Monday, August 23, 2010

When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough (and Smart) Get Going

Disappointing news on jobs, manufacturing and financial markets are no reason to throw in the towel or cut spending plans. Bankers got us into this mess. Tech will get us out.

Stocks sank late in the week on discouraging news about jobless claims and manufacturing data. Housing prices aren’t going anywhere and warnings of a “double dip” recession are as numerous in the media as references to the “slow economic recovery.”

From a macro and consumer-centric view things look pretty lousy. Unfortunately, that’s overshadowing some optimistic signs in the big business world that we think will eventually spill over into hiring and consumer confidence.

Bottom line. Now’s not the time to duck and cover on your hiring, marketing and infrastructure improvement plans. It may be the best opportunity you’ll have in a long while to get affordable talent, media exposure and the tech foundation you’ll need to hit the ground running when government officially calls this prolonged economic downturn over.

Just as you have to hit your Refresh button on your Web browser from time to time, we think the economy, led by big business, its hitting its collective Refresh button and the smart ones are positioning themselves to ride the inevitable wave of pent up demand that’s coming.

General Motors is planning and IPO. Yes the same GM that accepted a humiliating $50 billion government bailout during the depths of the financial crisis is about to become a public company again and no doubt leaner and more globally competitive. Intel announced plans to acquire McAfee and Dell agreed to acquire 3Par. These moves – and an overall uptick in deal activity last week – dovetailed with our point made last time in this column that the surge in tech spending by companies and gadget spending by consumers will get the cash registers ringing again.

The latest surge in M&A has spurred hopes that companies will use the $2 trillion of cash sitting in their coffers to make deals and grow their businesses. "This is a logical thing to have happen," Dick Del Bello, senior partner at Conifer Group, told The Wall Street Journal late last week. "Companies are sitting on piles of cash and they're trying to find ways to take advantage of that without increasing their risk profile dramatically."

We also found two more bright spots in the tech sector – Dell’s and HP’s ability to shake off highly publicized CEO scandals (accounting fraud and sexual harassment, respectively) without noticeable damage to earnings and brand equity. HP reported Thursday that its Q3 revenue rose 11 percent to $30.7 billion from a comparable period a year ago. Dell’s Q2 revenue came in at $15.5 billion, a 22 percent jump over its Q2/09 period.

If you’re like most businesses, you’re experiencing what the PC market is going through. You’re in the throes of great change. Pent up demand from new and existing customers is starting to emerge -- Dell said its notebook sales were up 21 percent and desktop sales up 17 percent, while HP reported a 17 percent overall increase in computer sales – but both companies know that growth trend isn’t guaranteed for long.
Chances are your business isn’t that much different from Dell’s and HP’s. You’re facing new competition on at least two fronts -- global competitors who weren’t sniffing around your market as much before the downturn, as well folks who weren’t in your competitive space before the meltdown, who now smell opportunity on your home turf.

As the tech guys know, overall demand for their stuff is higher than it’s been for a while, but now Acer, Asustek and other Asian competitors are breathing down their necks for control of the U.S. desktop and notebook market while mobile phone makers and carriers aggressively moving into the tablet market. They’ve got to hold onto their longstanding turf while innovate faster in their new turfs. Sound at all like your business?

That’s where smart advertising and marketing comes in. Reinforcing your brand superiority in longstanding markets and bolstering your brand position in your newer markets. Maybe it’s no surprise that technology companies accounted for nearly a third of the top 50 most valuable brands, according to a recent Forbes/Mindshare study. The rankings looked into each company’s brand earnings over the past three years, subtracted capital employed and then took a percentage of earnings based on the role brands play in each industry. The study authors also factored in the parent company’s P/E multiple to the net brand earnings number.

Apple, Microsoft, IBM, Google, Intel and Nokia made the top 10. They may have cut way back on their ad pages, direct mail and network TV buys, but they’re finding new and innovative ways to catch the pent-up demand wave as B2B and consumers collectively gain the courage to hit their “Refresh buttons.” We’ll talk more about their credibility marketing next week.

In the mean time, maybe it’s time you re-familiarized yourself with the Refresh button at the top of your psychological Nav bar. And clear out your cache and junk folder while you’re at it. As we mentioned last time in this blog, August is the new September, and 2011 is the start of the New Normal era.


No comments: