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The marketing gods have been less than benevolent the past few years. Dealt a devastating uppercut by the crash of the dot-coms, the marketing industry took its worst battering since the Depression in the wake of 2001's terrorist attacks.

As the U.S. economy faced the specter of a double-dip recession, many small-business owners started making onerous decisions: Where to cut budgets and how deeply. Ever the fall guy for accountants with itchy red pens, the marketing and advertising line items of many an Excel spreadsheet were severely reduced or eradicated.

But what happens when a company abruptly ceases all marketing? What's to become of a brand, once beloved and nurtured, when its promotional support has evaporated?

Who Are You Again?

When a product or service is no longer marketed, a company faces the risk that the persnickety public will forget about it.

"When a company ceases communications, its market may perceive it as a serious weakness," cautions Carin Warner, president of Warner Communications, a public relations and marketing agency with offices in North Yarmouth, Maine. "The public is fickle and has a short memory."

A vivid example of the public's swift amnesia is the closing of the Maine Mall Cinema in South Portland. Shortly before its demise, a marketing mastermind for the parent chain, AMC, opted to stop running movie times in local newspapers. Apparently, AMC thought consumers would call or check the Web for times and dates. The movie-going public, accustomed to finding the information in the paper, responded by promptly forgetting all about the theater.

Running on Fumes

Unless you're marketing a direct-response product, you'll be able to coast for a while on the residual benefits of previous marketing efforts--running on fumes. Don't be fooled by this grace period.

Joan Dow, president of Joan Dow & Associates, a Portland advertising agency, likens the gentle slowdown to the QE2 sailing into port: "In the beginning, there seems to be no impact--put on the brakes 10 miles from Casco Bay, and the ship manages to coast into the harbor."

But witness the substantial efforts required to get the liner, and your advertising, moving again. She says: "When it's time to sail, call in the tugs, fire up the engines, then push with all your might to get back out to sea."

Be prepared if you stop promotion: You'll need to start over--complete with all the ardor and money that process entails.

Vultures Aloft

You may think your cost-savings measures are only temporary, as you hibernate through tough times. Your competitors, however, will see your retreat from the advertising arena as an ideal time to pounce.

Since a downturn is an excellent time to build brand visibility and loyalty at a lower cost, if you're not advertising, someone will gladly occupy your hard-won awareness space with customers.

Says Warner, "when a company isn't building its brand, the brand becomes vulnerable to competitors and may lose relevancy with its customers."

And loss of relevancy = death.

Good Grief, Gimme Some Good News

So, knowing your rivals are lurking, use the economic dip as a good time to bust a move on the competition. Their dormancy is your opportunity.

"Now is the prime time to enhance brand and get maximum impact," advises Diane Beecher, president for The Brand Consultancy, a brand assessment, strategy and management company in Washington, D.C. You must weigh your advertising costs against other overhead concerns.

Dow tells the story of a former client who understood the value of marketing in anxious times: "If I have a choice between redoing the floors or advertising," said Dow's client, "I spend the money on advertising. When the store is full of shoppers, you can't see the floors."

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
image of Kimberly McCall

Kimberly McCall is director of marketing at Avance Care, a primary care provider offering convenient, cost-effective healthcare services. She is responsible for all marketing strategies to build, preserve, and enhance the Avance brand.

LinkedIn: Kimberly McCall