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Message to Marketers: Get Real!
by Claire Ratushny


We hear it every day: there’s nothing but gloom and doom in the marketplace.

Message to marketers: is your angst over dropping sales and reduced marketing budgets, preventing you from focusing on what your customers are looking for right now? Are you paralyzed by fear and uncertainty? Have you decided to play it “safe” and stay in a “holding pattern” until the economy improves? Or have you opted to show leadership and courage? Are you steering your brands to maintain share now and grow in the future?

Strong brand managers anticipate where the marketplace is headed. More easily said than done these days, isn’t it? Recent events have set off a chain reaction of unprecedented economic downturns all at once. Still, the consumer is delivering a clear message that should clue us all in, but is it being heard? Maybe there’s a way to become more proactive now that the initial recessionary shock wave has been absorbed.

Marketers of consumer products or services need to “get real” now. Show the customer where the true value of your brand lies. News flash: this isn’t just about price. This is about stripping away the fluff. It’s about communicating real brand assets openly and honestly. Consumers aren’t in the mood for any pretentiousness. That means brands have to deliver real—not contrived perceptions of—value.

“Getting back to basics” and “doing more with less” are old ideas that have come home to roost. Given today’s consumer mind-set after years of over-consuming, this mentality might be here to stay for quite some time. Does that mean they won’t buy more than basic necessities when the economy turns around? Does it mean they won’t splurge on a few luxuries? With some exceptions, probably not. But it does mean that consumers will likely be more discerning when spending their discretionary dollars.

The more severe any downturn is, and the longer it lasts, consumers are forced to reexamine their attitudes toward spending and consumption. The economic meltdown of September 2008 forced a gut check for many consumers. As our culture undergoes a major shift, “excess” and “bling” have quickly become dirty words. Gone are easy credit and easy-spending ways.

McDonald’s Café and Dunkin Donuts marketers have great insight about offering real value. Marketing message? Consumers don’t have to spend a lot of money to get quality café beverages. They can walk into McDonald’s or Dunkin Donuts, and get quality coffee, latte or cappuccino at reasonable prices. And no, lattes don’t have to cost over four bucks!  McDonald’s snide little aside to Starbucks and other pricey coffee emporiums? For most consumers, this represents a highly embraceable new concept: little luxuries and real value for their dollars.

So, conversely, what are luxury brands to do as your sales slide these days? How about sending out this message for high-priced luxury brands? Less is more. Buy fewer items but purchase quality or lasting craftsmanship. Forget status and over-consumption.

The point: how can advertising and every other consumer touch point be used as a vehicle to communicate the kinds of cultural values that will resonate now and into the future?

How about adding values in additional ways? Consumers are yearning for transparency, so how about pledging to be transparent in every way? Why not tell consumers everything about your products in a forthright manner? Be up front about where your products come from. Pledge that safety and traceability of every component of every product is being tracked by the company—and that information is readily available for the world to see. Mean it and do it. How much is that worth these days?

When/if customer problems crop up, whether it involves safety or product quality issues; why not own up, communicate right away and take steps to correct them? Customers respect companies a whole lot more if they get prompt attention and resolution to potentially serious problems. Trying to hide something like this is the worst decision any company can make.  

Why not be responsive to customer problems via phone, email, interactions with sales personnel and the company blog, if you have one? Solving customer problems of every kind and answering questions promptly ought to be a top priority. Especially now. Why not use customer problems or dissatisfaction as an opportunity to find out what’s really on their minds and what you can do to make your products or services better?

Lastly, why not push—right now—for a total integration of customer data, often fragmented across the company, to be able to become less reactive, and more proactive to the customer’s needs?

Give your consumers something they can believe in. They want to be able to trust in a world where their trust has been repeatedly violated by many high profile brands. If your company takes the lead in being honest and transparent, won’t that lead, in turn, to brand loyalty among disillusioned consumers? Won’t that help retain current customers and win new ones?

Innovations, large and small, win the day in troubled economic times. A couple of easily implemented innovations may not be that costly but might make a world of difference to your customers. Your own customers have ideas if you just ask them. Soliciting input from them can be very helpful and cost effective. That, in turn, leads to brand loyalty. Prudent spending on innovations now could lead to handsome returns in the future. Brands that demonstrate leadership pick up more market share.

In summary, much of this is about stepping up to the plate and offering real customer service, isn’t it? Always vaunted and discussed by marketers, why is it that customer service continues to disappoint consumers in every kind of business interaction, at every level?

Naysayers are going to point out that many of these areas are partially or totally off limits to marketers in larger companies, due to corporate divisions of responsibility and those infamous silos. My response: it’s time for marketers to take ownership of this and to build tighter relationships with their counterparts than ever before. It’s time to go to top management and get their support to move integration forward. If marketers are to be held responsible as keepers of their brands, then you have a right to demand total cooperation from everyone in your company. Remember: you will all succeed or fail together.

By targeting limited budgets in a few key areas, marketers can meaningfully build and communicate real value in their brands and every consumer-facing touch point. That, in turn, will help maintain current customers and likely woo new ones who are less than satisfied with the companies they’re doing business with now. All of this enables marketers to position their brands for future growth, especially when the economy turns around.  

So what are you marketers going to do? Wring your hands or seize the day?


The Author

Claire Ratushny

Claire Ratushny is the principal of, a resource created to assist businesses with their positioning, marketing and PR communications needs. Reach Claire at 860-974-1688 or
Many more articles in Marketing Insight in The CEO Refresher Archives
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Copyright 2009 by Claire Ratushny. All rights reserved.

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