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Recessionary Thinking:
12 Smart Marketing Tips for Tough Times


By Deborah C. Scaringi           

If you or your management is considering cutting or eliminating marketing programs because of tough times, think again! Research shows that companies that market through a recession stand to gain tremendously over competitors that cut back. Here are 12 cost-effective marketing actions for surviving and thriving through a down economy.

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In difficult financial times, running a successful service firm and business requires more than hard work. Careful decision making, cautious purchases, improved efficiency and streamlined budgeting sit at the top of the list. Adding marketing expenditures to this list may not seem prudent during down times, but you must reconsider. Maintaining and increasing marketing activities in a difficult market will help your business soar when the economy bounces back. In fact, research by the American Business Press shows that companies that continue to market themselves during a down economy grow four times faster than companies that don't.

Contrary to popular belief, consumers do not come to a standstill during tough times. They just make purchasing decisions differently. Some purchasers are more diligent with research while others may start comparison-shopping when they hadn’t done so in the past. Ultimately, consumers will buy items appropriate to their needs if they deem that they truly need the service or product. This is the audience that needs to be marketed to at this time. Taking advantage of the opportunities that still exist is important when considering how to weather the economic climate facing all of us. So, which marketing activities do you participate in? Here are a dozen areas to consider for effective marketing in a down economy.

1. Keep Existing Clients Loyal.

Gaining additional business from existing clients cost far less than developing business from new sources. While it's still important to develop new clients, it's absolutely critical to keep the clients you have and make sure they are thrilled with the work you provide to them. Build loyalty through excellent service, proactive advice and genuine concern for your clients business.

2. Be Opportunistic.

Make your business visible to viable markets. Analyze where paying customers come from and focus investments in those areas. At the same time, keep a critical eye on areas that aren’t profitable and consider whether or not these targets will be fruitful when the economy turns around. If you find any audiences will not bounce back in a meaningful way, discontinue servicing those areas and focus on the future. A poor economy offers you the time to re-evaluate target markets. Study how market segments have shifted over time and how you may adjust your service accordingly.

3. Understand your Audience.

Be aware of how your clients are doing and if their business needs have changed. Help your customers weather the economy and they will remain loyal. This is a solid business practice regardless of how the economy is faring. Take the time to speak directly with your customers so that they know you are there to help. Learn about the industries that your clients work in, understand how you fit into that industry and offer helpful insight where appropriate.

4. Partnering.

Identify other industries or professional sectors that want to attract the same client profile as you, but who aren’t in competition with your services. By combining efforts to market towards the same audience you cut your investment in half. Some examples of ‘partner-marketing’ include seminars, events, trade shows and other presentations. Additionally, there is a benefit to potential clients by offering ‘one stop learning’. When selecting your partner organization, be sure to avoid direct competitors and organizations that may present a conflict of interest in developing business. Additionally, make sure any potential partners share similar business development practices, philosophies, goals and budgets. You want to be sure that you are working together to produce a desirable outcome for both organizations.

5. Continue Advertising.

Carefully assess your current advertising campaigns by analyzing how many ads you run and where they are placed. Do not give into the temptation to cut all advertising. There is opportunity for success in advertising in a down economy. In down times, fewer businesses will advertise, thinking it is an easy place to save money. This trend creates less competition for existing ad space. More available ad space can provide better negotiation opportunities for the media buyer. Most importantly, though, more ad space decreases advertising clutter, making your ads more visible. Work with the media outlet to strategically place your ads in more visible positions and be sure to include a ‘call to action’ so that you can trace any direct business.

6. Outsource.

Workload doesn’t necessarily diminish in a difficult economy. Internal resources may be scarce, particularly if your organization has downsized its workforce. An alternative to hiring full time marketing staff is to hire experienced professionals on a contract basis to complete projects as they appear. Activities that are easily outsourced include writing and copyediting, web site strategy, research, media planning, graphic design and other resource-intense activities. By contracting with professionals, you can limit your spending and take advantage of the experience and efficiency of someone who focuses in these types of initiatives. When the project is completed, you no longer carry the burden of their overhead and salary.

