John Quelch’s “Marketing Your Way Through a Recession”. Harvard, I Expect More From You.

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The elements of John Quelch’s 2008 recessionary marketing tips are important considerations for corporations considering their marketing plans in 2008 and 2009. But, Quelch hasn’t considered the “Long Tail of the Consumer” and the groundswell’s importance in these post-capitalistic times. The arguments that Quelch makes are outdated, better suited for the 1980’s U.S recession, or even for the bust in the late 1990’s. The power of technology and the adaption of interactive marketing that have dominated our society and marketing initiatives within the last decade are non-existent within this post. Really, Harvard? This is what you pay professor and resident blogger Quelch for?

I’ll give Quelch one thing – he makes a good simple point to research the customer to learn how “consumers are redefining value and responding to the recession.” This is a key element to corporate success and redefining brand value propositions when consumers are less likely to be loyal to certain products and brands. It’s shocking that still, in 2010, most companies can’t define their consumer image or just turn a blind eye to what people are really saying about their brand. 

The incorporation of simple brand management techniques, as discussed in Chris Anderson’s The Longer Long Tail and Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff’sGroundswell, are not as common as you’d think. Despite the simplicity and ease that technology offers, according to Anderson, in his 2008 Long Tail adaption, “you’d be surprised how many companies don’t know the answer [to what their consumers say about them and their competition]. They don’t Google themselves” (231). Though recessions often present opportunities for marketers – Quelch’s lack of interactive marketing strategies lands short.

Quelch’s dusty dogma fails to properly assess marketing spend during a recession, most importantly, this recession during the same digital era (i.e, Quelch wrote this article just months before the financial free fall in September of 2008 while digital spend was still gaining momentum) Although it is a documented trend that “uncertain consumers need the reassurance of known brands” (Quelch), Quelch’s suggestion to increase television ad spend during tough economic times again fails to consider the decrease in importance that these media play in consumer influence during the current digital age.

Taking into consideration the following:

  • “McKinsey, the consultancy, projects that by 2010 advertising on broadcast television will be barely one-third as effective as it was in 1990” (Anderson 225)
  • What the Forrester Research team identified as the “Groundswell”, published just a month after Mr. Quelch’s article: “A social trend in which people use technologies to get the things they need from each other, rather than from traditional institutions like corporations” (Li and Bernoff, 9).
  • The Forrester US Interactive Marketing Forecast
Okay, okay, I get the rebuttal, these figures weren’t even published at the time that Quelch and Harvard published the article. So… let’s see what was available to us/him in an era so long, long ago in 2008:
  • In TNS Media’s 2007 Intelligence Reports, all media spend decreased from 2006 to 2007, with the exception of the Internet, which grew by 1% point
  • MC Marketing Charts reports Nielsen data for 2007, with “Internet display advertising continued its growth leadership, increasing 15.9% in 2007 to $11.31 billion in expenditures” compared to “television media, full-year Network TV expenditures declined by 2.0% to $22.43 billion”
  • Digital Marketing Guru, Mitch Joel publishes TV Viewing is Down As Internet Usage Continues to Rise? Not Exactly in November 2008. And although it appears that Mitch’s post reveals Quelch’s point… not exactly. Not exactly at all. Traditional media is fragmented, “DVR usage continues to rise and American’s spent more than 6 hours per month watching TV that was time-shifted. On top of that 31% of those watching all of that TV were also online at the same time.”
Quelch misses the mark with the following: “when economic hard times loom, we tend to retreat to our village,” for a suggested marketing focus on family values. And I absolutely agree. But… coupled with the decrease in television advertising effectiveness, and more so, with what Anderson calls a fundamental marketing shift where “selling doesn’t work” (The Longer Long Tail, 225), Quelch undermines the importance of technology to support his point. Quelch fails to mention how powerful social technologies are in “retreating” to the village. A village in which the consumer can now create (Myspace, Facebook, LinkedIn, and the list goes on). And is it a coincidence that social media usage is growing rapidly amongst global economic chaos? Doubtful. Agreed, “uncertainty prompts us to stay home but also stay connected with family and friends”. Yet, Anderson’s “fragmentation of marketing” (225) and Joel’s “fragmented media” are pieces of the puzzle that are missing in his suggestions. More attention to marketing plans are needed during the recession, more precision, more strategy, but not in the traditional media that focused upon with a disregard for the digital explosion.
I agree with the spirit of Quelch’s article, though there are numerous factors omitted that would better reflect the current marketplace in which we all live. Quelch’s major flaw lies in not discussing the elements of technology that are currently shaping communication. In the “new landscape of influence” shaped by technology (Anderson 235), consumers are connecting to each other in self-built online communities. People trust what those in their own personal networks say, not what a company is broadcasting as the message of the week. True, “successful companies do not abandon their marketing strategies in a recession, they adapt them” (Quelch). Unfortunately, there isn’t any insight in how to best adapt such strategies in the midst of a recession amidst the groundswell – two prime opportunities for marketers and consumers to become best acquainted.

(Again, not necessarily so timely, but moving content over from my original publishing on Blogger)