The easiest thing to do in a business downturn is to pull back on your branding and marketing. Don’t do it says John Sculley former Apple CEO and Pepsi president. Sculley recently spoke with The Drum during the organization’s Can-Do Festival about how to continue brand building while others scale back. This seems like great advice right now for both real estate and tech companies that are still viable and looking to grow.
Don’t stop advertising
A brand that suddenly goes quiet could be perceived as a struggling brand, according to Sculley. This is especially true if a company was constantly visible before the pandemic hit.
“Going dark during this time really raises a question mark,” Sculley said. “Are they concerned? Is there a problem in their company? Great brands will be able to play a role in society greater than just selling a product, and that will likely pay off in the long-term. Companies that act that way will be looked upon as ones that really help us through the crisis. You pay attention to the brands that pay attention to you.”
Play by your own rules
Sculley was Pepsi president and was tasked with what some deemed the impossible: unseat Coca-Cola as the country’s top soft drink. He created the Pepsi Challenge, where everyday Americans blindly tasted Coke and Pepsi and said which one they liked better. Pepsi performed slightly better, and the company turned the responses into a TV commercial.
“We really weren’t a legitimate nationwide brand then—and we were up against, at that time, the world’s most valuable brand,” Sculley said. “There was no way to beat them if we played by their rules. The Coca-Cola Company went nuts for us insinuating that maybe Pepsi was a better-testing product, but it wasn’t us making the claims. The more Coke complained about it, the more we liked it.”
Sculley noted that there only three national TV channels when the Pepsi Challenge ads aired and it might not have had the same impact in today’s mass media. However, the lesson remains the same—changing the ground rules can have a big impact, regardless of company size.
“This shows you the power of brand advertising,” Sculley said.
Determine a price—and stand by it
Steve Jobs enticed Sculley to leave Pepsi and join Apple by asking if he wanted to “change the world.” Sculley took Jobs up on the offer and did his best to use his Pepsi experience to guide the Apple team. The strategy paid off when he talked Jobs out of discounting its $1,500 Macintosh computer. Sculley said he told Jobs if he wanted to hold to his high standards, Apple was going to have to price the Macintosh as a premium product.
“We didn’t have to get the largest share market, but that strategy ultimately won,” Sculley said. “When I left Apple 10 years later, we had the largest selling personal computer in the world.”
Make the most of out a crisis
Sculley’s business partner David Steinberg also spoke at The Drum’s Can-Do Event and noted the best brands find opportunity, even in times of crisis. He noted how Procter and Gamble (P&G) began producing soap operas during the Great Depression. P&G’s cleaning products were highlighted during these shows, which is why they’re referred to as “soaps.”
“Radio airtime costs dropped dramatically,” Steinberg said. “P&G went into the depression somewhere between the 15th or 20th largest consumer packaged goods firm in the USA. It was the largest in the world by the time we came out of the depression.”
Given that TV and radio pricing is currently “through the floor,” the opportunity to for a company to enhance its brand through these mediums might be there once again.
Stick with empathy-based messaging
Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, more brands are presenting a more empathetic tone in its advertising. The pivot was done in part because many view standard marketing during this time as crass. The empathy-based messaging might stick, even after the pandemic is over, according to Steinberg.
“Some brands won’t go back, some will stick with an empathetic message,” he said. “Companies that have more long-term outlooks are going to look at this sort of pivot to empathy and they’re going to continue with it.”