If you’ve been around the proverbial block before, you know the economy’s bound to get rolling again. Eventually. So what are you doing, in the meantime, to position your company for long-term growth?

Here at the international corporate headquarters of Hare Communications, we’re revamping our brand. Starting with a new core messaging strategy. One that’s still accurate to our brand, but much more in tune with the current mindset of the business world. Which is not to say that we’re casting our lot with a mood that’s likely to lighten, once the economy picks up again. Rather, we’re speaking more directly to what we believe will be a permanent  legacy (at least in our lifetime) of this recession: An absolute focus on value.

Thanks in part to the slowdown, consumers have become smarter, and better informed, than ever. And while your brand in the marketplace is arguably more important than ever, if that brand doesn’t somehow evoke a clear sense of value, take a look down the street. Because sooner or later, that’s where you’re likely to find your customers.

That said, if you’ve never consciously sat down to explore what your company’s brand really is, there’s never been a better time to do it. Particularly if the slowdown has given you more free time than you enjoy having.

Just in case you’re wondering, “exactly what IS a brand?”…Basically, it’s what comes into your mind when you think of a company or product. So, what comes to mind when people think about you? It’s a good question to start the ball rolling. And don’t just ask yourself that question. Ask others.

The ideal finding of a thorough brand review should be that your external brand (how others perceive you) is consistent with your internal brand, and within reach of your brand aspiration (how you perceive yourself, and how you hope others perceive you). If your research indicates there are serious disconnects, it’s time to consider re-branding—or, at the very least, making the structural changes necessary to bring your organization’s internal, external and desired brands into alignment.

Once you’ve made those necessary changes, you’ll need a tactical plan to present that new message to the marketplace. Which starts with a coordinated analysis of your customer base (existing and prospective) and your budget. Not to mention a little common sense. If you sell industrial pumps and blowers, for instance, you can rule-out prime-time TV. Duh.

All of which leads to a question a lot of people in my profession have heard (out loud or otherwise) way more often than they’d like: “Who in their right mind would invest in marketing and advertising during a recession like this?” Answer: Anyone who plans to be in business after the recession.

In a study widely cited in the media (including this publication, several years ago), McGraw-Hill Research analyzed 600 companies from 1980 to 1985. They found that businesses who maintained or increased their advertising investment during the 1981-1982 recession averaged significantly higher sales growth, both during the recession and for the following three years, than those who eliminated or decreased advertising. In fact, by 1985, sales of companies who were aggressive recession advertisers had risen 265% over those who cut back.

If all your competitors have cut their ad budgets, what better time to reach-out to their customers? Think of it this way: If you’re in a room with 20 people talking at once, all you hear is noise. But if 19 go silent, suddenly the one person who’s still talking can be heard loud and clear. Now that’s taking advantage of opportunity.

Originally published in the Birmingham Business Journal — November 27, 2009