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Marketers can't ignore economic turmoil - so what do you do?

If words like 'crisis' and 'downturn' make you want to grab a blanket, you're not alone. It's tempting to go into denial - or to soldier on doing exactly what you've done before. Tempting, but not wise.

To get through tough economic times, you need to look reality squarely in the eye, see where your brand is weak, see where you're strong, and develop a strategy for moving forward.

If you're a marketer, the pressure is on because everyone will be looking to you to make things better.

Fortunately, there are some time-honoured principles to help guide you and potentially even strengthen your brand.

You'll have to do some hard work because there are no prepackaged one-size-fits-all solutions.

But the rewards are there for those brave enough to adjust their thinking to fit the times.

PUT AWAY YOUR BUDGET-CUTTING SCISSORS The first thing that people do when times get tough is cut their marketing budgets. At first blush, it makes sense to cut variable expense ... but do you really want to ignore your customers when your competitors are still out there?

Consider what happened in 1929 when Kellogg's and Post were in a neck-and-neck race for the breakfast cereal market.

Unlike its rival, Kellogg's continued to advertise through the Great Depression, gaining a position of market dominance that the company still enjoys today.

Don't engage in reckless spending, but don't cut off the lifeline that feeds your business.

PUT AWAY YOUR PRICE-SLASHING KNIFE The second thing that people want to do is reduce their prices.

Customers are tightening their belts - so that means that they want the cheapest alternative, right? Not necessarily. Ironically, luxury brands can thrive in tough economic times. As preference may shift from cheap throwaway goods purchased on impulse toward quality goods built to last, be careful of cheapening your brand.

The key is to understand how your customers perceive the value of your products.

Think about all of the elements in your marketing mix and make sure that you really understand your customers before you make hasty pricing decisions.

BE RUTHLESSLY HONEST WITH YOURSELF It's hard for all of us to see ourselves accurately, particularly when we want to cling to the glories of the past.

But tough times have a way of separating the wheat from the chaff. Are all of your plans brilliant? Or are you clinging to some sacred cows that don't serve you any longer?

It took the technology crash to force some companies to see that their 'brilliant' ideas weren't so valuable after all. Could they have been saved if they had looked in a mirror a little earlier?

You may want to consider engaging an external strategist if you even suspect that you might be breathing your own fumes.

BE CREATIVE Perhaps it's time to rationalize your product line and focus on your winners.

Or perhaps you should do just the opposite; develop a new less-featured product that is more affordable but still consistent with your brand.

Or perhaps it's time to seek out a new market for your products.

Turbulent times always bring new opportunities - it's a matter of seeing the possibilities and grabbing them while the window of opportunity is open.

Take advantage of the drop in global tourism by offering adventure packages closer to home.

Or take a page out of the timeshare book and offer fractional ownership for big-ticket items.

No matter your industry, there are opportunities.

WRAP YOUR CUSTOMER IN A WARM BLANKET In times of uncertainty, everyone wants a little comfort. People get tired of doom and gloom. They may want to be careful with their money but they don't want to give up all of life's pleasures. What can you offer to give them comfort? To make them feel optimistic? To make them feel safe?

Make sure that you stay in touch with the way people are feeling. It's one thing to provide a ray of sunshine - but it's another thing to appear frivolous. Stay in touch with the mood of the times.

LEARN FROM HISTORY In the words of Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian David McCullough, "History [is]a guide to navigation in perilous times." We've survived many recessions already. We've survived the dot-com crash. We've survived 9/11. With each setback, we've found new opportunities and this time it will be no different. Two words of advice: Get ready. If you haven't pulled your team together to develop your strategy, do it now.

Andrea Southcott is president of ad agency TBWA\Vancouver

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