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Let’s zag our way out of a recession

28 May 2020 Article by Mike Larmer


COVID-19 will have an effect on this country for a long time to come. But as distinguished US senator Robert Foster Bennett once said, we can take heart that “As sure as the spring will follow winter, prosperity and economic growth will follow recession.” Or as one of my bosses once observed when I was much younger, “Mike, it’s not how you got into this mess that’s important, it’s how you get out of it that matters”. 

I’ve always remembered her words and I can’t help but think that these two quotes combined raise a challenge for us all as we move towards our new normal. Now is the time to move beyond navigating the crisis. We’re already seeing an overwhelming number of clichés in how brands are positioning themselves alongside their customers. If you don’t agree, watch this video – it’s enlightening.

Building a compelling recovery strategy and gearing up to zag (when everyone else is zigging) needs to be the priority. Here at Chemistry, we’ve created a post-COVID-19 strategic checklist called Learning to Zag: The Chemistry Four C’s Strategic Review: Culture, Customers, Company profile and Capability. It’s a useful checklist for assessing the strength of your four determinants of longer term recovery.


Start thinking like a start-up. A start-up is forced to prioritise action over lofty things like research and analysis, risk mitigation and corporate diligence. Be more prepared to pilot new ideas speedily. If they don’t work at first, fail fast and cheaply, learn the lessons and move on quickly. Be prepared to roll out your learnings to capture new revenue.

Work to create one business and one team. Did you know that one of the largest inhibitors of sophisticated businesses is that people put their departmental agenda ahead of wider business goals? Now is the time to build cross-departmental teams using all of the expertise your people have to deliver the initiatives your strategy has identified. Don’t be afraid to outsource to your trusted partners. Corporate structures build in safety and quality at the expense of speed. The brands that are going to succeed are the ones that master speed and agility to market without sacrificing quality.


Putting customers at the centre of the business is a well-trodden path, but post COVID-19 every brand needs to reassess how its customers are making purchase decisions and what they value. This means a far more nuanced approach to customer segments and an opportunity to rethink the path to purchase and how to improve it.


We all know that brands that maintain marketing investment during a recession recover share faster. It’s going to be crucial to examine how best to reposition or adjust your brand so you are well placed to take advantage of changing customer mindsets – because they will change. A brand’s enduring purpose has never been more important. Before the pandemic, research had highlighted that 63% of consumers’ purchasing decisions are influenced by their perception of a brand’s authentic contribution towards improving society as a whole. Communicating your brand’s core reason for being and where you have a compelling and positive impact on society must become central to your ethos.


Make sure you quickly identify any skill or expertise gaps in your capability. This crisis will exponentially accelerate the importance of martech, digital channels and speedy data analytics to improve the customer experience. Be aware of any technical or digital limitations and decide how best to address them. This might require re-skilling teams, building work arounds, more outsourcing to agency partners or investment but it will be worth it. You must ensure you have the right capability to fulfil your growth strategy.

Are you ready to zag?

Delving into this checklist can make it easier for you to assess your strengths and limitations in four key areas that will determine how ready you are to capitalise on recovery. It helps to build a plan of action that ensures you make all the necessary strategic adjustments to your plans to recapture market share.  More importantly, it will lay a foundation for future growth too. If you’d like to know more about Learning to Zag: The Chemistry 4Cs Strategic Review, email and we’ll happily send you our comprehensive planning approach and implementation process.


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