Survival depends on embracing change

Stuart%20Smith%2C%20EditorNever, with the exception of the dark years 1931-2 perhaps, has economics more merited Thomas Carlyle’s description of it as “the dismal science”.

While the Brown/Darling package may have something to recommend it as a piece of inspired, if cynical, electioneering (if you re-elect us, don’t worry, it’s only the rich we’ll soak), the purely economic content of its message contains little to cheer, especially in the smallprint.

Now admittedly the politicians have to be seen to be doing something, even if that something is the equivalent of employing men to dig holes in the ground. “Masterly inactivity” followed by a flight to protectionism were the remedies of the early years of the Great Slump, rightly shunned like the plague by future generations.

And yet, if this week’s package represents the Government’s best stab at a reflationary economic programme, designed to head off an even worse quagmire, it leaves much to be desired. It will still result in the UK becoming the most indebted economy in the developed world, with no sight of a balanced budget until at least 2015. That means we’re all (those of us lucky enough to remain employed, that is) going to be forced savers for years to come, thanks to the loving ministrations of HMRC’s tax collectors.

Not, you would agree, an advertisement for going into the marketing industry, or perhaps remaining in it – dependent as it ultimately is upon consumer confidence. And yet, the picture is not necessarily as gloomy as it appears. What’s required are strong nerves and a sense of perspective. By any standards, 2009 is going to be a grim year, because the knife will continue falling and no one will wish to grasp it. But afterwards a clearer, more stable, pattern of economic behaviour should begin to emerge.

Let’s look at the inverse picture of recession. No one is forecasting unemployment exceeding 3 million, which would still leave a “mere” 29 million people in the UK workforce who must eventually come out of their fox-holes to resume something like normal economic activity. They may have been blistered by a simultaneous residential property and financial system meltdown, but they will still need the likes of B&Q to make over the house they can’t sell, and the likes of HSBC to bank the savings they won’t spend.

Clarity of branding and a simple value proposition will become key determinants of survival. For strong self-confident brands the depth and length of this recession may present an opportunity to oust weaker rivals and restructure the sector they dominate.

For those in marketing services, recession will accentuate the trend towards activities most perceived to deliver accountable value. That’s good news for digital convergence (including the mobile platform) and CRM. Conceivably it’s also good news for public relations, which is seen to be more in touch with the elements of new media brand marketers are most passionate about.

Above all, as Sir Keith Mills pointed out at the Marketing Society conference this week, survival will mean being fleet of foot and prepared to embrace change. On that ruminative note, let me wish you the best of 2009, such as it might be. 

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