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Image conscious

A strong brand image is arguably the most powerful tool in a recession, so marketing is something no business can afford to ditch

The last recession to hit retail in the 1990s showed that marketing spend is one of the first areas to be cut when funds are limited. But this strategy, say experts, is flawed.

It may satisfy cost cutting in the short term but, warns Peter Walshe, global brands director of research company Millward Brown, “shortterm gain can lead to long-term pain”. He adds: “People who outspend in a recession tend to land up in a better position after. If you are spending proportionally above your market share, there’s a good chance of making sales gains.”

Walshe says strong brand identities are the most powerful tools in a recession. “If you had invested in the S&P 500 [share index for US blue-chip companies] you would have come out with a return of 3%. But if you’d invested in strong brands you would have come out with a 24% return,” Walshe says.

Peter Meech, senior lecturer at the University of Stirling in Scotland, says brand-building tactics should already be in place: “In essence, building a brand is a long process; it has to be nurtured and that can only be done with a long-term strategy, not with knee-jerk reactions to the economic situation. But in difficult times budgets will be cut and no doubt there will be some difficult conversations to come at executive level.”

Meech advises: “Focus on the core customer and keep the brand’s values at the forefront of consumers’ minds. The classic example comes from petroleum firm Shell, which continued to advertise throughout the Second World War even though during that period no fuel was branded and was only available from a pooled resource. At the time some people questioned Shell’s strategy, but its increased profile paid dividends in the long run.”

Important to invest

British heritage brand Aquascutum is positioning itself as a global luxury fashion brand, but with a British core. This message, says the brand’s global communications director Charlotte Thomas, is going to be fundamental. “We are focusing on the fact we still manufacture much of our outerwear in our Corby factory [in Northamptonshire]. In a downturn people tend to buy luxury because they are looking for authenticity,” she says.

Aquascutum’s new campaign, shot by British photographer Tim Walker, focuses on coat style the AquaMac. “It is a re-enactment of a kissing competition from the 1940s. It’s a nod to the quirky British sense of humour,” says Thomas.

It is also about bringing the glamour of the brand to life. “In the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant and Sean Connery used to wear Aquascutum coats; it was seen as a glamorous brand,” Thomas says. At this year’s Baftas, British actors Dev Patel and Dominic Cooper, and director Danny Boyle all wore the brand. It is maybe not quite the same calibre of star, but the message remains and it underlines the brand’s luxury aspirations.

However, in this recession the meaning of luxury itself is changing and, according to experts, conspicuous consumption will be less important than a bespoke, personal approach.
While image-led marketing and brand recognition has been the thrust of UK luxury handbag and accessories brand Mulberry’s past campaigns, it is moving to a more tactile strategy, communicating directly with the consumer on a one-to-one basis.

“We feel this strengthens our relationship with customers. It is extremely important to maintain a dialogue in this economic climate,” says head of marketing Annamaria Morena. Among other things, Mulberry is pushing its footwear by mailing its database of customers, conducting an email marketing campaign and tying it in with postcards displayed in store.
At Henri-Lloyd, the strategy to market it as a luxury lifestyle brand hasn’t changed in the downturn, and nor will it. “As times get harder, you’re tested as to what type of a brand you are. You have to up your game,” says commercial director Graham Allen.

In tune with its heritage

Streetwear brand Gio-Goi is keen to use its musical heritage in its new campaign. “You see some brands marketing themselves in an area that has no relevance to what they’ve done in the past as they try to buy into a culture,” says Gio-Goi’s PR and marketing manager Jami Speck.

“But young people don’t like being told what they should wear. It’s about interacting with them, not shoving marketing down their throats.” Though the brand’s young target consumer is more recession-proof than most, Speck says Gio-Goi is working hard to support its stockists in the current climate by doing more above-the-line advertising.

He adds that marketing spend is increasing in relation to expenditure in the past few years. “It is more important to support your accounts during this tough time,” he says.

Falling advertising costs have enabled lingerie brand Panache to get into a market previously out of reach. It is negotiating with a number of consumer magazines about an advertising programme for its D to K cup Superbra collection. “The downturn has really given us the opportunity to use our budget more wisely,” says the brand’s manager, Steve Hazlehurst. Panache is keen to replicate the success of the ‘Hello boys’ Wonderbra campaign in the 1990s. “Playtex [Wonderbra’s manufacturer] took advantage of the climate and really benefited. We’re taking the same principle,” says Hazlehurst.

It seems marketers have heard the call of experts and are embracing the downturn. “It’s not so much going back to basics, but back to essentials,” says Walshe. “It’s about concentrating on what your brand really means.”

With the right marketing, plenty of fashion brands will turn a retreat into an advance.

Show of support

Drapers asked 50 young fashion indies to identify the brands whose marketing support was most useful in terms of boosting sales. The survey was met by a wave of apathy and resentment. A quarter said nothing was good enough to merit a mention. “They’re all useless,” said one in our anonymous survey. “They’re just out for themselves,” said another, who felt the brands’ myopic attitude would damage both brand and stockists. Others (perhaps with stronger brand lists) were pleased to pick out supportive suppliers. G-Star was praised for building awareness, while Ted Baker was lauded for its innovation and Fly 53 for its PoS.

Appeal to the ‘frugalistas’

According to global research company Euromonitor International, value has taken on a fresh importance for consumers.
Its research suggests women are reacting to the downturn with increased thriftiness, which will offer commercial opportunities for brands. Female consumers are becoming “frugalistas”, it says, and lists the top tips for appealing to these customers:

  • Concentrate on advertising to women.
  • Appeal to their inner domestic goddess.
  • Advertise small indulgences as consumers cut back on expensive items.
  • Advertise low-priced, expensive-looking product. “No one will know how thrifty you are”.

WRITTEN BY: HOLLY BARDER

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