Marketing, and Leading, Through the Fear Cycle

"How Frank or Deceptive Should Leaders Be?"

What a great come-on! Who wouldn't read an article with a title like that? Particularly when it comes from that font of managerial wisdom, the Harvard Business School "Working Knowledge" newsletters that are designed to keep the grey cells moving. In addition to transparency, the need for high ethics, and the importance of smiling through the Fear Cycle, B-school experts continue to beat the drum of marketing experience and have this to say about Leading in a Crisis: Be aggressive in the marketplace!

Jim Heskett, Baker Foundation Professor emeritus at HBS, set this up as a discussion forum. You'll want to see the whole string -- with remarks from Directors and department heads of major companies like Saint-Gobain Weber and Intuit and Motorola, to officers in the Ministry of Commerce in Pakistan, to the all-important "anonymous" responders. Click here to read it all

The comment No. 4 by Ryan Schon caught my eye. He wrote, in part, "I don't think there's anything wrong with leaders acknowledging that we are in a fear cycle right now but that capitalism and entrepreneurship will prevail."

Yes, we are in a fear cycle. As of March 3, 2009, consumer confidence and business sentiment are at historic lows, according to a chart developed by UBS based on data from FactSet.

But here is the what you should really pay attention to, and it is lucky number point 7 in the article authored by Bill George in the online Wall Street Journal on March 5, titled "Seven Lessons for Leading in Crisis".

"Be aggressive in the marketplace."

Just how do you do this? Actually, I am not going to tell you anything you don't already know.

First, DO NOT CUT your marketing budget. However, you might want to bring it closer into line with the consumer groups who are still spending (read: Millennials). And there are cost-effective distribution strategies you can pump up right now, such as doing ride-alongs with your distributors and meeting those wine selling foot-solders known as store and restaurant owners. A little creativity goes a long way in advertising and PR (um, how long since you've tuned up your graphics and messages?). Coordinate the elements of your program closely; it's no time to waste your dollars by letting your attention slip.

And, smile. Smile a lot. If the stress has been great, practice smiling in the bathroom mirror until the face muscles go there automatically and the laugh lines reappear.

Just one last thought on transparency by management -- whether you are a winery owner or marketing manager, or a CEO or sales director for a supplier company -- pay attention! Because down there at No. 32 on the discussion is my favorite, from Scott W. Ventrella, Managing Director of the Center for Corporate Ethics. "Under no circumstances should a leader attempt to deceive or mislead members of their organization. That said, it is incumbent upon leadership to present the facts but not dwell on the negative (or draw premature conclusions no matter how dire the situation). Fueled by vision, hope and optimism, great leaders over time have energized and inspired people to see beyond "hopeless" situations -- without compromising their own

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