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Why tough times can be good times for smart marketers

We’re now firmly in the middle of unpredictable external economic factors, so it’s time to give focus and quality attention to the areas we can control to ensure we’re planning for future success.

Smart marketers can outperform their competitors and lay a strong platform for growth if they learn from the lessons of the past.

According to Harvard Business School’s John Quelch, marketing driven companies can learn from the lessons of the past and realise that when the going gets tough the tough get going – in a marketing sense.

Here are the top 5 ways to come out the other side of the current ‘tough times’ in a much better position than you may be now – and certainly better than your competitors who may take the ‘retreat’ option:

1. Don’t invest less on marketing – just invest smarter

This is not the time to cut marketing. It is well documented that brands who maintain (some even increase) their marketing during a recession – when naive competitors are cutting back – can increase market share and their return on investment at a lower cost than during good economic times.

Do an unemotional assessment of your planned marketing budget. Make a list of the mandatory and proven ‘must haves’ and the less compelling ‘nice to haves’. Then ask yourself “what if we dropped the ‘nice to haves and added that budget to the ‘must haves?’”

Without reducing your marketing spending you can improve the yield and effectiveness of your marketing by concentrating your efforts in the areas of known (marketing) productivity. Even better, your more ‘panic stricken’ competitors will more than likely ‘cut’ their budgets so you get a double whammy marketing effect by being more judiciously focused.

An added benefit is that you may find yourself in a stronger negotiating position when dealing with media, printers and other marketing suppliers who will be keener than ever to win your business and bank your revenue.

2. Get close to your customers – they too want reassurance

During recessions or tough times, customers are more likely to postpone purchases, trade down to a lesser quality, or simply buy less.  The ‘must-have’ features of yesterday’s good times are today’s ‘can-do-withouts’.

Talk to your customers about providing testimonials or developing case studies that demonstrate their importance to you. It’s important to remember that your customers are also feeling the tougher times – so offer them a reward for their custom, discount the price slightly in recognition of their on-going support or better still, find ways to ‘bundle’ your product or offer to them in order to provide them with better value in return for a larger sales transaction. And make sure the offer is seen as ‘specially’ prepared for them and based on the ‘past partnership’ and their loyalty.

You might even consider a direct sales campaign that offers these loyal customers rewards (ie: lower prices, bonus product) for any introduction to a ‘new’ customer that results in a sale to you.

3. Focus on your core customers

These are your most precious tangible (marketing) asset and you need to nurture them through these times. But remember, they’re going through the same tough times also and are facing similar financial and operating pressures.

Find ways to get even closer and think of how you might be able to assist them even more. Brainstorm with your team ways that you might further demonstrate your appreciation and how to build an even stronger relationship with them. Deferred payments, improved ‘fast-track’ delivery, better terms, bonus ‘added values’, tiered discounts etc. Importantly play the game of ‘the other team’ – think like your competitor. That is, if you were your competitor, what offer or approach might you make to this customer that might lure them away from your company? This may well provide you with what you need to do to ensure they stay your customer.

To simply continue to do what you’ve always done for these customers may not be enough when the going gets tough. Remember Einstein’s definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again with the expectation of different results.

4. Reassess your pricing tactics

Don’t deceive yourself. Even the most loyal of customers will become promiscuous during tough times. Make no mistake they will be shopping around for the best deals – not necessarily the lowest price. This doesn’t mean you have to cut your prices, but you may want to offer more temporary price promotions, implement quantity discounts, extend credit to long-standing customers, create ‘bundled services’ or ‘buy two and save even more’ type of pricing tactics.

Importantly, look outside your industry or category to see what pricing tactics other marketers are deploying in their respective categories – ask yourself how you might adapt similar tactics?

5. Reinforce your core values

Reinforce in your marketing the core capabilities and values that have got your company to where it is today. In tough times like these companies, just like people, need reinforcement that even though the economy is toughening up some things never change.

Don’t scare or frighten your customer by showing signs of panic. Don’t visibly cut corners in any way, shape or fashion that could lead a customer to perceive you to be reducing your service. At times such as these your current customer base is paramount and your service and core values (customer support, warranty, on-time delivery) may be the very reasons that a customer feels reassured and comfortable – and stays with you.

Deploying the above strategies and uniting your marketing, sales, and admin teams across the board to emerge stronger than others will place your company or organisation at a distinct advantage when the current cyclical climate is over.

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Jason Eisner

Jason Eisner

Jason Eisner has 20 years of strategic marketing and operations experience in senior management and consulting roles. Jason has a Bachelor of Commerce from UNSW and an MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management in Chicago, learning from the marketing guru Dr Philip Kotler. He has worked in the US with Andersen/Accenture and The Cambridge Group (a Chicago and New York based boutique marketing strategy company) and in Australia with many small and large businesses. Jason is known for his strategic and lateral thinking.

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