19 Feb 2020 18:01 IST

Companies, this is how you can deal with economic slowdown

Anyone can succeed in good times but one needs grit and determination to forge ahead in bad times

As the financial year comes to a crawling end, (a bit like the late Bapu Nadkarni’s over), it’s perhaps time for us to accept that the slowdown is real and is not ending in a hurry. Of course you can ignore it by talking about the all-time stock market high, crowded airports or booming pubs and keep defending the undefendable. But slowing FMCG sales, as shown below, is a clear indicator that things are far from rosy.



Automotive sales have shown alarming levels of de-growth, both in the passenger and commercial segments. To top it all, consumer confidence too is at a depressing low. So, my advice to marketers, both young and experienced, is to first accept that there is a problem. Now, let’s look at some strategic guidelines that Madison World has put down in its marketing playbook, from which I have borrowed heavily, and understand how it can work for you and me.

Caution, the better part of valour

If indications and forecasts are to be believed, the first half of the next financial year is likely to be as muted as the second half of the current financial year. Alarm bells? So take a long, hard look at your expenses that can be controlled. Like the ‘wait and watch’ of clients that hurt us in recent times. Perhaps, it’s time for us to wait and watch too on recruitments, capital expenditure and even that new set of golf clubs that’s supposed to give you 20 yards more distance! And yet, in the same breath, let me share an old adage with you: “Mere parsimony is not economy”. If you are an advertiser cutting back on advertising expenses and bringing it below the threshold level will be counterproductive as will be stopping retainer agreements with PR companies.

Prioritise or perish

Despite the doom and gloom that is engulfing the country, (corona virus included). let’s not forget that certain States and markets are doing better than the others. The southern States, Delhi, Haryana, Punjab and Maharashtra have the potential to be breakthrough markets and the ones to be invested in. It’s not only the crying child that gets more milk but the markets with greater potential that will get the greater resources and management’s attention. Have you prioritised on markets even as you have pruned your expenses?

Look outside your industry

Very often, we have been guided by many management concepts that have been created and flourished in economies that were stagnant or slow like “core competence” and fads like “stick to your knitting”. Yet, I am fascinated by what Gary Hamel said: “If a company is interested in finding the future, most of what it needs to learn it must learn outside its own industry.”

So let me ask you an uncomfortable question. How often have you looked outside your own industry for solutions to your problems? Whilst Uber may be in the news for all the wrong reasons, I am still a great admirer of their dynamic pricing, never mind the fact that I can never get an Uber when it rains in Bengaluru! Are we still living in the past with our legacy theories and practices or are we proactively searching the world for a new “mystery ball’ that will win us the T20 World Cup later this year?

Opportunity in premium

While looking at numbers can often confuse you, there are large segments that are relatively unscathed. If you look at software professionals, my city is waiting for long weekends so that they can all ride away in their brand new SUVs leaving the roads to us! They are still buying goods and services, going on holidays, sending their children to expensive schools and living in gated communities. Their concern only seems to be the rising price of single malt! They and several other millions in India are willing to pay a price premium for brands that they aspire to own. Should you look at targeted offerings that will strike a chord with these globally exposed consumers?

Digital a growth story

Even amid this slowdown the digital medium grew 32 per cent last year and is expected to grow similarly in the current year, even as traditional media grew at a sober 6 percent as per the Pitch Madison Advertising Report 2020. So how good is your digital strategy? How have you aligned your media spend with the consumer who spends a considerable amount of time on mobile phones? How does your strategy compare with that of your competitors? And how about personal branding online for the owner/founder?

Finally, public relations

And how good is your public relations strategy. Public relations, as you know, costs a fraction of mainline advertising and yet, can be a real differentiator if used strategically. Just ask Infosys! In today’s world, source credibility matters and credible media stories adequately shared on social media can definitely enhance your brand’s reputation and credibility. Are you spending enough resources and time on this important communication medium? Have a clear strategy in place.

So remember, these difficult times will pass. Anyone can succeed in good times but it needs special ability to forge ahead during the bad times.