Fast Company

Smart Marketing in Tought Economic Times

Smart Marketing in a Down Economy

The question that has been on the mind of nearly every business owner and CEO I've talked to lately is, "What should we be doing to market our company in this down economy?"

There are two basic options in a situation like this:

Option One: Survive. Hunker down, conserve resources, reduce your marketing spend, and try to ride out the storm.

Option Two: Thrive. Stay visible, communicate endurance, find opportunities, and seize market share from competitors who are hunkering down.

As a short term strategy, Option One has some merit. But it merely extends survival, at best, while doing nothing to fill the pipeline of business for when the storm is past.

Marketing to Thrive
Most entrepreneurs I know—despite serious concern about the present economic situation—expect to be in business a year from now, five years from now, 20 years from now. They at least expect to have a valuable business with a higher stock price or asset value when it comes time to sell and retire.

If a company plans to be in business for the long haul, Option Two, executed smartly, can pay some big dividends. Here are some tactical ways to seize the opportunities inherent in a down market:

Convert Ad Spend to PR: Dollar for dollar, PR typically pays a bigger dividend than advertising. You may not wish to abandon advertising entirely, but a reallocation of marketing dollars may be in order. PR is more than just getting news clips. It should be based on a creative, 360° view of your customer's world and finding ways to be interesting and visible in it.

Negotiate Ad Contracts Now: Once the election is over, and a slower than usual holiday retail season has passed, print and broadcast media outlets are going to be hungry for advertisers. These media have already been in decline for the last several years. Now may be the best time ever to negotiate—and negotiate hard—for ultra-favorable rates in 2009. Media outlets would rather have a year-long commitment at a lower rate than have to chase down advertisers to get their business month by month.

Keep Customer Service Levels High: Too many companies cut back on customer service when times get tough. This only serves to alienate today's discerning customers—B2B and consumer—who realize that they can be choosy about who they do business with. So now's the time to come up with new and better customer service protocols. Hire the best people to interface with your customers. Designate special customer concierges and liaisons. Clients will reward the customer service leader in your industry, because even in hard economic times, people still value good service as much as price.

Increase Frequency of Contact: Using email and direct marketing, stay continually visible with clients, reminding them that your organization is alive and well. Hold a social event that brings people together during hard times to commiserate or share ideas on responding to the crisis. There's no substitute for frequency in building a brand that can seize market share from competitors.

Adopt or Start a Non-Profit: In hard times, non-profits usually suffer a reduction in donations. Even if the amount your business can commit isn't huge, find one organization to adopt and support, both financially and in-kind. Publicize the work you are doing with the non-profits you serve. Stay visible with their board members. Their appreciation will translate into referrals and new business.

Maintain Internal Branding: Your employees need to know that your company and brand are strong…that your brand stands for staying power in good times and bad...that your company's values and mission never waver. This confidence and belief in the brand will translate into a better customer experience. Find ways to reinforce the brand with employee events, visual messaging and news updates about the company's status.

Gather Testimonials: This will give you a chance to talk to customers and reinforce the good things that your product or service has done for them. Use those testimonials in marketing to your prospects. Hard times make people scrutinize decisions more closely, or even lead to indecision; solid testimonials or endorsements can instill greater confidence in a prospective client, and reduce the perception of risk.

Conduct Some Market Research: Gathering market intelligence lets your business re-take the pulse of your industry and re-calibrate for new realities. You could hire a formal market research partner, even sharing the costs with non-competing companies interested in the same questions. Alternatively, you can conduct your own market research using inexpensive web survey tools. For added PR impact, publish the results (if appropriate) in a white paper or editorial article in your local business or industry trade press.

Co-Market and Co-Brand: Share marketing costs with another organization by engaging in co-marketing and/or co-branding efforts. These efforts usually produce creative and value-added results—while  cutting your marketing spend in half. At a minimum, by opening your Rolodexes to one another, each party gains access to new contact lists. You might even co-market with competitors by running a campaign that lifts the visibility of an entire industry in such a way that all the boats rise.

Introduce a New Product or Service: Find ways to repackage or bundle services in new ways. The mere act of launching something new communicates that your company is forward-looking and optimistic. People want to work with winners poised for the future.

Investing creatively in marketing during tough economic times is a savvy way to keep customer confidence and win new clients. Of course, the tactics outlined here are good ideas all the time, not just in tough economic times. The best ideas are not always the most expensive to implement. Remember, especially at times like these, you can make up in creativity what you lack in marketing budget.

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