June 01, 2009

Crunched By The Numbers

The numbers speak for themselves and it seems almost everyone's agreed that brands that increase their marketing spend during a downturn emerge on the far side in a much stronger position.

And yet very few practice what they preach.

Instead, anecdotal evidence suggests that even those companies that aren't just battling to survive have pulled the purse-strings tightly closed and are sitting on their hands for fear they might be tempted to spend foolishly.

My own recent experience suggests that this is especially the case in larger companies that employ financial controllers and I'm hearing that, even when a marketing executive is willing to offer cast-iron guarantees that an initiative will deliver a good return, funds remain frozen and untouchable. To judge from their behaviour, finance professionals in particular appear to have lost faith in their own ability to make a call on whether an investment is worth making or not.

In some ways, it's not too surprising. Following the great washing of financial linen in public that's gone on over the past year or so, even the bean counters themselves seem to have taken the view that they simply can't be trusted. The popular sentiment is that we all lost the run of ourselves during the boom and must now curb our dangerous tendencies to splurge.

Yet most of the number-crunchers I know behaved with the utmost responsibility even when a small few were splashing the cash like there was no tomorrow. But they don't seem to believe that themselves and are keeping their heads down as though they're guilty of the same serious errors of judgement that have brought so many venerable institutions crashing about our ears.

As a brand, financial services is in a bad way. The palsy that now afflicts the marketplace in general can be traced back to the paralysis of the bankers in particular. Those who hold the purse-strings are furtive, eyes down whilst they busy themselves with the appearance of utter financial probity. They want to be seen to exercise perfect judgement and so they prefer to imagine great risk even when the evidence insists that this is a good time to invest prudently in the future of business.

Someone needs to take that brand in hand and rebuild its credentials in the marketplace. Otherwise, the purse-strings will remain drawn tight in the frozen fingers of the financial controllers whilst the paralysis extends further to those who are ready to make good things happen.

Over To You: What do you think needs to be done to rebuild our confidence in those who crunch the numbers?

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