PR Briefing: Marketing during a tough economy

In our company’s new business development outreach, I’ve heard — repeatedly — that companies are pulling back on marketing because of the current economic climate. People are scared to commit to the expense of marketing, when they don’t know what the future holds.

But I recently came across a great quote from marketer Chris Lockhead of Mercury: “Go ahead. Cut your marketing budget when things get tough. I get it. That’s like saying ‘I’ll throw some logs on that fire when it warms up in here.’”

When times are tough and business is slow, marketing is the very last thing that ought to be cut. Now, more than ever, companies must make themselves and their products known.

So what are we to do? Think creatively, appeal to your target demographics and implement cost-effective tactics. Here’s my free advice on steps to take to keep your company moving forward and still prepared for larger-scale marketing endeavors once the economy improves.

Adapt your messaging to fit today’s economic climate. A New Hampshire-based pool company is running great radio ads, empathizing with many people’s current situation – they can’t afford a vacation this year. They’re positioning their pools as a “vacation at home” and include messaging about financing, “no money down” options and how this investment will provide “vacations” at home for years to come. Smart approach!

My friends in the retail industry are reporting dismal sales, which is no surprise. People are spending their “discretionary” income on necessary staples. The increased cost of basics has hit us where it hurts — the wallet.

I’ve advised them to consider using incentives — coupons, money-saving deals — to get people in the door. While we’re watching our pennies, we still have to buy necessary gifts, new clothes for our kids who grew three inches since last summer, and so forth. I’m much more inclined to shop at a place that will give me 15 percent off a vase for my cousin’s wedding, or offers buy-one-get-one-free jeans for my son. By promoting these incentives, they’re raising awareness of their store, demonstrating what sets them apart from the competition. Customers will remember that once cash is flowing more freely.

Consider creating strategic partnerships. Suppose you’re a restaurant owner facing declining sales, and you’re located near a theater or concert venue, also facing decreased attendance. Why not team up to offer a package deal? It’s easier to justify a night out if you get a deal, like free movie tickets with a restaurant meal.

Use your limited marketing budget to demonstrate what sets you apart. I’ve been a busy working mom for the past eight years, trying to balance client deadlines with cooking healthy dinners for my family. Now I’m faced with the added challenge of increased grocery costs. In the past, I’ve relied on take-out, but that, too, has become rare for us.

Word of mouth

I’ve found a couple of new companies in the state that offer an answer to my prayers. They allow me to make and package an assortment of gourmet meals — enough for an entire family – for less than I’d spend on a fancy meal for two. They provide the ingredients, so I can cook something different without spending A fortune on unusual — and expensive — groceries. And they offer fabulous incentives, such as free meals when you refer friends. They don’t spend a fortune on marketing, but they do market effectively by using the Internet to reach their customers and offer incentives to use their service repeatedly.

One of the most effective ways to promote your company during an economic downturn is word-of-mouth advertising, asking your colleagues, friends, customers, vendors and associates to serve as company ambassadors. When you reach out to others, people naturally want to help. That’s particularly important these days.

Never underestimate the power of networking! But, have you considered the power of online networking? I’m fascinated with online networking sites like LinkedIn and Twitter, which allow you to connect with people all over the world. This is a great way to meet potential business associates, offering you the opportunity to increase your client base, and even position yourself as an industry expert.

My staff and I regularly answer questions about marketing on LinkedIn, and these responses — and company information — are communicated to a huge audience … for free!

Consider adding an element to your business that can be profitable during tough times. A few months ago, I began a blog for working moms. This targeted demographic is very appealing to national advertisers today, and — you guessed it — my blog now has national advertising on it. These advertisers are hopeful that if they put their message in front of my readers, they may garner interest for their products.

I’m pleased because the blog allows me to share my insights and stories, while adding a revenue stream to my business.

It is critical to keep stoking the fire of your marketing campaign. And face it, keeping the fire burning now means you won’t have to rub two sticks together — starting from scratch! — when the economy improves. nhbr

Laurie J. Storey-Manseau, owner of StoreyManseau LLC, a full-service marketing firm, can be reached at 603-229-0278 or Laurie@StoreyManseau.com. Her blog is WIMS – Walking in My Sleep (walkinginmysleep.com).