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MacGyver Marketing

As I walked around the designated lunch area at a recent show, initially grateful for the short lines and many empty tables, it occurred to me that this wasn't a good sign. Not surprisingly, the economic crisis has caused companies to cut back on everything – especially marketing budgets. Tradeshow attendance is not the only area that is suffering.

As I walked around the designated lunch area at a recent show, initially grateful for the short lines and many empty tables, it occurred to me that this wasn't a good sign.

Not surprisingly, the economic crisis has caused companies to cut back on everything – especially marketing budgets. Tradeshow attendance is not the only area that is suffering. As marketing departments are forced to justify ROI on every move they make, business travel overall has become scarce, staff numbers are being trimmed, and proverbial purse strings are tightening.

So now what? It appears that the food industry may have to temporarily resort to what I like to think of as MacGyver Marketing. Here's a paperclip, a purple crayon, a box of rubber bands, and a shoelace: please produce a marketing plan. Ready? Go.

What I'm suggesting is that if companies want to continue to grow their brands and generate leads, they are going to have to assess the current situation and be resourceful, even if it involves some risks. While economic downtimes are never going to stop people from eating, consumers are going to be more strategic about what foods they buy – and now is the perfect time to emerge as a hero amidst the chaos.

My recent conversations with various marketing professionals have all invariably led back to the same conclusion: recessions are an excellent time to grow market share by stealing it away from competitors. While everyone else is cutting back, "market ninjas" can very cleverly sneak in and win over the hearts of customers. Above all, uncertain consumers need reassurance.

I've recently seen signs that indicate some food companies are implementing these strategies and altering, rather than halting, their marketing efforts.

As a consumer, I have noticed a shift in advertising messages in the food industry toward comfort and family values. In a recent column, I discussed Pepsi and Coke's new ad campaigns, both harnessing the power of trusted brands to quell consumer woes during uncertain times.

In addition, there has been a large promotional push for foods that bring families together – whether it be through an emphasis on quality family dinners or convenient, kid-friendly packaging or just plain old-fashioned good-bang-for-the-buck value. Campbell's Soup, for example, reported an increase in sales during 2008 – which can possibly be attributed to their promise to "nourish people's lives everywhere, every day" – for, in most cases, under $2.

Economics have taught us that the bright side of recessions is that they are usually followed by a boom. Companies that find creative ways to stay afloat during down times will invariably find themselves poised for success when loyal consumers have more money to spend.

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