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. (, which helps organizations build brands and attract and motivate employees and customers.