Bend It Like Bend, Oregon

It's official now. We're in a recession. The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) announced last week that a recession began in December 2007.

Not that this is news to the man on the street. Not with a year's worth of housing troubles, rising unemployment and tightening credit. People have known for months that times were getting tougher. Marketers, too.

Businesses of all sorts have been dealing with this recession all year. Especially small businesses in places like Bend, Oregon, that felt the downturn early. Businesses like these rarely get national coverage, but they often get it right when it comes to marketing decisions worth emulating. So, in planning for the near-term, there are lots of lessons that can be learned from many of the small businesses that have been coping with this recession for months, long before the NBER made it official.

In fact, every time the NBER gets around to declaring the start of a recession, it's old news. The start of a recession is defined as the peak month of the business cycle before it. Because once the economy peaks, it has nowhere to go but down. But not all declines are recessions. Only reversals judged by the Business Cycle Dating Committee of the NBER to be “significant decline[s] in economic activity spread across the economy, lasting more than a few months” are declared to be recessions. The peak before a significant decline can't be definitively identified until well after the fact, which means that the NBER is always looking back. In fact, the NBER explicitly states that it “does not forecast.” (By the way, contrary to urban legend, to declare the start of a recession, the NBER looks at a wide variety of criteria, not simply two consecutive quarters of negative GDP.)