10 tips for marketing in a downturn

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This is the next entry in our “Best of” series, in which we venture deep into the vault to replay blog opinion and insight that has withstood the test of time. Today’s post hails from May 2009. We welcome your feedback.

Economic-downturn

By Francis Moran

I was interviewed a few weeks back by the Ottawa Business Journal for a piece on marketing through a downturn. While a good bit of what I had to say did make it into the article, I thought it would be useful to expand on my thinking here. So, here are my 10 tips for marketing through a downturn.

1. Do as much marketing as you can afford

We’ve written a lot about the merit of maintaining your marketing spend through an economic downturn. There is still business to be written, markets to be taken and customers to be won. And a downturn, when many of your competitors may well be going quiet, often represents an unprecedented opportunity to grab a much larger share of voice.

2. Recalibrate your strategy and recast your budget strategically as opposed to simply cutting x% across the board

The OBJ reporter kept trying to get me to name the “one thing” that companies should do in response to a downturn. I resisted being so binary since a downturn represents doom to some but incredible opportunity to others. And even for those for whom it’s a challenge, an across-the-board response is rarely the right one.

At times like this, strategy becomes more valuable than ever. Know where you’re trying to go, the best way to get there, and how you’re going to know that you’ve arrived. Cut those marketing tactics that won’t help get you there and re-invest the money in the tactics that will.

3. Negotiate pricing

All the vectors you use to communicate to your marketplace are feeling the pinch right now. There is no better time to play hardball on pricing, or to negotiate added extras that usually cost a lot more. Most media outlets will cut their line rates or give you valuable extras like a free newsletter distribution, web conference, white paper distribution or even additional insertions. Trade show organizers may agree to a bigger booth space for the same price or throw in sponsorship opportunities or show guide advertising that in better times might cost you thousands more. Even if your supplier must hold the line on fundamentals, see if you can’t snag some of the valuable extras.

4. If you have channel or other partners, consider pooling budgets and activities to make your dollars go further

Can you share a trade show booth with partners? Can you initiate a co-op advertising program that sees you put up some of the cost while your channel partners put up the rest? Is the opposite available to you — are you a channel for an OEM with a co-op program?

5. Do not abandon measurement

If marketing is seen as the easiest thing for companies to cut during a downturn, then measurement is seen as the easiest thing for marketers to cut. After all, it doesn’t really contribute anything, right? Wrong. Harken back to tip No. 2: If you’re not measuring, you have no idea where you are or what got you there, you don’t know what’s working and what isn’t, and you simply can’t be strategic about your marketing spend. When times are good and there’s budget to spare, you might be able to afford to have some things work a little less effectively. When times are tough and every dollar must produce a result, you need to be measuring so you know which tactics are delivering and which ones aren’t.

6. Be transactional if there’s an immediate opportunity

As I’ve already noted, a downturn means different things for different companies. If there is good business that can be immediately secured, be highly transactional in going after it. Alter all your messaging to “Buy now,” and focus on tactics, like advertising and direct marketing, that communicate transactional messaging best.

7. If there isn’t an immediate opportunity, go long

It’s far more likely, however, that your customer’s buying cycle has stalled; it almost certainly has lengthened. So if your customers have hunkered down waiting for the storm to pass, there’s no point in blaring the hard sell at them or offering them discounts and other incentives to immediately do something they’re simply not going to. Does this mean you, too, should hunker down and draw the blinds until things blow over? No, it means your messaging should shift to support longer-term objectives such as

awareness building, thought leadership and marketplace education. Tactics like media relations, trade shows and white papers that establish your authority and expertise are a better use of your resources if this is your reality.

8. In all communications, employ story telling that emphasizes how your product or service saves money or drives additional immediate revenue for your customers. Speak to the pain they’re feeling in a recession

Whatever the economic conditions, your marketing and communications messaging should be all about your customer, not you. You should always be speaking to the pain your customer feels that your product or service solves. In a recession, your customer’s pain is almost certainly all about revenue — making more of it or keeping more of it. Make sure you’re

speaking to this.

9. Be overly attentive to your existing revenue base

“Love the one you’re with,” says the old song, and that’s never more relevant than in a downturn, when new customers are hardest to acquire. Your current customers are keeping you in business and it’s almost always cheaper to maintain and build business with existing customers than to find new ones. Lavish your existing customers with love, look for low-cost ways to improve the value you create for them, and communicate, communicate, communicate — let them know you love them.

10. Effective relationships never expire, so keep talking

Keep talking to everyone in your value chain, including suppliers, service providers, channels, influencers and, of course, customers and prospects. Even if they can’t use your services or you theirs just now, keeping those lines of communication open and full of useful information will serve you very well when the economy recovers.

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