Starbucks.

Apple.

Maglite.

Dom Perignon.

All of these are premium brands, yes? They conjure up certain images, certain feelings, certain associations, all of which their respective marketing departments have worked hard to establish over the years. Premium denotes quality of product or service above average, a product you can aspire to as a consumer…

… unless you’re in the middle of a brutal recession. Suddenly, premium becomes a boat anchor around your leg as consumers seek out thrift, value, cost-conscious… cheap.

Sometimes premium can override cost concerns – the old “quality costs less in the long run” hack – but sometimes, it will just kill you.

As a marketer, think carefully about how your brand will be perceived in good times and in bad. Is there a brand association durable enough that it’s appropriate no matter what the economic climate is? Can you play the trend of the day in your communications while staying true to your core value proposition?

Here’s a tip: invest, invest, invest in your customer service, and by that I don’t just mean your call center, I mean every employee in your company. Service costs money, absolutely, but great service endures good times and bad.

When times are good, people love the personal touch and are willing to spend more for great service. When times are bad, people want to stretch the dollar as far as it can go, and if your product or service has value and can be backed up with great service (think a warranty w/a toll free number that humans answer on the second ring), you will endure when everyone else goes out of business.

Great customer service pays huge dividends. You can get more return out of great service than all the PR in the world, because in the uber-connected 2.0 world where everything is online and simultaneously service nearly everywhere borders on abusive, your great service will be worth talking about.

Great service, in other words, is a premium, a premium that will lend a shine to your brand no matter what’s happening in the world – and that’s worth paying for.

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