Marketing in Turbulent Times
When times get tough, as they are today, many companies begin cutting back. Sometimes they let employees go and stop there. Other times, they eliminate their marketing. Don't do it.
Here's advice from two prominent public relations figures. "[Cutting back is] a bad move," says Stacy Cornay, owner of Communication Concepts Public Relations & Advertising, a communications development and strategy firm in Boulder, Colo. "The public has to be reminded about who you are and what you're selling. Instead of cutting back on marketing, be more aggressive."
John Shors, a former public relations executive in Boulder and author of the critically acclaimed novel "Beneath a Marble Sky" concurs and wrote the following: "When companies cease touting themselves via the media, opportunities are created for their competitors to step into the spotlight."
Staying in front of your customers and prospects is vital-even in a recession.
I started my business in 1989, when times were also tough. The reason I went out on my own was because people were getting laid off at all the agencies I approached. I was caught in the Colorado recession and repeatedly heard, "Sorry, we're not hiring ... but if you start a business as a freelancer, we'll retain your services."
So I took this as a "sign from above." It was my opportunity to grab the bull by the horns and start my own business. The Write Direction was born on Jan. 1, 1989.
Despite lean economic times, I was able to break ground ... make an impact ... find clients ... establish a successful business. It happened because of a concerted effort to market myself and keep marketing.
Don't give up the ship. You can do the same without breaking the bank. Pick up the phone, write a trade article [editor's note: feel free to pitch me ideas! -EB], fax the press about an accomplishment, send out an e-mail. The ideas are endless, but your efforts don't need to be. The important aspect is to simply make those consistent, smart efforts to market yourself-and these efforts will be rewarded, sooner or later.
Opportunity, Not Grim Reaper, Knocking on Your Door
During uncertain times, when people are not spending, marketers should consider this phase as an opportunity rather than a curse. Invest further in your marketing instead of waiting for a change in market conditions. This tactic is supported by the following findings revealed by the American Association of Advertising Agencies, reported in a commissioned study, Advertising in a Recession, by Bernard Ryan Jr.
1. The Buchen Advertising study tracked sales after the 1949, '54, '58 and '61 recessions. It found that sales and profits dropped off at companies that cut back on advertising. The findings also revealed that sales lagged after the recession for those companies that cut back during the recession.
2. The 1970 and 1979 studies by ABP/Meldrum & Fewsmith substantiated the Buchen study. It reported that higher sales and net income were achieved by those companies that maintained their advertising than those that cut it altogether.
3. Following the 1981-82 recession, McGraw-Hill Research's Laboratory of Advertising Performance reported that "business-to-business firms that maintained or increased their advertising expenditures during the 1981-82 recession averaged significantly higher sales growth both during the recession and for the following three years than those which eliminated or decreased advertising."
It might even be tempting to "ride it out"-to do absolutely nothing until things turn around. But this passive approach yields passive results. Nothing will happen while you're waiting, and when things do turn around, the business will go to the people who've been doing something all along. "The people who will get the lion's share of the business-both now and in the future-are the ones who work to build relationships," says Michael Beck, head "zookeeper" at ClientMonkey.com, a marketing strategies website dedicated to getting more clients.
I'm not forgetting your fears. I understand that it's frightening to dip into your budget to keep on spending when the economy is slow. But to stay ahead of your competition, it should be a priority for your company. Fortunately, it can be done without spending $2 million for a Super Bowl commercial.
Develop a Savvy Plan of Attack
When you're on a shoestring budget, there are several creative ways to market yourself effectively. Here are four ways to help you get started.
1. Send out an e-mail.
One of e-mail's competitive advantages is its "... ability to help you protect your most valuable asset in a down economy: loyal customers," says John Rizzi, president and CEO of e-Dialog, a provider of e-mail marketing and database technologies for permission-based e-mail marketers.
Today, e-mail has reached almost universal penetration, with 97 percent of consumers and 94 percent of marketers using the channel (according to a study published by Forrester Research, Email Marketing Comes of Age). So contact those people you have relationships with or who have opted in to your e-mail list. It doesn't have to be a sales pitch-and it's probably better if it's not. Simply provide some helpful information that is relevant to them, such as a monthly or quarterly newsletter.
2. Join professional organizations.
However, don't just pay your membership dues and walk away. Many people join organizations, then sit back and wait for business to come their way. Clients don't automatically knock on your door just because you've become a member of the local Chamber of Commerce.
I found when I volunteered to serve on a committee (i.e., public relations, entertainment, programming, event planning, etc.), or sat on the board of directors, that fellow colleagues discovered more about who I was, what my business was about and what my capabilities were. Then, many times, they referred me to others just based on their knowledge of me, not necessarily because they had worked with me on a writing project. Joining and actively participating in such organizations is a great opportunity to increase your network of contacts while being given the chance to share your expertise.
3. Offer to speak in public.
"The best way to market yourself is to give yourself to the market. Expose yourself to your prospects," writes marketing professional Jeffrey Gitomer, author of The New York Times best-sellers "The Sales Bible" and "The Little Black Book of Connections."
Call your local Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club, business associations, etc. Many of these groups hold monthly membership meetings where professionals come in and speaks on a specific topic of interest. When I lived in Boulder, I presented at what the Chamber of Commerce called "Brown Bags," speaking on such topics as "AIDA: A Formula for Successful Copywriting" and "Surefire Steps for Writing Effective Print Promotions." Earlier this year, I presented a workshop about "Marketing in Turbulent Times" to the Kauai North Shore Business Council and later, presented tips from this topic to the Rotary Club of Kauai.
Sharing what you know increases your credibility regarding your area of expertise. Even better, appearing at meetings like these puts you among a circle of businesspeople who may eventually need your services.
4. Invite clients, colleagues and prospects to your speaking engagement.
Here's a great opportunity to build client relationships and encourage enhanced relationships with prospects without using a hard-sell approach. By hearing you speak, they get the chance to learn more about you without feeling the pressure of a sales pitch. While you're sharing your professional knowledge in a relaxed, nonthreatening environment-without the fear of losing a sale-they're observing your expertise, confidence and poise.
5. Write articles for business or trade publications.
This helps increase your exposure, as getting published sends your name out to a broader audience while conveying your knowledge about a specific subject. It also enhances your professional reputation. Many publications will include your photo and phone number so readers may contact you. Then, after your article has been published, send copies to your clients, colleagues and prospects!
Maintain a Presence
The list of cost-effective ways to market yourself goes on and on. From sending out press releases to local and trade publications to teaching a class or workshop about your area of expertise. As you try out all these ideas, you will come up with many on your own. Don't be afraid to test your own, as long as they don't work against your other attempts or risk annoying potential contacts and clients.
Most important of all? Don't let people forget who you are ... where you are ... how you can be reached. Do what you can to maintain a presence. Stay in touch with your customers, be it via phone, "snail" or e-mail. Ask them what they want and need during this time. Remember, if potential customers are out there looking for your product or service and your name is visible, while your competition's is not, your marketing efforts will invite them to call you.
Past president of the Rocky Mountain Direct Marketing Association, Debra Jason is a seasoned copywriter with more than 20 years of experience in the field of direct marketing. She started her business, The Write Direction, in Boulder, Colo., in 1989. Now based out of Kauai, Hawaii, she continues to specialize in writing web and direct marketing communications. She may be reached by phone at (888) 449-0815, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.