Aldo says: change or die

Our Forum columnist Aldo Cundari - and pretty much everyone else I talk to - is espousing that sentiment (with varying degrees of dramatic phrasing).

Our Forum columnist Aldo Cundari – and pretty much everyone else I talk to – is espousing that sentiment (with varying degrees of dramatic phrasing).

How long you’ve got depends on consumers, and in the case of agencies – how advertisers are diagnosing their brand’s best bets in this harsh economy-driven reality check.

By early December, our Renegade CMO columnist and Queen’s prof Ken Wong had given 14 speeches over five weeks to present the research which proves spending through recession pays big dividends afterwards – and quickly – with gains occurring within the first two years of recovery. Yet, research shows 40% of companies are going to cut costs to cut price, despite the math not working in their favour given the volume increase required, not to mention long-term brand value ramifications.

Plans for dealing with the crisis are being retooled monthly, and marketers are staying even closer to their consumers as the mood of the marketplace changes at warp speed.

The value of good research and metrics has never been more acute.

This is why industry vets from all sides of the biz believe the economy may be the catalyst that finally forces everyone into a new higher-functioning adworld order where accountability reigns. And that it may affect which partners play lead roles.

Speaking at a strategy roundtable on How To Market Through A Crap Economy (you’ll have to wait until February for the full dialogue), Wong, who has been called in to consult with companies ranging from media organizations to manufacturers, says he keeps hearing ‘it’s time to re-engineer,’ and thinks boards will force changes in protocol.

And even for those not clawing back, there’s greater expectations of efficiency and effectiveness. Frito Lay VP marketing Tony Matta says, ‘as a marketer, you have a choice to either curl up in a fetal position or lead change in the organization. It’s an opportunity to reassess what the future holds and how we partner going forward, and the value of relationships.’

However, the rapid reaction required to cope with the volatile marketplace also makes it the most difficult time to develop new models.

Most marketers are focusing on their stars in this Win to Spend environment, and that means less support for the niche, new or developing brands. It can also mean less rope to try new things, and put together the more complex integrated (labour-intensive, unproven) programs. And it’s often that innovation and the digging in along the sidelines that gets Canada noticed by global HQ. Battening down and playing it safe over the short term may lead to bigger losses for the Canadian industry when it comes to justifying the existence of a second North American marketing op.

So how can Canadian brands come through the crap economy – if not unscathed, at least poised for a comeback?

Trendspotter Marian Salzman says value and values are the new societal black in our What Next 2009 survival guide (pg. 25). And these changing attitudes on the consumer front are also true for those trying to connect with them. Marketers will demand more for less. New measurements will come to pass. And nimble indie shops will seize the opportunity to make gains in this climate. While it’s more evolution than revolution, it’s nonetheless a tipping point.

Rather than the catalyst for brave new models, it’s more likely that those who have been retooling around closer consumer relationships and deeper data will thrive, and those who aren’t essential to the conversation will get left on the sidelines more often. So while the current model’s death knell might be a tad premature (and like TV, never quite succumb to its long-predicted demise), we’re certainly seeing greater openness to accelerating that inevitable change.

Embarking on change while everyone’s in survival mode requires exponential bravery, plus organizational trust and resolve, and yet, the entire industry’s newfound flexibility will help those who choose Matta’s second option.

Best of luck in 2009, mm

Mary Maddever, exec editor, strategy, Media in Canada and stimulant