Communicating Optimism: 5 smart steps

These days, marketing may seem like the most difficult job in the world. Budgets are tight. Upper management is cautious. Employees are wary. Shareholders are skeptical. Everyone is on guard. But like all negative economic cycles, this one is sure to end. Since the end of World War II in 1945, the U.S. has experienced no less than 11 recessions, lasting an average of 10 months per episode. So what we’re experiencing now is nothing really new.

In the meantime, it’s important to keep communicating realistic optimism to your stakeholders. Here are five smart steps to help you get ready for the recovery ahead — and help you endure in the meantime.

1. Open Up: Be Honest

The era of spin is over. With corporate bailouts, institutional failures, and high-profile bankruptcies fresh on the public’s mind, your customers, employees, and other stakeholders are more attuned than ever to statements that simply do not ring true. That means you must be completely open about successes and failures, opportunities and threats. Be candid, be confident, and be credible.

2. Speak Up: Communicate

More than ever, communication is critically important during a downturn. This is no time to assume that your clients, customers, or stakeholders understand the value of what your organization offers. It’s a good idea to remind all audiences of your unique products, services, and selling propositions. Don’t be afraid to go back to the basics — tailoring your messages for social media, advertising, promotions, and programs to reinforce your core strengths in the minds of consumers — and employees.

3. Step Up: Plan

Define your strategy clearly in light of the particular circumstances you face. In a tight market, it’s critically important to create long-term plans, assign resources, control risks, and determine key performance indicators. Make all associates feel like they’re key players in the plans you adopt. Engage in side-by-side problem solving, rather than finger pointing, when difficult issues arise. Be flexible enough to modify your plans as your situation evolves. Be nimble enough to change course quickly as business conditions warrant.

4. Lighten Up: Use Humor

Build camaraderie. Have fun. Encourage employees to focus on the bright spots in your business and the positive signs on the horizon. Make it clear that there’s no rule against enjoying time in the office. Strive to create a pleasant, open environment where everyone can succeed — and have a good time. After all, happy employees help build or strengthen successful companies. So loosen the tie or lose the heels and don’t be afraid to laugh a little. You’ll be surprised at the results.

5. Keep Up: Continue Marketing

Instead of immediate cost avoidance and reduction, first consider long-term objectives. Where do you want your company to be in six months, 12 months, or five years? And what will it take to get you there — even in the current economic situation? Make it your goal to measure value and minimize risk. But don’t be afraid to spend when the objective is worthy and the strategy is sound. Avoid inertia at all costs, and you’ll be positioned for success when the rebound begins.

It’s natural to be cautious in times like these. But it’s just not good for your business — or your brand — to scale back marketing or communication drastically during this transitional period. Show your stakeholders that you’re looking forward to what the future holds.