Marketing Monthly

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A question for business owners: Is your choice resignation – or maximization?

Out there in the business community, the initial shock of an economy that is crumbling faster and more fiercely than any of us dreamed was possible leaves most businesses faced with a couple of fundamental choices.

Before moving on to an exploration of what these choices are, I’ll touch briefly on a category comprised of business entities that, unfortunately, have no choices. I refer to those that were on life support because they were hopelessly debt-ridden, in which case the choice has already been made for them, and it is neither resignation nor maximization. Instead, they must close their doors and seek an answer in other directions. For many, this could be a blessing in disguise, as they may have been ill suited to operate those particular enterprises from the start.

Indeed, for them the economy’s near-collapse (let’s hope the slide is reversed sooner rather than later) may have had the affect of a “mercy killing” of sorts, causing them to regroup and forego further losses of time and resources while sparing them the misery of further twisting in the wind. Happily, a great many autumnal success stories have been preceded by a springtime planting of the seeds of apparent failure.

Most businesses have choices.

Those fortunate enough to be able to have a choice can be expected to choose from between only two selections – resignation or maximization. And, though the “resignation class” has within it certain gradations, past downturns, though none may have been as deep as this one portends to be, have demonstrated that the former group is dominant. The ratio is somewhere around 10-1, according to our admittedly cursory research and sketchy recollections.

Those previously healthy companies that do resign will have misidentified cost-cutting as a cureall initiative (though a necessary move it may be), to the exclusion of innovation, renewed effort, rewriting the “playbook” (forgive the sports analogy) and energetic marketing. This is a particularly self-destructive example of that time honored glass-is-half-empty school of thought, one in this instance characterized by fear, bearishness, pessimism and, ultimately, a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure. Alas, the glass is not half empty. It is the perspective that is hollow.

It is said that truth resides with the minority. This is not a sociological reference, but, rather, a fact. When we are pressed to recall examples of businesses that have defied the odds for failure, or overcome the rigors of swimming upstream, we invariably are led to isolated cases or, at most, minuscule segments within a given category. Remember, the highest point on the mountain is also the smallest point – the summit. This fact and geological illustration employed to illuminate it are gentle, albeit oblique, ways to point out that when all is said and done, more is said than done.

Cutting the pie

I like to regard the economy – or, if you prefer, the market – as a whole pie. Think of the business potential within your field as a pie. In good times, there may be many slices to be divided among you and your more viable competitors, at least those with an, er, appetite for success. In tough times, the pie becomes relatively small, varying widely from market to market and business to business (need I point out that bankruptcy attorneys are having a field day?)

But – and this is the central point – there still is a pie to be divided! Smaller and perhaps less visible, even less inviting at a glance, it, nonetheless, is there. Make no mistake about it, however, it is a nourishing pie, one to be savored by the proactive, while going mostly unnoticed and unappreciated by the timid or reticent.

A survey conducted two decades ago by the iconic publishing company McGraw Hill is just as pertinent today as it was in the ’80s. It found that those who market intelligently and vigorously in tough times not only capture the lion’s share of business but, as a bonus, bounce back 175% stronger than their faint-hearted competitors when things do turn around. No better argument could be made for the choice of optimization over resignation.

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