Get your cowboy boots, hats, and sunscreen ready, because Stampede season is here!

While the Calgary Stampede is a summer event that Calgarians (and especially us here at WJ) anticipate, there is a noticeable lull this year. Have you felt it?

In 2012, Calgary celebrated its 100th Stampede, and the city was packed with stampede-themed advertisements, decorations and, of course, parties. This year, though, we’re not seeing the same level of Stampede advertising (even the coveted Cowboy’s Stampede party isn’t sold out yet). Although the economy is slowly starting to get better here in Alberta, there appears to be less participation and less marketing from local businesses surrounding the Stampede.

While this is to be expected, we’re here to tell you that the value of marketing and demonstrating your commitment to the community in which you operate cannot be underestimated. In times of economic downturn, the concept of community is more important than ever. While consumers are spending less, communicating the idea that “we’re in this together” can help relate you to your target audience, who will subsequently develop a positive connection with your brand.

This is especially so during the Calgary Stampede – an event which only four years ago brought Calgarians together in a strong, emotional and unexpected way during the chaos and stress of extreme flooding. While spending capital on marketing may seem like it will cast a negative light on your brand, especially when falling oil prices have affected our city so greatly, it’s understandable that you’re cautious; however, a little can go a long way in terms of marketing.

Not sure what to think? Here are some things to consider:

Your brand is your most important asset

Your brand is one of your most valuable assets. Organizations which support efforts aimed at improving their brand and reputation are the organizations which are the strongest (and come out with the highest profit margins, even in a downturned economy).  Recessions don’t last forever, and businesses which recognize this fact and think long-term are the ones which succeed. What does that mean for you? Spending capital on improving your reputation and ensuring your brand is strongly represented amongst consumers and the community is not a waste of money. An investment in marketing is an investment in improving your brand equity, and that is just smart investing. See our previous blog on reputation versus brands here.

While your marketing budget may seem like an easy cut, consider this: a cost-cutting analysis of 1,000 firms during previous economic downturns produced by PIMS (Profit Impact Marketing Strategy) found that the most successful firms cut costs in manufacturing, administration, and spare capacity, and those that cut marketing budgets take a much harder hit profit-wise. Research conducted by AdWeek in 2009 similarly found that firms which cut marketing budgets during recessions saw sales fall anywhere from 20-30% over the following two years as a result. That’s a major loss.

Don’t make it about you – make it about them

While you may not have the marketing budget you once did, consider shifting your focus to your consumers who are also affected by the economy. For example, when do you think Calgarians most need your positivity, support and community involvement more than right now?

This doesn’t mean that it’s time for a big budget, flashy billboards and an aggressive social media strategy. What it means is show that you care, that you’re in it together and, most importantly, that you’re willing to show up for them. In other words, make an emotional connection between your audience and brand by playing a part in local and community-driven events, such as the Calgary Stampede. As AdWeek puts it, “word of mouth is a powerful amplifier”, and showing support for your community can build an emotional bond between your brand and your consumers, get mouths moving, and help to improve your overall reputation.

Maybe the economic climate means that you can’t sponsor as big of a Stampede pancake breakfast as you once did; however, there are still ways to add value. Consider how you can save consumers money or time, or think about showing your employees how much you appreciate their dedication by sending personalized thank-you’s for all of their hard work (they are your biggest brand ambassadors, after all). Of course, this advice can be taken into consideration for any relevant community-centred event, not just the ones that involve plaid, short-shorts and cowboys.