I’m not a historian, but I’m pretty sure that in ancient Rome, whenever the economy took a dive, all across the land CFOs and CMOs would meet and argue about whether to cut the budget for painting signs on the city walls.
“Necessito pro populus specto nostrum insigne!” the CMO would shout.
“Necessito nostrum argentum conservo,” the CFO would reply.
This dialog continues in modern times. Today, CMOs can point to a large body of evidence that companies which cut brand marketing budgets in a recession are generally worse off in the long run than those that don’t. CFOs, faced with limited options, will continue to cut all spending that can’t be directly tied to revenue.
Historically this has been good news for sales promoters and direct marketing firms willing tie fees to performance, and bad news for mainstream media. Today we see Google benefiting from this effect, as search marketers have been adept at demonstrating the direct connection between clicks and sales.
But, runs the refrain, what about branding?
This may be the first recession for which we can see glimmers of solutions to the long sought problem of making brand advertising accountable. Although it will never be possible to eliminate risk from advertising, the tools that are now emerging for measuring the effects of brand messages (both one’s own and one’s competitors’) all the way down the sales funnel are making marketing investments far more transparent and accountable than at any time in history.
The tools I’m talking about are the subject of an upcoming research note, but here’s one thought to tie this back to some recent conversations about social media: when heading into the next ad budget meeting, arm yourself with some examples of dialogs occurring about your brand and your competition in the social media sphere. Ask the question, what do you think will happen if we stop the conversation with our customers?
Then start talking about reallocating spending to media that are more effective and measurable than the old viaduct walls.