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To Sell During a Recession, Shop a Mile in Their Shoes

by Jenny Schade  |  
April 21, 2009
  |  5,294 views

You don't need to market differently during a recession—you just have to understand your customers better, according to Mary Beth West, CMO of Kraft Foods (Advertising Age, November 10, 2008).

I couldn't agree more. I've been using customer insights to develop effective marketing programs ever since my boss at Golin/Harris International appeared in my doorway late one Friday afternoon. Suddenly he said the words that made me reach for the bourbon.

"We're pitching the Jim Beam Bourbon business," he proclaimed. "We've decided to make you the lead." Next came the challenge, "We're counting on you—let's get this one."

Golin/Harris was competing against two other major agencies for the Jim Beam business. Quite frankly, we were all large, experienced, and good. The question was obvious: How could we differentiate ourselves?

We held numerous brainstorming and planning sessions, but the big idea didn't surface.


When the pitch was just a few days away, I looked around at the participants in our agency brainstorming session: mostly women in their 20s who lived in trendy Chicago neighborhoods and who did not drink bourbon. And I thought about the typical Jim Beam drinkers at the time: males, interested in outdoor activities, living in rural areas. No wonder we were struggling to reach this audience!

Picture the Marlboro Man, Minus the Horse

We decided to interview drinkers of Jim Beam and competing brands. The minute the respondents arrived for the focus groups, it was clear calling them in had been a smart move. These guys were obviously quite different from our female account team.


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Jenny Schade is president of JRS Consulting, Inc. (www.jrsconsulting.net), which helps organizations build brands and attract and motivate employees and customers.

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  • by Denise Moorehead Mon Apr 27, 2009 via web

    While as an expereinced marketer, I know that it's critical to understand the needs and wants of your target audience, this article is an important reminder that we shouldn't assume that we know what the audience members want, we need to ask them.

  • by Denise Moorehead Mon Apr 27, 2009 via web

    While as an experienced marketer, I know that it's critical to understand the needs and wants of your target audience, this article is an important reminder that we shouldn't assume that we know what the audience members want, we need to ask them.

  • by wamai Tue May 5, 2009 via web

    I agree. The days of 'armchair' marketing where we sit on our chairs and gather insights from research or white papers on the net should be over.
    I once worked as Strategic Planning Director for an agency affiliated to Saatchi & saatchi in Kenya. A car battery manufacturer and retailer wanted to know how he can stop decilining sales in the face of imports which were cheaper given no maufacturing costs to those traders. We went out and talked to car owners. What we realised ( an isight if you may) was that buying a battery relyed heavily on a trusted influencer e.g. mechanic or older brother. So we talked to the mechanics and the trade ( resellers). We even showed the client how to improve visibilty at point of purchase and suggested mechanic workshops where they give reason why their brand is better. we won the account by hitting the road. That is what we should all do all the time. Talk and watch customers.

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