3 unexpected lessons my client taught me during times of crisis
"I want to advertise more when everyone is cutting budget. Give me what you have."
These were the EXACT words from a Managing Director of a fastest growing FMCG company at that point of time which until today keeps reminding and guiding me in my entrepreneurial journey today..
I was a Client Service Manager for an established media owner company. The media space I was marketing was not the usual traditional media. I was marketing the media space at the last mile of purchase. My client portfolio consist of local and mostly internationally recognised FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) brands. Everyone's business was growing and naturally clients were very open to spending on new media options. This were good times.
Then came the financial crisis which I fondly call it as my personal biggest sales career crisis. Clients started to cut advertising budgets. I was overwhelmed with requests to renegotiate prior agreed advertising commitments (which by the way are mostly signed whole year long). It became so autopilot that every time the phone rang, I knew what was coming. Toughest times.
During one of my WAM (weekly action meetings), I was due to visit a local client to present my monthly campaign reports. As dull as the agenda may sound, I usually am very excited to meet them. Why?
Almost all their brands in every category/sub-category were outgrowing the larger recognised brands (competitors) by market share % and by sales volume..
The entire team (from product, marketing, distribution, research including the Managing Director himself) would be present. It makes a media partner like me feel very welcomed and important.
They were strong advocates of being omni-present, consistent, versatile yet hyperlocal in their content and are BIG believers that everything begins and ends with branding.
They were my biggest spending client.
But that particular day, it felt different. I was prepared to accept the cliche of "bad times means cutting advertising budgets" and with half the client team missing that day, shit was about to hit the fan I told myself. As I was leaving the client office, the much adored and respected MD walks in. We sat down and he asked me these 3 questions:
Question #1 : In times of crisis, are your clients cutting advertising budgets?
Unwillingly, I said yes. Most clients believe there isn't a need to do so and it is counter intuitive to advertise during a crisis when customers are tightening the belt. So a wait-and-see approach is commonly adopted.
Question #2 : Why would anyone continue or increase their advertising spend?
Honestly, not many would. The normal knee jerk reaction is to reduce spending. I understand many factors come into play especially weighing the immediate impact to business and sales. But if you look at successful brands in other markets that have survived the test of time, consistency seemed to be key in building their brands. I believe in every crisis there is always an opportunity. Question is: do you lead or do you just follow?
Question #3 : Should we advertise now or after all this is over?
Keeping top-of-mind in good times is challenging and cluttered, sometimes even more costly but it may be easier cut-through during challenging times, where relevant. Fact is, tough times don't last. So standing out at the right time during a crisis would give your brands the unfair advantage when the market resumes.
I walked away with 3 new media contracts that week while retaining every single annual commitment prior agreed. Not a single cent reduced. Here are 3 lessons I learnt from him:
Lesson #1 : Don't be like the 99% of your market. Be the 1% to continue building-and-growing when everyone waits-and-see
In business, you must stand out and not everyday you get a chance do so especially when you work with far lesser budgets than the big brands. Do not over analyse. Data and numbers are there to guide you. Sometimes, logic and gut-feel is your best navigator.
Lesson #2 : Go offensive when everyone plays defensive.
Lead, stop following. Equip yourself with everything necessary to make a decision to play offensive when your competition takes a breather. Keep your eye on the ball. Times like this do not happen everyday. Make the most of it.
Lesson #3 : Seize the unfair advantage.
Competitive advantage can be duplicable. It is the unfair advantage that gives businesses the giant leap. When you see it or is presented with one, take it. Times of crisis forces everyone back to the "the starting line". Always keep in mind of how to be ahead of everyone, not run together. And keeping looking for the unfair advantage.
I pray that the sharing of this real life experience lifts you up in such unprecedented times we are in now. Regardless of where you are in business today, what nature of business you are in and how the pandemic may have impacted you, I sincerely wish you well. Tough times don't last. I am sure you will get past this storm. Get up and move on because once this is over, it's our turn to do our part.