Ma Perkins was invented when housewives were counting pennies, using every last drop of what they had and making the most of what was left.
Proctor & Gamble sold household soap, but people were rationing even that and soon distribution sales to local grocers dwindled.
The soap company kept its chin up and focused on one thing: people still needed to clean—and they were going to choose a brand of soap they felt connected to. So the answer was to make sure they chose Proctor & Gamble. The company ramped up marketing efforts and doubled down on its target market.
Rather than relying on traditional sales methods which had more competition, the company developed a focused content strategy and turned to radio—a medium that promoted its wares directly to “women at home”. The daily 15-minute radio show brought to housewives the ongoing saga of “Ma Perkins”, a kindly widow with a revolving door of interesting neighbors and family visits.
Each Ma Perkins episode was bookended with strong ads promoting Proctor & Gamble soap. The show was so popular that it was eventually expanded into an hour-long drama, which is today recognized as the very first “soap opera”. But what ultimately resulted was a company brand that generations later still turn to for household and personal care products.
From this vantage point, it may seem like a gamble to put dollars into more marketing during financial crises, but the move was strategically sound. According to the principles outlined by Bain and Company, Proctor & Gamble put into practice a proven winning strategy for retail success during an economic downturn.
As we stand at the edge of a possible recession and record inflation rates in Europe, there are lessons we can learn from companies like Proctor & Gamble. This is what retailers can do now to prepare:
Financial hardships are part of the ebb and flow of retail. Sure, your business has what it takes to come out clean and shiny. But it’s what you don’t know that can muddy the water. Grab some extra supplies and hope for the best while also preparing for the worst. McKinsey advises that “companies need to act quickly to adjust for elevated inflation levels while preparing themselves for long-term resiliency.”
Strong businesses know what they do well and who they’re catering to. Here’s where optimism and drive can take priority. Take advantage of new technologies that make it easier for you to manage your operations more efficiently. For example, cloud-based software solutions can help streamline processes like inventory management, customer relationship management (CRM), and order fulfillment. The important thing to remember is that your time and budget should go to the areas that most support your core.
Take the time to discover what your customers are going through and meet them where they are. This can provide you with focus for your customer experience. The pandemic is a good example. Companies like Target and Chewy recognized that their customers were hesitant to be exposed to the public and invested more time and effort into their online and e-commerce options. The results were astounding with Target reporting its best-ever comparable sales growth of 24.3%, e-commerce comps at 195% and comps for same-day fulfillment services at 273%. Pet retailer, Chewy, had revenue increases of close to 30% during the pandemic, all because it focused on its target market and shifted its approach to cater to consumers where they were.
Once you’re sure you’re keeping it real and connecting with your core market, now it’s time to get creative. Proctor & Gamble looked outside the usual methods and used radio to reach its customers. Chewy, saw sales climb at a better rate than competitors like PetSmart by diverting all transactions online when customers were hesitant to go in store. Pizza Hut has literally thoughts outside the box and added augmented reality to its pizza boxes to connect with its customers. The lesson here is to let your customers show you what they need most then think of ways to meet them there.
What works for one business may not work for the rest. But weathering through financial hardships like a global recession takes getting real, connecting with your core, and exploring creative methods. By following this formula, you can keep business flowing and growing by catering to customers at their level. In the end, staying on top is about developing a clean approach that stays true to your company mission and makes your customer experience shine.