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Time to be creative " and cost-efficient " in marketing

NNBW Staff

Are you tired of trying to be optimistic about the economy? I am. When media speculation started that we were headed into a recession, I hung onto our community’s belief that Reno was relatively recession-proof. OK, I admit, that was a little naive. Then as we headed into the real estate and /mortgage crisis, I realized the economy was changing for the worse. Several months ago, my CEO peer group heard a presentation from the Institute for Trend Research that really got my attention: We all should prepare our businesses for another two years. I would be happy to be wrong with that timeframe, but how could it hurt your business to be prepared by being disciplined, being targeted and being creative with your marketing plans?

My two previous NNBW columns addressed staying the course with your marketing, but to do so with discipline and strategy. All businesses should be cautious with every expenditure right now. But, remember this: If you keep your marketing in place as your competitors pull out, you gain market share, build confidence with your customers and position yourself for a quicker recovery. That is the most important message I have for you: try to stay the course with the presence in your market.

If you are saying money is tight, then this is the column for you.

Here are some creative and cost-effective ideas to help your marketing budget stretch during this economic slowdown:

Turn your best customers into promoters: You can survey your customers to find out who would likely recommend your product or service to a friend. The survey can be done by hiring a research firm, using on inexpensive online survey like surveymonkey.com, or zoomerang.com, or just simply e-mailing a few questions. Find some way to reward anyone who responds or brings in a new customer. Make sure that you keep track of this group of evangelists; communicate and reward them often.

This is the time for coupons and special offers: In a recent survey of 40,000 U.S. shoppers, 67 percent said they are much more likely, or somewhat more likely, to use coupons during a recession. This might also be a time to engage inactive customers through a good coupon offer, special offer or trial period.

Help your customers: People value information delivered via hard copy or the Internet that helps them solve problems. They eagerly seek useful newsletters, whitepapers, research reports, and how-to guides that help them improve their lives and do their jobs better. Take the time to understand your value proposition so that you can create helpful tools and offer them as incentives.

Try low-cost traditional advertising: You may have to wait until after the political season, but there are many cost-effective ways to reach your target audience with radio, television, direct mail, and print advertising. Try drilling down into specific television shows that connect with your customers, and buy nothing else. Don’t forget about cable television. For radio, find a more strategic time when most of your customers are listening and buy that time consistently instead of all day parts. If newspapers and magazines work best for your

business, pay for more strategic placement and buy less frequently.

Also consider lower-cost print avenues such as alternative newspapers or trade journals. Direct mail can also be effective if your mailing lists are targeted effectively. The key to traditional advertising is if you are more strategic in placement, you can reduce frequency. You also don’t have to fight for attention with all of the other ads.

Be aware of the political season: Getting great placement and a lower unit price from now until the general election will continue to get tougher. Place your radio and television ads early and talk to your sales rep about the best rate to make sure you won’t get pre-empted: either effective selling levels or a fixed rate. You’ll pay more, but you’ll sleep at night. Wait, if you can. But, you’ll find a lot of advertisers with the same idea. The second and third week in November is usually as booked. So, is waiting until the end of November sensible for you?

Keep it light: There is a tendency among marketers to shy away from humor when the economy goes bad, which is a mistake, even if your business markets a serious product. Don’t let the somber economic mood change the tone of your brand. Humor can have a dramatic impact on the likability of your brand, particularly in otherwise unfunny times.

Get going with Web marketing: Many studies have shown that online marketing is the highest ROI. If you haven’t, invest now in your Web site. Make sure that searches for your company are optimized. Create blogs, webcasts, online seminars or anything that brings more traffic to your Web site. Then, go talk to your youngest employees about how your products and services might get going in social marketing, including social shopping networks. They use these tools all of the time and can help you get started.

Don’t lower prices, add value: Avoid actions that deflate the value of your product and the company’s overall equity. Many companies are tempted to lower the price of their product or service during tight economic times. But lowering your price tends to hurt your brand. It’s better to add value than to lower the price. Try adding free shipping, guarantees, free return shipping, short-term sales, private shopping events to great customers, free gift wrapping, valet parking, etc. Low price alone isn’t the only way to win sales in these times and it may be difficult to raise your prices later.

Find a partner: Partnering with a nonprofit organization can stretch your dollars and enhance your brand. But make sure you choose an organization that is a good fit for your company’s products and its beliefs. Consumers are now scrutinizing these commitments and are aware of what is sincere and what isn’t. Mobilize your employees and your customers behind a nonprofit you truly believe in and you will be amazed at the goodwill and good business you will get as a result.

Live in a fantasy world: Imagine that each customer is someone who would automatically merit preferential treatment: Your No. 1 customer is in disguise, or is your best friend.

With this image in mind, your service should be nothing short of fantastic and will help you keep your customers.

Lastly, rev up the publicity and public relations: Have you noticed lately that the same companies in this community seem to be getting all of the ink and news coverage? That’s because they have stayed the course even cranked up the public relations while their competitors are pulling back. Here again is the idea of gaining marketing share.

This tactic is not least, by being last. But, this is such a big topic and I will leave it until my next column.

More cost-effective tactics and ideas are listed in an former NNBW column I wrote called “Competing with the Big Boys on a Small Budget.” It can be found in the archives at nnbw.biz, or email me and I will send it to you.

Great budgeting and marketing techniques are critical now. What you do with marketing your business from now on can either set you up to surpass your competitors, or put you in catch-up mode when the economy recovers. It’s a cycle. Don’t panic. Stop predicting, validating and speculating about how bad it is and get going!

Marlene Olsen is president of Olsen & Associates public relations and creative collaborations, in Reno. Contact her through http://www.o-apr.com.