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Commentary from Geoff Ramsey: How Staying Positive Is Good for Business

Geoff Ramsey—CEO, Co-Founder

February 9, 2009

We’re bombarded by it every day of the week. The news media is shoveling a constant stream of bad news to us in the form of economic reports, surveys of plummeting consumer confidence levels, company layoffs, negative earnings announcements and decimated marketing budgets.

This drip, drip, drip creates a tremendous imbalance in our perspective. And since the news is fueled by a very real economic crisis, many of us are prone to see the glass as not just half empty, but 98% empty. But that’s not a recipe for success, or even survival.

The answer lies in seeking a balance—anchoring yourself to reality while focusing on every glimmer of hope and opportunity you can find.

Here are few practical things you can do to achieve this balance, for your sanity and your business.

1. Understand Your Locus of Control

To paraphrase feel-good guru Dr. Wayne Dyer:

“There’s no sense worrying about the things you can’t control, because you can’t control them. There’s also no sense worrying about the things you can control, because you can control them.”

You could put the economy in the first bucket. Very few of us can do anything to directly remedy the global downturn. As for the second bucket—the things that fall directly under your control—realize that worrying about them won’t actually make things any better. In fact, worrying will likely keep you immobilized. Instead, just get on with what needs doing. Eyes on the task.

2. Tighten the Spigot

To alleviate the imbalance, make a practice of limiting your reading of business and economic news, particularly the negative kind, to only that which promises to edify, inspire or instruct you in ways that can enhance your business, or at least keep you in a positive, forward-moving frame of mind. Does it really help your situation to dwell on the detailed misfortunes of other companies or leaders, whether in your industry or not? Choose to read the article about Amazon’s remarkable 18% rise in revenues during the past quarter, and how they did it. Skip the one about Home Depot laying off thousands (unless you’re Lowe’s).

3. Focus on the Opportunities

Use all that time you’ve freed up by not reading doomsday articles to explore opportunities amid the obvious problems. In fact, for every challenge you’re facing, there is probably a corresponding opportunity or two lurking beneath the surface.

If your marketing budget is slashed, for example, how can you use this as an opportunity to eliminate or reduce programs, vendors or even people, a move that in flusher times would be harder to justify? Now is the time to eradicate the marginal and double-down on the core. It’s time to answer the question, “Which are my best bets for sustaining revenues and achieving return on investment?”

OfficeMax’s holiday season Elf Yourself campaign came from the need to creatively promote the business supply store, when Bob Thacker, SVP of advertising and marketing, knew he couldn’t match the spending of bigger rivals Staples and Office Depot. Now among the most famous viral campaigns, Elf Yourself was one of a dozen quirky experimental Websites Mr. Thacker set up to engage consumers. The sites cost about the same as producing one 30-second TV spot. And Elf Yourself is such a hit that for three years running, millions of Americans have been putting their face on an animated elf’s body and creating a viral sensation.

The campaign was inspired by research showing that consumers saw the business supply category as “lifeless” and undifferentiated. Mr. Thacker sought to differentiate his business in ways that engaged consumers in an intimate and fun experience.

4. Leverage Data to Construct Opportunistic Experiments

You can generate more opportunities for your business by immersing yourself in data. Relentlessly mining data nuggets can lead to powerful insights, and eventually (if acted upon) successful programs.

Direct your staff to pore through primary internal research, especially customer and Web analytics data, as well as secondary market research and trend data, with the goal of identifying potential opportunities, both large and small. Use the data to build hypotheses that can be tested inexpensively, often online. Through relentless iteration, and of course careful measurement, you will discover new ways to move the needle.

Interestingly, 39% of marketing professionals in a Marketing Executives Networking Group (MENG) survey in January 2009 expected to increase their use of market research this year. The same number expected to hold market research steady, and 22% were looking at cuts.

In a separate study, by Booz Allen Hamilton and the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), only 24% of marketers defined their firms as digitally savvy.

Tellingly, the No. 1 reason given for being behind the digital eight ball was lack of experience, cited by 59% of respondents. But we all know the best way to gain experience is to go out there and do something.

5. Invest in the Future

The tendency in crisis times like these is to hunker down and focus all attention on the here and now. Prudence, however, would suggest spending a little time each week planning for the future—for when the economy picks up (and yes, it will, eventually).

There are two benefits to this tactic. First, it will help keep you focused on the positive, even if it’s in anticipation of future success. Second, you and your company will be in a much stronger position to take action at the first signs of an uptick. While others, including your competitors, are scrambling, you will be two steps ahead and ready to take advantage as the economic momentum shifts.

The five steps above can help you stay balanced, positive and open to opportunities as they arise. Don’t let yourself succumb to the pervasive negativity, which can easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy. In this economy, your business’s or brand’s market share may—or may not—go up. But you will assure yourself of the latter result if you do nothing but wallow in the mire of ugly headlines.

“I don’t care how hard this period is. You have to have the combination of believing that you will prevail, that you will get out of this, but also not be the Pollyanna who ignores the brutal facts. You have to say that we will be in this for a long time and we will turn it into a defining event, a big catalyst to make ourselves a much stronger enterprise.”
—Jim Collins, management guru, as quoted in Fortune, February 2, 2009

Marathon runners and Tour de France racers know it is on the steepest hill, when the challenge is most difficult, that leadership changes hands. Such is our opportunity now.

Geoff Ramsey is CEO and co-founder of eMarketer. He will next be speaking at the iMedia Brand Summit taking place February 8–11 in Coconut Point, Fla.


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