MERGE Insights

Accelerate Through the Turn: Driving Your Brand in a Post-Pandemic Economy

BY: ETHAN WHITEHILL | CHIEF MARKETING OFFICER

With the threat of COVID-19 looming, NASCAR made an unprecedented decision to cancel three races and replace them with the first-ever eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series. The innovative esports program puts the circuit’s best drivers behind the wheel of arcade-style simulators. It’s a novel solution to a problem started by a novel virus.


While science and social distancing will eventually defeat COVID-19, we’ll likely feel the economic impact of the pandemic for many months longer. But fear not, race fans. NASCAR’s unswerving response to uncertainty reminds us you don’t have to lose ground in a slow down. In fact, a lot of the same strategies that help NASCAR drivers win on the track can help your company survive any rough recessionary road ahead.


Take on the Turn

Any driver worth their rollcage will tell you that to maintain stability in a turn, you’ve got to accelerate through it. Brake before a turn, but never in one.


For companies, this means it’s okay to tap the brakes and make some adjustments when leading indicators signal potential trouble. Try this when you’re in a downturn, however, and you’re likely to lose control.


Instead, do what Dale Jr. does. Give it some gas. Increasing your investment even a little in R&D, innovation, branding, or advertising will pay back big time when you turn the corner. This maneuver has been proven time and time again by successful businesses. Multiple studies have shown companies that don’t cut marketing spending in a recession nearly double the growth of competitors that do.


“When times are good you should advertise. When times are bad you must advertise,” goes the old saying. Wise words if you don’t want to fall behind the pack and out of customers’ minds.


Perform in the Pit

When the race is close, every second counts and the crew chief must make a choice: pit or pray. If they’re confident their crew can change four tires and fill the tank in under 12.5 seconds, they’ll use the pit for competitive advantage. But if they doubt their crew, they’ll skip the pit and hope their driver’s fuel and luck don’t run out.


In business terms, an efficient operation gives companies the flexibility to make good decisions and the speed to seize fleeting opportunities. This is especially important when the economy dips and the race for market share heats up.


If you’re running heavy now, do your brand a favor and get your organization in shape by optimizing systems and eliminating underperforming programs. You’ll gain valuable time for innovation and grow customer loyalty through continuous improvement.


Be an Aerodynamic Duo

Because NASCAR sets strict limits on technology, no car can pass another based on horsepower or body design alone. That’s why drivers constantly tailgate teammates to reduce wind resistance. At 200 miles per hour, a drafting car can gain another 3 to 5 miles per hour, enough speed to slingshot past competitors.


Recessions, like NASCAR, level the playing field. A company’s position after a downturn has less to do with its momentum before it and more to do with its actions during it. Smart brands look for drafting partners to help them minimize economic drag. Often, such partners come from adjacent industries or different markets and offer access to new ideas, customers, or geographies.


Easy win-win partnerships might exist with sales and media channels. History tells us advertising costs drop during tough economies and you’ll pay less to get your product on shelf or spot on air.


Consider the potential partners you could draft in this recession. Chances are, you’ll find someone who shares your desire to grow—and blow the doors off the competition.


Practice Defensive Driving

Of course, other companies will see opportunity in recession as well. So remember to defend your territory—competitors in your mirror may be closer than they appear. The last thing you want is to have a rival run your brand into the wall for the lead.


Project confidence and control in uncertain conditions and the other guys may think twice about attempting to pass. Plus, employees and customers will feel better about your team’s odds in the long run.


When it comes to driving growth in a down economy, don’t be afraid to invest in your business and rev up your brand. By pushing the turns, mastering the pit, drafting the leader, and driving defensively, you just may capture the pole position right in time for the recovery.


Ethan Whitehill is Chief Marketing Officer at Merge, a boldly independent agency that merges technology and storytelling to drive growth and make a meaningful difference in the human experience.