Marketing during economic downturn

When Economic Fears Press In, Marketing Can Shine , By Jill Schuller

Show me a business that is thriving without any anxiety in this current economy, and you will find a goldmine of eager investors at the door. The truth is every industry – retail, service, commercial, manufacturing – has been impacted in some form over the past several months. Whether you believe the reactions are fear-based or real is irrelevant. What is real is that we have decision-makers reluctant to make changes or move forward into the unknown because their customers are reacting to the economic fears.

We can all admit that the downturn brings thoughts of doom and gloom to our dreams at night. However, as in any downturn – yes, even the Great Depression – there are positive changes and inspiring ideas afoot.  

Fear creates only two responses (c’mon! remember 5th grade science?) – “fight” or “flight”.  While a business owner can bemoan the dollars lost by ignoring the problems for so long, they should instead look at the reality of the moment, and address the necessary corrections now.  For those still in the game that are fighting, the economy by now should have polarized your strategy, brought incredible clarity to what is important, and what is fluff in your business. 

And Just How Does This Relate To Marketing?

Marketing’s role is to define with absolute precision Who you need to talk to, What you need to say, and How you need to say it.  When times are good, companies seem far less focused and want to reach out to everyone. They also tend to prefer generic, mass-appeal messages instead of honing in on their best target market with a clear statement of differentiation. In troubled times, they are much more able to see the pool of potential target audiences as defined and manageable, with precise messages. Which means their marketing is much more effective!

Short Term vs. Long Term Vision

The magnifying glass perspective is a natural view to take, reacting with quick and short-term fixes. We all know the immediate reaction is to cut the ‘luxury expense’ of marketing where many have a hard time seeing the direct cost-benefit of their investment. It’s a justifiable expense when you are choosing between ads and keeping jobs. The telescope perspective takes a longer view, and sees that lack of any promotion and positioning of your organization will negatively affect both consistency and differentiation in your target audience’s mind. Guess what the two most important components of successful marketing are? Consistency and differentiation.

The key is not to break the bank or the bottom line to overspend, but it is to invest a steady amount over the years, even if the overall amount is lower, so you can continue to reap the benefits of compounding marketing interest. The dollars spent in an economic downturn actually have more impact because there is less clutter!

Like any situation, businesses have a choice; you can choose to ‘fight’, and use this downturn in the economy to your advantage. Recognize that many of your competitors will do absolutely NOTHING out of fear. They will stop all advertising. They will stop treating customers with top-notch service. They will allow a sense of doom and despair to pervade among their staff. They will in effect, take flight, but not upward. History has shown us that companies who continue a sensible marketing initiative during any type of downturn actually increase in business over their former competition as soon as the pendulum swings back.  A study cited by Nick Denroche of Contractor Power noted that of the 600 companies evaluated in the 1980s’ recession, those who did not cut their advertising saw increases in sales by almost 275% over a five year period after the recession.

Think about it: customers stop hearing about the widgets made by Company ABC, but Company XYZ has continued a steady presence in the marketing mindshare game. When I need to buy or upgrade my widget, which company am I going to purchase from – ABC or XYZ? I don’t advocate spending funds that don’t exist, but retreating from the marketing game completely is the surest way to decline.

What To Do Right Now:

  1. Define what is critically important about your business or service.
  2. Define who is REALLY your most desirable customer, and don’t be afraid to lose the ones that aren’t profitable.
  3. Look at your current marketing tools: are they in need of revamping? A redesign of your website or new print ads is a wise investment to keep your message fresh and top of mind to your customers.
  4. Treat your customer like a king (or queen!).  This is the time to practice what your marketing professor always said, “Under-promise and over-deliver”.
  5. While the profit margins may tell you a tightening of the corporate belt is needed, it doesn’t mean you have to stop everything; it means you need to pick and choose your marketing tools, but keep them sharp and ready to use.

Innovate to Motivate

Another advantage of the economic downturn is using it to make fundamental operating changes that were glossed over when times were good. Nothing kills innovative thinking like complacency.  Innovation in all aspects of your organization motivates you, your staff, and your customers. A CEO of Intel solidified this entire philosophy by saying, “You never save your way through a downturn. You innovate your way through it.”

As companies try to stabilize while governments scramble to fix things, use the situation to become laser-focused on your marketing message and not retreat into the shadows. Find innovative, creative ways to keep yourself in the game, and seek out innovative thinkers who can help you stay ahead.