According to Sable, while price is important in a recession, the majority of price-driven consumers still factor in the importance of branding. Companies must maintain "good housekeeping" during a recession, such as product quality and good distribution systems, but he suggests that clear brand association and leadership comes through communication. "If you cut the communication, you have a major problem."
He urges marketers to make sure they understand the "elasticity" of their brand, which would be a gauge of how much -- or how little -- advertising is necessary to sustain sales. "It's not a science. There's a lot of art there," he acknowledges, "but you must be supporting your product."
He also warns that in today's networked, digital marketplace, consumer buzz about disappointments with a product can metastasize quickly and widely. "You must give people good things to talk about by continuing to have good products and communication." The biggest lesson is that recessions come and go, but "hopefully your brand is for life. It's forever. So you have to be careful how you react because the downturn is not going to be forever."
If companies cut deeply into advertising and communications in a down period, the cost to regain share of voice in the market once the economy turns around may cost four or five times as much as the cuts saved, he adds. "You must really keep a balance in times like this. Don't go dark when customers and consumers need you because they need you as much as you need them."
Matt Williams, a partner at The Martin Agency, says a downturn is a natural time to focus on core strategy. A recession, he says, can be an "opportunity disguised as a problem.... You can position the brand as an ally to consumers in tough times with product development or sponsorship programs so the consumer can say 'I see by its actions that this brand is on my side.' That will pay dividends not only during the recession but beyond."