The familiar chorus from most marketers today sounds something like, “We’re seeking opportunities in the current economic turbulence.” But while many companies are relying on little more than a stiff upper lip strategy, a number of brands have made noticeable moves that are likely to help them get through the storm.
Here are three that stand out because they have developed relevant messages that appeal to the deepest emotions of their audiences. Best of all, they have done so while staying on brand.
Hyundai says, “We’ve got your back.”
Credit Hyundai with moving beyond basic value claims of better mileage or longer warranties and attempting to deal with a deep-seated sales objection: “What if I lose my job?” The Hyundai Assurance Program, which promises to take a newly purchased car back if you become unemployed, is a slick marketing move that almost certainly will bring more buyers to their showrooms than before. Yet it doesn’t devalue the brand by simply reducing the cost of the car (see Enormous Failures: GM Employee Pricing promotions of 2005 and 2008). Instead it adds an emotional safety net to a car brand that is already well-positioned as a good value. Hyundai has presumably calculated that the risk they take on this promotion is far less than the fearful consumer expects. Subsequently Hyundai will make more on the added sales than their actuaries predict it will cost them to take back a certain percentage of cars. That’s smart marketing and it’s staying on brand.
Weis Markets creates value with no risk
On the local front, Weis Markets (consistently one of the most profitable grocery chains in the country) has developed a brilliant promotion where everyone is a winner and very little investment is required. Weis recently announced a “price freeze” on 2400 items in their stores effective until April 1st. It sends a signal to their customers (and non-customers) that, like Hyundai, they are offering an assurance of budget control by shopping at Weis. Their customers are happy (and less likely to head to warehouse stores) and every non-customer who is irked by a price bump on a favorite item at another store, thinks, “Maybe I should check out Weis.”
This program is excellent for several reasons. First, it will cost Weis very little. They take no risk on price increases because it is their vendors that have agreed to hold the line. The vendors gain because their products received blue tags in the store that identify them as part of the program, thus transferring some of the promotion’s value to their brands. The vendors are largely in a stable cost period with recent declines in fuel and grain prices removing pressure for cost increases. And Weis has only frozen prices on about 8 percent of their typical store offerings, so there is still plenty of room to maneuver. Good for Weis. Good for their customers. Good for their brand.
University of Phoenix Seizes the Day
In the online education market, the University of Phoenix has built arguably the strongest brand in the business. Courses with U of P are not cheap, averaging $340 per credit. (By comparison, Penn State averages $540/credit for on-campus courses.) But with unemployment skyrocketing and many workers feeling a need to improve their skills and credentials, the University of Phoenix is perfectly positioned to offer a solution. And offer it they are with an aggressive online campaign using the self assuring theme “I am a Phoenix” that essentially promises personal rebirth and success at a time when there is a growing audience of displaced employees. Many of the recently unemployed know the value of education, but need a convenient method of delivery. U of P has always had a message of self-improvement and empowerment central to its brand, but its new campaign turns that up a notch and underlines their core brand strategy at the same time.
The bottom line is sustaining brand value
The lessons from these three brands are elegantly simple.
1. Each has built a campaign aimed at the current underlying psychology of their audiences.
2. Each has found a way to create a new sense of value for their products or service.
3. Yet each has done so without taking the risk of devaluing their brand. Not one of these marketers has made the superficial move of just reducing prices. Instead, each has found a way to support current pricing with brand-consistent marketing ideas.