Storm Riders

Lee Jin-Man / AP

Winning ways: Hyundai has gained U.S. customers through creative marketing

Recessions tend to shake up the corporate status quo. Under the stress of collapsing demand and tighter credit, companies that seemed solid are exposed as dangerously flawed, while others panic, slash costs, hunker down — and pass up chances to gain on their competition in ways that would be impossible in a normal economic climate.

During downturns, "there are opportunities to really establish your brand," says Peter Steidl, author of Survive, Exploit, Disrupt: Action Guidelines for Marketing in a Recession. When times are tight, customers rethink how they spend, often...

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