Marketing lessons and weapons from the recession, part 3

In this series finale, Ken Murray shares the three overarching principles that represent the thought process behind his entire marketing ethos. 


Three months ago I began reflecting on the lessons and weapons I gained from marketing during the recession and beyond, in order to share them with you. The truth is: my marketing experience barely existed before the recession, so I haven’t seen the glory days my colleagues speak of so fondly.

My bosses always told me the market is against us and at first they could not comprehend why I wanted to push harder in hard times.

My friends, you and I know, kites fly highest against the wind!

Peter Drucker said: “People who do not take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year, while people who do take risks, generally make about two big mistakes a year.”

The McGraw-Hill Research Laboratory of Advertising Performance carried out a study on businesses that maintained or increased their advertising spends versus those that reduced their budget during the 1981-2 recession and the following three years.

The average sales growth was 275% versus 19%. The data does not lie, but at the same time that was then. I’m not advocating that a greater advertising budget is directly responsible for higher sales growth. At least not today.

The insight that I would take from this study is not what you would expect. It’s not that maintaining or increasing dollars spent on marketing and advertising will increase sales, I actually believe the main lesson to learn from this study is the tangible benefit of focused resources and business priorities.

That is to say: those who chose to maintain or increase their focus on marketing increased their sales by 275% versus those who chose to withdraw from the market (19%). (It is about more than the money.)

Let’s draw a parallel from business to evolutionary biology it is not the big who eat the small, it is the fast that eat the slow. It is the speed of evolution and adaptability, it is innovation and creative problem solving, and therefore it is the human talent in an organisation that can pull an organisation out of the struggle and in front of the race to become market leaders.

If you apply focused resources to business improvement you can pull out to win. In a survey by the Alterra Group in 2009 they found the marketing vehicles which had the most relative importance during the recession was ‘targeted direct marketing’ followed by ‘new web copy and collateral’ (fancy way of saying content marketing?).

These two marketing vehicles that had the most bang for their buck represent three basic lessons:

  1. Get focused on your target market,
  2. stay In constant contact with your customers and potential customers, and
  3. create relevant high quality content to be received by your customers and potential customers.


This series is built on some overarching principles that represent the thought process behind my entire marketing ethos.


First principle: success is not about resources, it is about resourcefulness

It’s about what you’re focused on. It is not a coincidence that the managers who complain about the market being the ruin of them are the ones that sink. While the ones who saw the recessions as an opportunity are the ones that soared.

As Les Brown said, ‘when life knocks you down try to land on your back, because if you can look up you can get up’.


Second principle: aim higher

Are you a goal-setter or a problem-solver?

If you are a goal-setter, set some stretch goals. That means forget the SMART framework that we have all come to love since we got HDs in Business 101.

If you’re a problem-solver, describe the result you want as a challenge you will overcome.

When you set a stretch goal or a challenge the most important question to ask is ‘how?

How can we achieve our stretch goal? Or overcome this challenge?

This simple question activates our resourcefulness and the less resources you have the better your resourcefulness will be (or have to be). The more resourceful you are, the more creative you will be at solving your problems or achieving your goal however you prefer to look at it.

Resourceful marketing weapons:

  • Joint ventures: I covered this in Part One,
  • ambush marketing: check out Kym Illman from MessagesOnHold. He is a local Australian Marketing Hero in my books for resourcefulness, and
  • guerrilla marketing: we can go a lot further than flyers on our windscreens – that’s just annoying. Thanks to social media and channels like YouTube money is no longer the key determining factor in the success of marketing works.


Here is a shortlist of creative visual guerrilla works that I think were excellent and relatively low CPI.

Ambient guerilla marketing


Paul Curtis was one of the first street artists to make an art piece using reverse graffiti that is pressure cleaning with a stencil. Since then it has been a guerrilla marketer’s staple tool. Yet I haven’t seen it used once in WA. (Is that because we have pristine streets?) I see illegally plastered posters, stickers, graffiti, flyers and dirt all over the street and on our cars, sure, but no reverse Graffiti to speak of feels like very little has changed on this front at least locally.


Third principle: change is the only constant; progress is the only way forward

If you do what you’ve always done you’ll get what you’ve always gotten or so they say, but this MO did not consider the external environment/the market. Furthermore, how closely did we analyse what was really working for our business in the first place?

The biggest mistake companies make in the boom and the recession to follow is neglecting customer service.

I once worked for a small family business during the boom time they grew and hired new people. While focusing on customer acquisition they got extremely busy. They neglected training, assuming new hires would simply pick up the same knowledge they did from working their all their lives. Thus although they had triple the amount of staff only a select few actually held the knowledge and position to make even basic decisions. This presents a bottleneck not just on sales potential but on customer service.

How often I heard the words, ‘I’m not sure I’ll have to get back to you,’ was enough to make you want to pull your hair out (I bet a lot of it is still stuck in my keyboard). When you boom and then you crash one of the first casualties is employees either letting them go or neglecting them, the collateral damage of losing employees is immediately followed by a loss in quality of customer service, when you lose customer service you lose customers and once your customers are gone, you’re gone.

So when times are hard, or when you really want to win…

Acquisition is not the only priority, customer service and relationship building should be. Let your competitors make those mistakes while you drive for happier, better trained employees with more responsibility and knowledge to make effective decisions.

Customer service – that is, a deeper understanding of a customer’s needs and requirements, the speed and quality at which you meet them and the relationship to follow is the ultimate USP for a premium business.


And that, good marketers, brings us to the conclusion on my series of ‘Lessons and Weapons from the Recession’. We could go on and on with this – referrals, lead gen, new SEO tactics, the key components of viral marketing, an A to Z of force multipliers – but I’d like to cover these topics in a new context (just to keep it fresh).

Ken Murray
BY Ken Murray ON 1 September 2014
Ken Murray is the director of marketing for MEI Group, having now clocked over seven years of senior marketing experience specialising in the industrial sectors and B2B. 
Ken's background stems from a keen interest in pattern recognition and problem solving, which would eventually lead to an academic background in sociology (the 'why' question) to strategic marketing and business (the 'how' question). He believes success in business and marketing is about connecting the individual customer's 'why' to the business' 'how'. Next step is to operate efficiently and then you've got results, which is all he's interested in. Follow him @Kengetsitdone.