Maybe the biggest communications mistake? Believing that you're done.

One key characteristic of companies that build strong brands is that they never stop. They can't afford to.

The risks of letting up on communications are dramatic. And deceptive. Research indicates that when a company cuts back on communications, it may not see any difference in sales immediately, or sometimes for much longer. But the research also shows that brand erosion and damage can already be occurring.

In one case, a consumer goods manufacturer cut back on promotion during a recession, reducing its budget by approximately half. It chose to keep its promotion of the product reduced for several years afterward. There was a small downturn in sales, but a significant downturn in the value of the brand. At the beginning of the cutback, the brand enjoyed a 24% increase in consumer preference over blind taste tests. Four years later, this preference had shrunk to just 10%. More than half the brand’s value had been lost.

Once brand value has been lost, it can be very expensive to regain it—when it’s possible to regain it at all. Max Sutherland and Alice Sylvester write in their book, Advertising and The Mind of the Consumer,” that before “Got Milk” became a mainstay of National Dairy Board advertising, a study was done on milk promotion in the U.S. In test markets conducted around the country, stopping advertising on milk had no effect. For the first 12 months.

Then sales of milk dropped dramatically, and continued to drop. Even when promotion was re-started, it took 18 months to reverse the trend—at much greater expense than it would have taken to maintain the market in the first place.

It’s important to understand also that because the marketplace is not static, decisions made by other players can accelerate the effects of complacency on the part of a marketer. In our article, Good Marketing for Bad Times, we name several studies, done by organizations ranging from McGraw-Hill to The Harvard Business Review, that show how aggressive marketers can gain share in downturns as other companies cut back. If you’re in an industry where everybody is into belt tightening, you’re in much better shape than if one or two companies keep pushing communications. Because the studies show they’re likely to take market share away—and keep it even after everyone else begins promoting heavily again.