December 24, 2007
Are you happy with your sales and revenues for 2007? It can’t get any better? You just saved yourself 10 minutes. Skip reading this article, drop the paper and go get a latte.
Many business owners and managers are stressed about the downturn in the economy, not only here, but all across the nation. Typically, a downturn prompts businesses to pare back marketing budgets. But there is a silver lining in those economic storm clouds. The reality is that down economies offer a tremendous opportunity for companies to grab market share. You may even be able to take market share from less nimble competitors.
Marketing dollars spent during a down economy are far more powerful than similar dollars spent during good times because each dollar represents a greater percentage of the overall marketing expenditure in your industry. While other companies drastically cut their expenditures, your consistency means that you will stand out more in the minds of your target audience. This projects company strength and stability in a way that supports your business and communications strategy.
Here are ten suggestions or resolutions to help your company sail through 2008:
1. Know Thy Customer: Resolve to spend more time and money understanding your consumers and how to better meet their needs. Treat your customers as groups of individuals rather than a faceless mass. Research their motivation, likes and dislikes of your products and services. Relate to them by creating content in all of your communications that is relevant, authentic and engaging, and motivates consumers to share information with like-minded people. Your communications staff can help provide context, rather than sheer content, and give consumers more of what they are seeking.
2. Know the Customer Experience: Do you really know what it is like to be a customer of your company? You might be shocked. First, research what it is like through the whole transaction of dealing with your company. This can be done in many ways, but many companies are creating a new position, the Chief Experience Officer (CXO). As customers have become more outspoken about what they buy and whom they buy it from, some companies have responded by putting aside a corner office and budget for the CXO. In general, the position reports to the CEO and is an advocate for the customer. The responsibility of the CXO cuts across all product and channel boundaries and includes significant input in the marketing and communications component.
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3. Know Your Brand and Messages: Be strategic in your messaging. Producing a crisp set of messages to your targets, or groups of customers, only can be achieved by throwing out old assumptions and getting out of the office to listen to your customers with a fresh perspective. This involves research both scientific and water cooler and bus stop conversations. Once you understand what resonates with your customers, create messages or describers that you can live with for a long time. Then test them. You want your customers to quickly identify your company in all of your forms of communication.
4. Rev Up the Community Relations: Community relations in not easily defined, but it is an important and powerful marketing tool the relationship between your business and the community where it is located. It is the one tool that can make you, your company and its products tangible. There is no one way to construct and implement a community relations plan. There are events produced by your company, workshops, sponsorships for community events and non-profits, school programs and contests, educational programs, speakers’ circuits, scholarships, tours of your plants or business, corporate blogging … The ideas are limitless and there is something out there that can make your business unique.
5. Aim to Learn About and Jump into Emerging Media: Many firms do not have the courage to innovate, despite the fact that our communication habits have fundamentally changed and continue to do so. Your company’s own Web site should not be the primary “new media” choice when communicating to customers. While company Web sites provide communicators with a high degree of control over their message, consumers often turn elsewhere for information. New interactive media issue-specific Web sites, e-mail campaigns and internet banner advertising make it easier than ever to provide services that can be measured down to the click. Put word-of-mouth and search engine optimization strategies in place or miss out on tremendous potential for audience reach and sales. Social media sites such as YouTube are making traditional methods, like the 30-second television spot, seem obsolete. U.S. advertising expenditures in emerging media are expected to increase by 30 percent each year in 2008 and 2009, to approximately $15 billion. Change is rapid and ongoing, which is why those firms that have not adopted these technologies will fall further behind.
6. Know Your Marketing ROI: Make sure you know what your return on investment is on your marketing/communications activities. What is giving you the best bang for the buck, the best response and the best new customers? You can figure this down to the cost for a sale, hit, call, new customer, etc. Prioritize your top producers and if you can’t figure out if an activity, ad campaign, etc., is effective, consider it on the chopping block. Total media impressions should not be the sole focus of results, as it is important to reach customers in a way that is meaningful or useful.
7. Get Smart on How Political Campaigns Will Effect Your Plans: Most media sources (television, radio and newspapers) report that they are placing a large amount of space and airtime on the presidential campaign and issue-related ads from national political action committees, including state-wide ballot questions. As the political campaigns draw closer and closer to the caucuses and elections, campaign managers will grab all of the space they can get, second-guessing the competition. They may also decide to purchase fixed rates which are priced almost double, in order to give their ads priority. So, if you are advertising during a heavy political time, and have placed rotators or pre-emptable rates, which are priced lower, your radio and advertising ads will have a great chance of getting bumped to a less desirable time of the day. Sometimes the ads won’t run at all and your account will get credited not a great thing if you’re having a date-specific sale or event! Since newspapers and magazines can grow with the amount of advertising, your ad won’t get bumped, but you may not like where it gets placed. During the last election, I wrote a whole column and a list of tips on how to survive the political season. It is still posted at http://www.nnbw.biz.
8. Don’t Forget About Your Employees: Investing time and effort in effective employee communication can pay off in a lot of ways: job satisfaction, productivity, new business leads, potential employment pool and more. Most good employees want to know how the business is doing and how they can help. Employee communications programs have variables, such as workforce size and structure, but, maintaining a regular schedule once you begin is necessary for any business. Don’t assume one meeting, company presentation or newsletter will do all that you need it to do. Have a plan that guarantees consistent communications quarterly, monthly and, when necessary, weekly. Keep the company’s vision fresh, pertinent and vivid, so that the audience always feels part of the plan.
9. Improve What You Send Via E-mail: E-mail communication might be only one-on-one communication, but imagine how many lasting and positive impressions you can make every day. The sum total could be enormous. Be courteous, include a brand message, complete full thoughts and always be prompt. You can set yourself apart from the competition and make your computer time kinder and gentler.
10. Last, But Not at All Least, Be Authentic, Know Your Core Values: Why does your business exist? What does it stand for? What differentiates you in a marketplace of customers, investors and employees? Those definitions whether you call them values, principles, beliefs, mission, purpose or value proposition must dictate all of the resolutions above. And, it needs to be consistent every day, every hour in all forms of communication.
Successful marketing and communications requires a combination of insight, execution and perseverance. Make a plan, check in frequently to measure results and make adjustments along the way. Astute leaders will see the economic downturn and the promise of the New Year as an opportunity to stay fresh and reach an increasingly fragmented audience more cost-effectively.
Don’t do things the same way and expect different results. Resolve to new energy and direction for your communications and marketing in the New Year.
Marlene Olsen is president of Olsen & Associates, a public relations agency in Reno. Contact her through the company’s Web site, http://www.o-apr.com.