Recessionary Spending

Marketing in a mediocre market, or worse…
I’ve written this column for more than three years now and, in nearly forty columns, have tried to give regional small business owners creative ideas for growing their business. Rediscovering and sharing old marketing bromides and researching and testing cutting edge marketing devices has given me the opportunity to turn theory into practice.

I enjoy identifying a single topic, idea or mechanism and explaining how implementing it might enhance the growth of a business, however this month’s column is about all of your marketing and the simple directive to invest in marketing your business.

In all economic climates marketing dollars must be considered an investment wherein total marketing dollars – not just the cost of one component or another – are your business’ total investment. It’s not about saving money now but about investing in the ongoing and future growth of your small business.

None of the market sectors in Southeastern Pennsylvania have been exempt from the economic slowdown that has put the nation’s prosperity on hold but, by maintaining marketing plans and investing in new ones, some companies are moving past sustainability and survival.

A colleague who owns successful businesses and properties in the region recently related to me the troubling times that some other businesses are experiencing. She’d tell about one service business and explain that they never had a website… another had an ineffective sign with no phone number displayed… yet another was sending mixed messages to its target audience with unprofessional marketing.

The problem, the friend went on to explain, is that these businesses have been hit so hard that they’re not likely to change course. Indeed, businesses on the brink often consider it ‘throwing good money after bad’ to develop a web site during a recession, to buy a sign in a crisis, to spend more time, energy and money during the worst turn that their business has ever taken.

In a purely rational mindset it seems illogical that the first budget to get slashed in a recession is that of advertising or marketing. If companies were concerned that business is deteriorating why would they remove all lead generation… unless their marketing programs are not delivering leads. The current recession, made official this week, is time for area businesses to gain ground on the competition. While your competitors are cutting advertising and marketing there will be openings created for your offering and brand. Here are five simple steps you can take to market smarter in a sluggish economy:

1. Create a stronger position
It’s time for your company to select a public personality and stick to it. With the aggressive promotion of a positionable identity, your company’s brand will be remembered and respected within that position. Are you the best? The cheapest? The fastest? The coolest? Pick one and support it with everything you’ve got, but remember, you will be sacrificing those positions in opposition to the one you select.

2. Define target markets better
A reduced marketing budget can be more effective when you tightly define your best target market and focus your marketing on them. Stop wasting marketing dollars on leads that are unlikely to go anywhere and spend more on a smaller group of higher percentage targets. This is called a vertical market and, in contrast to a broad demographic market is easier to touch with infinitely better R.O.I. It’s more work and you have to work smarter, but that’s what a recession is all about– only the smart will survive.

3. Modify messages to support position and market
OK, you’ve selected a position and narrowed your target market, now it’s time to speak directly to that group with marketing messages that they need to hear. Forget generalities and start to blast messages that speak to the potential customer’s main motivation while supporting your singular position. When times turn toward the better you can, once again, focus on brand imaging but for now give the people what they want to support the immediate objectives of sales, visitation or support.

4. Revitalize key points of contact
In a recession competition becomes more fierce. Every customer is being fought for with perfect positioning and tenacious targeting supported by meaningful messages. Remember the local company that didn’t even have a web presence? How can they expect to survive against competitors who are now revitalizing web sites? Make certain that your site is always current and that it is properly supporting your position and message. Again, it is more work and it needs to be done intelligently but it can be done economically.

5. Stay positive and don’t sell out… yet
It can be tempting to slash prices to increase sales but that should be a last resort. It’s far better to keep a positive outlook from the top down. Ownership must remain positive to employees and employees should spin nothing but honest positivity to potential customers. Marketing is 99% perception and most consumers, even in a recession, would rather deal with a company that is positive and stable than one that is slashing prices and appearing desperate.

Similarly, the recession is caused by consumer’s reaction to a perception. When the anchors on 3, 6, 10 and 29 lead off the nightly news with stories like, “Economy in Crisis,” it affects the way consumers behave no matter what their current reality is. With a recessionary strategy of perfect positioning and tenacious targeting supported by meaningful messages you can continue to strengthen your brand while boosting current sales.