Businesses need to prepare for the rain

I was listening to a promotion the other night for “Mad Men,” and the character said something like: “There’s gonna be fat times. There’s gonna be lean times. But one thing’s for sure. It’s gonna rain again.”

If you’ve been listening to the national news lately, everyone is abuzz about indicators that suggest better times are just around the corner. Many of us are seeing small glimmers of hope that make us optimistic that the worst has passed and the country is on its way to an economic recovery.

So this morning, I began thinking about the need for businesses to be prepared for the rain. How ready is your company for when the inevitable upswing in the economy begins to happen? And by when, I mean today!

A common thing occurs when times get tough; companies lay off their marketing staffs. While I don’t agree with this approach, I realize that it happens. So for those companies that did cut their marketing staff to the bare bones, those hopeful glimmers of an upswing present a dilemma. Now that they can begin to see the light at the end of this tunnel, they need to ramp up their marketing efforts. Maybe their Web sites need new looks, they need new advertising plans, or it’s time to reach out to a new group of customers through social media. Whatever it is, these companies need to be front and center as people begin to think about spending again.

There’s one catch, though. Financially, they’re not in a position to be adding staff yet, and they won’t be until business and revenues improve.

Smart leaders know they can’t just sit there – and they can’t ask any more of their bare-bones staff than they’re already doing. If they outsource their marketing efforts, they can save the expense of adding staff right now, while positioning themselves for the business they need. The key to outsourcing, though, is to find a partner that takes the time to understand the company’s history of talking to its customers (its brand awareness in the marketplace), while knowing how to effectively reach new customers and previous customers who have become much more cost-conscious.

Finding the right partner is important. There are thousands and thousands of professional marketing consultants out there. When looking for the right partner, there are many things to consider, but the most important one may not seem obvious at first. Ask yourself what your company’s values are and make sure the consultant you hire shares those values. If you don’t have that common ground, you won’t ever work together well.

What if your company has been quiet in the marketplace for the past year because business hasn’t been there? How do you start reintroducing your company?

Perhaps it’s not so much a reintroduction as it is a reminder. Lots of companies have been quiet during this recession. It’s been hard on everyone, and anyone who tells you they haven’t felt an impact is being disingenuous. In that same light, many companies are beginning to come out of their cocoons. They’re refreshing their dusty marketing efforts, giving them new life. And they’re reminding customers that they are still here, still reliable and still interested in their business.

If your company’s reputation was strong before the recession, now is not the time to reinvent the wheel. There’s no need for drastic measures, but refreshing your look and message can help you reach out to customers and remind them of what they’ve missed by not having your company in their lives.

Show them the value you offer and the trustworthiness you provide. Remember, they didn’t leave you because of something you did; they stopped spending money when they became scared during this economic crisis.

Finally, there is the issue of finding the right tone and being respectful during the still-challenging times before the economic recovery is fully recognized. People haven’t stopped being scared, but they are willing to test the waters again. The challenge for companies is to walk that fine line of promoting their products and services while empathizing with their customers’ real needs to be cost-conscious and responsible with their spending.

The auto industry has found a way to walk that line. Take, for example, Hyundai, which first offered an assurance program that covered customers’ car payments if they lost their jobs and now offers a year’s gasoline price guarantee.

While car companies need to sell their products, they know customers are terrified of laying out money when the future is uncertain. These companies have created ways to acknowledge those fears, and they’ve responded respectfully by creating marketing plans that solve both problems – cars are sold and customers are given assurances for the future.

Wise corporate leaders know that things are not going back to the way they used to be. Customers are more cost savvy and less willing to spend unless they see value. How you re-engage with the marketplace is more important now than ever before. What you say, how you present your company and the messages you send today will set the tone for how you position your company for when it rains again.

And it will rain.

Laurie J. Storey-Manseau, owner of StoreyManseau LLC, Concord, can be reached at