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Pragmatism versus Panic: Marketers Respond to the Recession

Pragmatism versus Panic: Marketers Respond to the Recession

As the scope of the current economic downturn expands and evolves, marketers are responding with pragmatism rather than panic. The pragmatic view, as revealed by research conducted by The Dihedral Group (TDG) on behalf of Aquent and the American Marketing Association, is driven by three factors: new technologies; the availability of highly-skilled contractors; and the understanding that organizations must plan for the recession’s inevitable end.

Last spring, Aquent and the AMA enlisted TDG to conduct a survey asking marketers about salaries, hiring plans, and their outlook on the future. We turned the results of that survey into a marketing salaries calculator. Since the initial survey asked a lot about plans for 2008, we sponsored a follow up survey to find out what had happened in the intervening six months. Of course, we found that some plans had changed (only about a third of anticipated interactive marketing hires had been completed, for example), but we also found that, despite the severity of the current economic crisis, marketers seem to responding with a forward-looking level-headedness.

1. Guess what? Technology has changed marketing!

Everybody knows that email, the web, and the rise of social media have changed and are continuing to change the practice of marketing, so naturally these are changing the way marketers respond to a downturn in the economy. Specifically, whether companies are faring well or are struggling right now, online marketing plays a key role in their plans to weather the current storm.

They are, however, using the technology for different reasons and to different ends. On the one hand, those companies that experienced growth in 2008 are concentrating on using online capabilities to deepen customer insight, analyze their behavior, and continually improve the effectiveness of their digital marketing efforts. On the other hand, the strugglers are increasing their reliance on interactive marketing for increased efficiency and cost-savings.

2. The Heightened Appeal of Contract Marketers

Organizations hope that interactive marketing will lead them through and out of the darkness, but these technologies don’t deploy themselves; you need people to realize their potential and maximize their efficacy. The problem is that the hires that didn’t happen in 2008 were primarily interactive marketing hires. The other problem is that it’s not necessarily the case that you can just shift resources in your department to carry out your interactive marketing initiatives; the skills required are too specialized. Now, you could turn to an agency and outsource these initiatives but, for cost reasons, the trend is towards bringing everything in-house.
The solution? Hiring interactive marketers on a contract basis. This option appeals both to an increasing number of top-level marketers as well as to the majority of those who are placing an emphasis on leveraging social media to get ahead.

3. “Someday this recession’s gonna end.”

It wasn’t long ago that we experienced the bursting of the bubble followed by a horrendous act of terrorism and then war. Organizations that made it through these recent upheavals realize that, as bad as things can get, they tend to get better. This means that you have to make sure the steps you take to deal with the present crisis don’t undermine your prospects once it has passed. There are risks (what one marketer calls “the dangers of the dark“) associated with a too-drastic pullback and one is the possibility of losing or alienating the people who you’ll want to have around once the ship rights itself.

To avoid the negative consequences of heedless downsizing in the name of cost-cutting, smart managers are generating loyalty by “reacting to the current economic situation with complete awareness and respect for his employees” in hopes that this will encourage “increased long-term productivity and budget-consciousness” on their part. At the same time, organizations are finding that engaging contract marketers not only makes economic sense, but is also a great way to vet talent that they may want to hire full-time in the future.

The survey revealed more than I have shared here. We will be publishing a more detailed analysis of the findings. Watch this space!


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