A Winning Formula for Tight Times
By Richard Rutigliano, PriMedia, Inc.
As the U.S. economy slides into a recession of unknown severity and duration, companies in all sectors are watching their expenses and trimming where they can. If you are faced with inevitable cuts in your marketing budget, be judicious and allocate your limited resources wisely to support your most important goals.
The secret in hard times like these is to make the choices that deliver maximum value. When you are unable to do everything you should, it's essential to achieve maximum benefit with the products you do deploy. For next year, I'm prescribing a regimen of four marketing staples for companies that are facing tight resource limits.
A strategy that blends customer retention efforts with outreach to the regional market will help most companies keep what they have while achieving some growth. Marketing for customer retention is a perennial priority, and outreach to potential customers is especially important next year because this could be an exceptional year for customer acquisition. Many industry insiders are expecting a rash of company failures, and if those predictions bear out, customers will be up for grabs in your market.
The strongest companies will be aggressive, while companies that find themselves near the edge may be tempted to hunker down. If you find yourself in the latter category, be warned: Laying low in next year could prove to be a major strategic blunder that ruins your best opportunity in years to add desirable customers in substantial numbers. Sometimes the greatest rewards go to those who charge ahead while others around them are in retreat. Weigh your options carefully, and do the best you can for your business.
If you can't muster a major outreach campaign, do something modest and cultivate at least a small measure of growth. Even a downsized marketing campaign can accommodate some investment in customer acquisition - and that is much better than no outreach at all. As long as you are taking some effective steps to raise your profile, you are putting yourself in opportunity's way. Doing nothing, on the other hand, is a disservice to your company and the employees who are counting on you.
To maximize your success while minimizing expenses, invest in these four vital forms of outreach.
Newsletter. Your most important customers are the ones you already have, and your newsletter is the best tool - by far - for building goodwill with each and every one of them. Competitors are constantly trying to steal your customers, and you need to remind them - with regularity - why it's best to stay with you. A good newsletter gives your company a face and a voice and reinforces the personal connection that keeps your customers loyal. (For more on this subject, please keep reading.)
Web site. A professional presence on the Internet has never been more important than it is now. It reassures existing customers that they have picked a winner, and - more importantly - it attracts new business by making a strong impression on potential customers who use the Web. If your Internet presence is inadequate, upgrade your website to make it an asset for customer recruitment. You can economize by skipping the high-end Web services for now, but make sure that your company shows up in Web searches and that your site makes a positive impression. Having no site or an amateurish site could cost you valuable new business this year and cripple the company's long-term financial health.
Message-on-Hold. A message-on-hold (MOH) makes this short list because of its affordability. While it lacks the extensive reach of a newsletter or direct mail, a good MOH is very effective within its scope - and it doesn't cost much. When you deploy a custom MOH that conveys a strong image, you make a positive impression on every caller that hears it - existing and potential customers alike. By crafting the message carefully, you also call attention to your company's greatest strengths and promote your most compelling products and services.
Postcards. I cannot over-stress the importance of outreach to your market this year. Some well-heeled companies are pulling out the stops because they know there will be customers up for grabs. Every company that wants to grow this year should be reaching out to some degree. The ideal campaign mixes advertising in a variety of mediums with several direct mail blasts, but those costs can pile up. If your resources are limited, you can boost your visibility considerably and create a highly favorable impression with an attractive, well-written postcard or two. For a very affordable outlay, you will put your name in front of many customers who might be in the market for a company like yours.
To market successfully in this recession, you need to anticipate the public's mindset and craft a message that conveys the right ideas and tone. Here are some suggestions of messages that will resonate during this economic downtown.
Local and friendly. This looks like a great year to be an established, local company. In light of the failures of large, international banks and financial firms, customers should be receptive to a local, feel-good company that truly cares for its customers. Take inventory of your company's strengths and trumpet them in your marketing. If your customers love you, use their words in your materials.
Talk conservation. People are looking for ways to save money, and you can build affinity by talking up energy savings. If you are undertaking any conservation-related initiatives, such as offering energy audits or weather-proofing, put that front and center in your marketing to demonstrate that you are in touch with your customers' needs.
Personalize your company. People respond to people. If you have employees who easily endear themselves to customers, incorporate them in your marketing. A newsletter is a great vehicle for putting human faces on your business. Use photos, employee profiles and the like to showcase how personable your company really is.
Solicit referrals. With some encouragement, your customers could send a lot of new accounts your way this year. If you have a referral incentive, remind your customers. If you don't have one, create one and spread the word. You probably enjoy a lot of goodwill, and some customers might take it on themselves to bring friends and associates into your fold. Remind them that you appreciate their support and dangle a nice reward for each referral.
Focus on the positive. It is easy to over-react to momentary issues like the economy, but you need to maintain a positive, steady voice in your external communications. Circumstances can change very quickly, and a timely message can become untimely almost overnight. Your marketing can acknowledge timely issues, but the focus should be squarely on the positive things that your company does for its customers.
If you are behind in your marketing efforts - particularly the outreach to potential customers - you still have time to make a meaningful impact. Get your good name out there as soon as you can and plan on continual outreach to your base and your potential customers.
Richard Rutigliano is President of PriMedia, Inc., a full service marketing and communications firm with offices in New York City, Long Island and Boston. The company is now offering free marketing consultations to Oilheat retailers. Phone: 800-796-3342, or visit their Web sites at www.primediany.com and www.propane-advertising.com.