAT YOU WERE; FOCUS ON WHAT YOU CAN BE. It's easy to identify with external circumstances, social circles, possessions or accomplishments. In tumultuous times, external situations can change with lightning speed, as we have seen. Take your cues from your center-your dreams, ideals, aspirations and values. The true north of your internal compass does not change. External tumult can be the catalyst for becoming more centered and more self-directed.

FOCUS ON THE CHOICE BETWEEN STIMULUS AND RESPONSE. Victor Frankl pointed out that "between stimulus and response there is a choice." When things are great many think they're in charge and responsible. When things turn down they think they've lost a special power and become dejected and defeatist. The fact is that we control only one thing-and that is our own response to the circumstances we find ourselves in. Difficult situations present an opportunity to turn energies toward making positive, productive and creative responses to the situations we're in.


IGNORE WHAT'S WRONG AND FOCUS ON WHAT'S RIGHT. Is the glass half-empty or half-full? The age-old question of perception versus reality actually confronts every one of us with a key choice: will you complain or will you give thanks? Wayne Dyer demonstrated in "The Power of Intention" that the energy you give out, the thoughts you focus on will create more of the same. If you're focused on what's lacking, what's lost and what's wrong, you'll simply get more of it in the future. Focusing on what's right will create more of the same.

DON'T BLAME ANYONE. Even if external circumstances have been forced onto you, let go of blame. Blaming simply removes the sense of responsibility and self-empowerment. Blaming generates a sense of helplessness. Focus on what you can do now and save yourself the frustration and aggravation.

In "My Losing Season," novelist Pat Conroy recalls his 1966-67 senior year as point guard and captain of The Citadel Bulldogs basketball team, a second-rate ball club in a second-tier conference. Conroy had all but forgotten that devastating, losing year when 30 years later one of his teammates approached him in a bookstore and proceeded to pour out three decades of pent-up anguish over a missed lay-up that cost them a tournament. So Conroy takes this subject out again and examines it with the novelist's eye: Do we learn more, grow more-indeed, achieve more-through failure and loss than through winning?

Indeed, Conroy discovers that he himself did just that during his losing season in Charleston. It was the year he discovered his voice, became a man, shook off the clawing, slashing shadow of his abusive father, and became a writer.

On the basketball court and in professional life, the most important shot is the one you're about to take right now. Sink a three-pointer.


Martin Thoma is a principal with Thoma Thoma, a brand growth and marketing firm serving clients throughout the United States. He is co-creator of The Brand Navigator System, a comprehensive program for discerning, defining and articulating brand power. Reach him at or Skype martinethoma.





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