JB’s Space: How Marketing Saved America

Full disclosure, I am a political junkie. I read articles from every publication from Bloomberg and Reuters to Salon.com. I even read the Drudge Report and the Huffington Post. So I’m fairly well versed in the political tenor of both the left and the right. There’s no question that our country remains deeply divided politically but my reason for writing this isn’t to say that one side is “right” and the other “wrong’.  Moreover, this is not a political post. Instead I want to posit a belief that I have that I have never heard expressed anywhere up till now.

As much as I hate to do this, let’s go back to late 2008 when the economy was melting. I remember shortly after the collapse of Lehman Brothers when the presidential race suddenly became overshadowed by the economic collapse. Within just a few days of the markets crashing and those huge financial institutions going under or changing hands such as Washington Mutual, Bear Sterns and the previously aforementioned Lehman Brothers, companies started cutting staff like it was harvest time in the Heartland. Approximately 9 million jobs were lost as well as many trillions in individual wealth.

I remember driving at that time from our home in Cleveland to visit some friends in Nashville. I have never seen so little truck traffic in my life, not even over a holiday. The roads were simply devoid of semi’s and most other traffic as well. I felt like I was in a movie watching the end of civilization as I knew it. I know that sounds extreme but that’s how fast everything seemed to going downhill. It was very scary and I’m sure many of you will remember how low you felt about things at that time as well.

Politically the left was blaming the banks for bundling “toxic” mortgages into financial instruments that could be bought and sold between banks like any other commercial paper. The right blamed the laws that were passed years ago making home ownership possible for people who really couldn’t afford to buy one.

Everyone was busy pointing fingers yet out this chaos came some attempts at solving the crisis and pulling the country out of the worst economic decline since the Great Depression. The 800 billion dollar stimulus program, TARP (Troubled Assets Recovery Program), and HARP (Home Affordable Refinance Program) are all examples of how Washington and the Fed tried to jump-start the economy and keep things from getting worse.

You can argue until the cows come home as to the efficacy of these programs and how much they actually did to improve things, but I’m here to tell you that in my mind, while these programs may or may not have helped, two things certainly did – marketing and our love of shopping!

Americans love to shop. The first few weeks after the crash the mall parking lots were nearly empty, but long before the stimulus bill was passed and the “band-aids” applied, I saw the parking lots filling up at malls everywhere. As much as Americans love to shop, we love shopping for bargains even more. Unlike the aftermath of 9/11 where companies hunkered down while slashing their marketing budgets, the same was not true after the 2008 melt-down. Instead companies saw opportunities to increase market share by appealing to consumers in a way everyone could relate to.

First there were the ads where retailers, car dealers and others were advertising their own “bailout” sales or “stimulus” deals. Prices dropped on nearly everything, including gasoline, and people started buying again. Even here at The Rogers Company, we proactively reduced all of our storage charges saving our clients tens of thousands of dollars. Our hope, of course, was that they would use some of these savings to maintain their trade show programs and marketing efforts. Fortunately for us, our strategy proved effective, and we found that many of our clients saw the poor economy as an opportunity instead of a dead-end.

Sure, our sales were down in 2009 (along with most companies), but it didn’t take long for that to change. Savvy businesses realized that 70% of our GDP is driven by consumer spending. Companies figured that if they mounted aggressive marketing campaigns that focused on value, innovation and superior customer service then people would buy and the economy would come back. And they were right.

Companies didn’t shut down their R&D departments. Instead they remembered that Marketing isn’t just advertising. It’s product development too. The three “P’s” of marketing (product, placement and promotion) start with the PRODUCT. Find a need and fill it or develop a product that fills a need that most of us didn’t even realize we had. And as hungry consumers we continued to beat paths to these better mousetraps. If you disagree think of Apple and when they introduced the iPhone and iPad - all during the last “economically challenged” seven years.

So while the political pundits argue about what government program helped turn the economy around, you can turn a deaf ear to them.

Here is the unvarnished truth: it was us, people who love to shop and who were driven to do so by brilliant marketing campaigns and tremendous product innovation. It wasn’t the government. It wasn’t policy. It was the overwhelming need of Americans to continue with their favorite pastime – shopping – and the bright marketers, talented engineers and visionary corporate leaders who said, “We aren’t going to stop doing what we do. A challenge is simply an opportunity dressed in work clothes and staying aggressive will do more that just help us, it will help heal the country”.

So don’t let anyone fool you – it was marketing that saved America, and thank goodness for that.

That's JB's Space for now. Thanks for visiting.

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