It's official. We've been in a recession for more than a year now, and it does not look like things will improve in the short term.

As the macroeconomic situation worsens, marketers find themselves increasingly squeezed between a big rock and a very hard place: Their mandate is to demonstrably improve ROI, with reduced budgets, while communicating with skittish audiences that are less inclined to make purchases.

Not surprisingly, people are looking for ways to change the game altogether. And, as the market drops, the references to leapfrogging increase.

Leapfrogging—the idea of doing something so amazingly different and innovative that it transcends the best-in-class of a given industry—does not have to cost a fortune or require years to conceptualize and execute.

This article will explore how a marketing team can set the stage for low-cost, high-impact innovation. We'll review some examples of game-changing strategies and explore the requisite ingredients for building the successes that engage customers in a down economy. It comes down to three key steps:

  • First, learn what the brand is doing well and where there is room for exploration in the digital channel.
  • Second, understand how consumers are behaving, both in the context of a recession as well as increasing digital sophistication.
  • Finally, explore how to take these learnings and apply them to the materials already in play. Sometimes it's not about wholesale change but about taking the pieces people already have and refitting them together.

Marketer, know thyself and thy brand

The bad news is that it is certainly not easy to change the game on a shoestring budget; moreover, as the economy continues to falters, the dollars dry up. The good news is that it's not impossible; most everything that is needed will be within easy grasp. The key is to rely on tools that the organization already possesses or can inexpensively obtain.

The first step is to find the pieces that can be reassembled for success. For example, understand the key elements of the digital strategy: In the highly measurable, relatively inexpensive online world, it can be simple to identify the successful, resonant elements of a brand campaign or product offering. There are ample free tools out there to help measure what to focus on.

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Evan Gerber is the principal experience design consultant at Molecular(, a member of the Isobar network of agencies (