7. Keep Market Share.

Use a public relations campaign to create venues for informing consumers about changes in the market or other important issues they may be facing. Positive presence is essential to positioning your organization for success when the economy turns around. As a result, you will be ahead of other businesses that decreased marketing efforts, giving you the competitive edge.

8. Word of Mouth.

Build and sustain meaningful relationships at all times. Ultimately, when all other factors are similar, people buy products and services from people they like and trust. Maintain relationships and develop new points of contact through sustained networking. Staying top of mind to a potential customer is the key to positive word of mouth.

9. Search Engine Optimization.

SEO is essential if people are going to find your organization’s website. Research shows that over 80% of customers surfing the web for information on services and products begin at a search engine like Google. SEO helps people find you through the keywords used in search engines. With a small investment in keyword research, you can identify the key words searchers are using to locate the services you offer. Once you know the words to use, optimize your site with those same terms in your content. Considering the expense of mailing and other paper-related marketing activities, SEO is less expensive and can be more easily tracked for success rates. Spending money on creating a website but not following through with a solid SEO program is the equivalent of buying a car, but not putting any gas in it. Make the most of your website by fueling it to work the way it is intended.

10. Web Analytics.

If you have a website, you need to track its utility so that you know how to best use it to your advantage. Include a web analytics system, such as Google Analytics, to measure how well your website is working. Web analytics are easy to use and customize and are a cost effective way to understand the success of your site. These reports uncover where website traffic comes from, how long they stay on your site, which areas they spend the most time in and where they exit the site. By studying trends on your website traffic, you will be able to customize the information on your site to attract the most desirable visitors.

11. Utilize E-newsletters.

Make better use of your marketing dollars by transforming print newsletters into an e-newsletter. E-newsletters are a cost-effective way to maintain visibility with existing clients. Your e-newsletter should be posted on your website and can be sent out to your clients with a simple and inexpensive electronic mailing service. As with any newsletters or advertising, be sure to include a call to action so potential customers will contact you while the topic is still on their minds. Create ‘contact’ hyperlinks in your e-newsletter blasts so that it becomes very easy for the consumer to act immediately. Be sure that your e-newsletter prints well so that readers who prefer to have a paper copy for their files can do so while maintaining the integrity of your brand.

12. Measure Return on Investment.

Relationships are difficult to calculate and some marketing activities aren’t measurable by traditional figures and forecasts. However, there is no doubt that building and maintaining relationships over time brings in business. It is important to recognize that some marketing initiatives can, and should, be tracked so that success can be determined. Whenever you open a new matter or bring in a new customer, be sure to ask how and why they chose you over your competitors. Track this information and use it to measure your marketing activities. Outside of this important step, there are other items that can be tracked for return on investment including your website and SEO programs, e-newsletters, print and electronic advertising and client meetings and presentations. These activities should include a formal ‘call to action’ that is traceable over time. Trends will begin to emerge over a set period of time, whether quarterly or at 6 or 12-month intervals. Compare data and draw conclusions as you plan your subsequent marketing activities.

Marketing is an investment, not an expense.

Marketing is often viewed as an expense that can be cut. This is a dangerous mindset that needs shifting. Marketing is an investment in your clients and business. Careful evaluation of your investments and periodic rebalancing of your initiatives must happen. Choosing activities that are cost efficient and effective will prove that marketing is an essential component of any business in any financial climate.

Marketing your business takes a consistent effort over a prolonged period of time. Periodically stopping and starting your marketing practices will always hurt your business. Lost time and effort will directly affect your long-term success. Keeping visible, understanding target audiences and building loyal relationships with customers are just a few of the essential components of a successful marketing plan. Aligning your business goals and sticking with your marketing plans will pay off in the long run, regardless of the economic climate.

March 2009.

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