Saturday, September 6, 2008

Marketing to a Sluggish Economy

It's been a tough year economically for many independent business professionals. The mortgage and housing market has been decimated. The stock market is stuck in the mud. Credit in general is tough to come by. Customers are struggling so businesses are struggling. Given the latest economic statistics, a rapid recovery is probably not in the cards. So what type of marketing strategy do you employ in this kind of environment?

Customer retention is always important. During slowdowns it's even more so. The whole point of marketing and advertising is to acquire new customers. If you're not keeping the ones you have, you're spinning your wheels at best. Take care of the customers you have. Take every opportunity to exceed their expectations. Send them updates, greetings or special offers at least once per quarter. Even if you do no other advertising, do not neglect this group.

Don't go away. It may not be a good time to engage in massive, aggressive advertising campaigns. All forms of advertising are going to be less effective in a down market than in a healthy one. However, if you don't keep your brand visible, you'll be starting from scratch when the recovery arrives. Shift more resources to "top of the mind" advertising. This is marketing designed, not so much to spur a quick sale as to keep the public aware of who you are and what you have to offer. These ads can be small and simple. They may consist of nothing more than your logo, name, tagline and contact information. Lasting promotional items are a great way to go for this type of marketing. Things like refrigerator magnets, car magnets, banners at local sports events, calendars, pens and other free goodies can all help keep your customer base "brand aware" for a prolonged time at a one-time cost.

While you may have the time to engage in more new product and service development and testing, don't put too much stock in sales results at this point. Put the new stuff out there, but don't bank on it. Also, don't label it a loser because it didn't catch wind in this economy. Save the aggressive roll out for better times. What people are looking for right now is value. Try new ways to package and bundle current products and services in a manner that creates a better value for the customer.

Misery may love company, but company doesn't like misery. Stay upbeat and pleasant. If a customer wants to vent for a few minutes, listen, offer empathy, but don't pile on. You don't have to be a Polly Anna, but keep your own problems to yourself.

If you want referrals, give referrals. In good times, a referral from a network partner, friend or associate is a pleasant surprise. In times like these, it's solid gold. It will be appreciated and remembered. Remember the first question a good capitalist should ask him or herself is "How can I help?". That's how you find and create opportunity, generate goodwill, acquire and retain customers and relationships.

In good times and in bad, all you can do is the best you can do. So, do all you can do.

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