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Much has been written about growing brands and businesses to new levels of success by CMO’s. Surprisingly, little has been written about how to manage a brand when a company and its products and services are in decline. Such was the case when I managed corporate and consumer marketing for Eastman Kodak as their global VP. I vividly remember a call from the President of the company (over the Christmas holidays), telling me to begin preparation for the Chapter 11 announcements and communications to a variety of stakeholders – investors, customers, current employees, etc. In the process, I learned 6 valuable lessons about managing marketing in a business decline. Ironically, these lessons can be applied to companies that are growing and vibrant. Here they are:

1) Do not expect a call to be a leader. Just act and do. Lead the change you want to have happen.

Wayne Gretzky once said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Step up with your personal leadership and the leadership of your team and start identifying and working the problems without somebody asking you to do it. This is marketing’s opportunity to shine. Take it!

2) Know the limits of your brand. In the church of your brand, not everyone is going to be a member!

Know when to let go of unprofitable customers. If you try to please everyone, you will wind up pleasing no one. This applies to all stakeholders – customers and employees alike. Therefore, know the limits of your company and its brand. A lesson to thriving companies is making sure the fundamentals of a brand are solid before you start building upon it. Tell your unique story, value proposition, and be in control of it versus letting everybody else define who you are.

3) You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em.

To borrow a phrase from Kenny Rogers in the song, The Gambler, you have to know what marketing activities to fight for and win, and what you need to let go. Marketing leaders cannot win every battle, so there needs to be risk analysis to decide when you need to cut people, programs, vendors, etc.

4) Know the difference and time for brand building and continuity.

One of the things we did right away, at Kodak, was to write continuity letters and make phone calls to strategic customers, media, etc. In addition, we established the Kodak Transforms website, a one-stop source of news and information for Kodak in Chapter 11 that was live the same day we filed.

5) Learning how deconstruct marketing functions and spend is as important as constructing marketing spend.

Not very fun; however, what I learned is this—if you take a zero-based approach to marketing spend and have great metrics, you will quickly identify what resources you should keep, discard, or outsource.

6) Marketing scope gets very granular – revenue, costs, introductions, strategic account management…

Think about it. How much time does your team spend chasing the next shiny new marketing object vs. focusing on the fundamentals of marketing? Perhaps not as glamorous as your next Facebook promotion or gamification program your team wants to run. But so what?!  The fundamentals of marketing and the requirements to win in the marketplace work very well. Do the fundamentals exceptionally well before you “experiment” with the new marketing techniques.

While the experience for me was draining, physically and emotionally (I was also commuting between my home in San Diego, CA and Rochester, NY), it was also a wonderful career experience. Why? It was a great experience because I learned these 6 valuable lessons about managing marketing in a business decline. And these lessons will serve me and others whom take these difficult lessons and apply them in growth companies.

At the time of this writing, Eastman Kodak is working to emerge from Chapter 11 sometime later this year.

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Vincent Ferraro
Vince Ferraro is a creative general management executive who contributes his world-class, Fortune 100 marketing knowledge to infuse new revenue and market share growth strategies while maintaining profitability. His bold moves, competitive instincts, and experience working on three continents are the perfect match for a Consumer or B2B technology company with global ambitions.

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