Growing Your Brand When The Market Is Not.

In our previous blog post, “Are You Demanding Enough from Your Agency?,” we listed 10 questions that marketers should be asking their agencies. The acid test was this: if your current agency waffles, cops-out or phrases their answer in the form of a thinly-veiled complaint, perhaps you should be looking for another agency.

A rising tide lifts all ships.

Admittedly, the questions were not easy. But at Signature Brand Factory we believe the answers to the easy questions are….well….easy. Only if your agency has the chutzpah to come up with creative answers to the really difficult questions are they worth their salt.

We promised to write a post about each of the ten questions separately over the next several months. So here’s the first one for you and it’s a doozey:

How do you grow your brand when the market is not?

We’ve all heard the expression that a high tide raises all ships. Warren Buffett came up with a saying that exemplifies the flip side of that idea: Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.

Taken together these words of wisdom basically tell us that those who rely overly on sailing along with a growing market are often caught with their pants down when things go bad.

The Oracle of Omaha is no fan of skinny dipping.

So, how do you grow your brand when the market is not?

Easier said than done, but I’ll take a shot at it. At Signature, we have a method to how we market brands. We go through four key steps: Discover, Reveal, Elevate and Disrupt, in that order.

 Let’s use this framework to analyze how to grow a brand in a sagging market:

Discover something new and different. Differentiation is the key element of brand-building, no surprise here. And differentiation becomes even more meaningful during a declining market. But here’s the problem: in a mature market – and most declining markets are definitely mature — everyone already knows the brand basics. There’s nothing new to say.  So it’s your job – and more importantly, your agency’s job — to find something new.

Brand building begins with discovery.

Brand building (and re-building) begins with a discovery process: taking a look at your brand in new and different ways: not only through the eyes of the consumer (which is prudent) but also using the Steve Jobs approach (imagining something about the brand that consumers don’t even realize they need yet). Way back when, Arm and Hammer did a great job by suggesting consumers place a box of A&H baking soda in the fridge to keep it smelling fresh, encouraging current users to buy more and new users to come into the brand franchise. In many cases, it even goes beyond discovery to out-right re-invention. When the home rental market for DVDs dried up, Netflix redefined itself as an on-line provider and content creator. Needless to say, Blockbuster did not.


Reveal this new or more highly focused differentiation to your users. Now that you have differentiating news about your brand, reveal it to your target group. This, however, begs the question, exactly who is my target group? Sometimes it’s about spreading new news to your current base (as when Google introduced Gmail). Sometimes its about focusing a more intense differentiating benefit to a tightly-defined target customer niche (like did when it openly embraced external developers, creating an entire ecosystem around the brand). And, at other times, it’s about bringing in new-users from outside your mature customer franchise (just like Facebook did crowdsourcing translators to help take its website global).

Swimming upstream is not for the faint of heart.

Elevate your brand above the competitive fray. A declining market does have one advantage for the courageous marketer – other marketers’ fears and insecurities. When a market begins to decline, like clockwork, most marketers act like lemmings about to march off a cliff. They redo their revenue projections, readjust their marketing budgets to comply with company-mandated percentages and run for cover.  But, alas, not the courageous marketer. The courageous marketer ups her/his marketing activities during a market decline, gaining share at the expense of the scaredy-cats. (According to the Harvard Business Review, “companies that increased their marketing spending during a recession have boosted their performance in the year following….”)

As the faint-hearted obediently march off the cliff, exploit it to your advantage.

Disrupt the marketplace. Actually this is more of a result than an actual task. As a marketer, when you challenge your agency to grow your brand during a declining market, you are potentially altering the structure of the market as a whole. Seize the opportunity to redefine your brand, discover new things about your product, understand your customer base (and potential customer bases) on a deeper, more meaningful-level and pounce upon your competitors’ affinity to lay low during bad times. Doing any or all of the above will give you the opportunity to alter the market in your favor. And, more often than not, in a big, big way.

Easier said than done, for sure. But remember this: you pay your agencies good money.

Make them earn it.

Roger Chiocchi

A life-long advertising and marketing professional, Roger is VP-Marketing at Signature Brand Factory. Prior to that he spent 20+ years on Madison Ave as a Sr. VP at Young & Rubicam and President of Y&R subsidiary, The Lord Group.



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