You’ve heard it over and over again– economic downturns are THE BEST time to invest in marketing. Vendors are charging less for services, publications and broadcast media are slashing advertising rates and most importantly, public relations is more effective than ever.
That’s because during downturns, your competition (who isn’t as smart as you) is most likely laying low — and that means it’s a rare opportunity to really stand out. Anything you have to say is more likely heard. New customers are more likely to buy from you because you are visible when your competition is hiding out.
Time and time again, economic downturns (and how companies engage in marketing during these times) have proven to be the catalyst for making and breaking future market leaders.
This not to ignore the obvious fact that economic downturns also mean that, in all likelihood, revenues are down and there is less marketing dollars in the budget. The good news is that highly effective public relations does not have to be expensive. Here are a few basic ways to keep costs low while raising your visibility…and increasing your market share.
Narrow Your Focus – One of the biggest marketing mistakes that businesses often make is trying to position itself and its products as the be-all solution for everyone and everything. In doing so, they spend large sums of money… and wind up being nothing special to anyone at all.
If your current PR campaign targets several audiences, narrow it down to one. If your messages tout five things that your product does better than the competition, cut it down to the single most important differentiator. This is a good practice no matter what your budget may be.
Brenner Associates brought on a client that created e-learning courses. They could put together a course on almost any subject. The courses could be offered directly to students via the Internet, sold to traditional brick-and-mortar colleges or used as a corporate training tool. When we began working with this client, they tried to do it all. This was not only expensive but it made it impossible to position the company in any way that really made them stand out.
After a bit of research, we determined that the best opportunities were in providing electronic engineering courses to companies looking to improve staff expertise. While the client continued to offer other services, it focused all of its marketing attention on positioning itself as the number one education company for engineers looking to advance their careers. It worked. They soon became the leading provider of course work for some of the largest technology companies in the world. Once they clearly dominated this market, they leveraged their success in engineering to expand into other business-related subjects.
Stay On Objectives: A great way to measure a marketing professional’s strategic capabilities is to note the number of times he or she reverts strategy conversations back to objectives. The more the better. An experienced marketer knows it is so easy to get off track. Before you realize it, you can become mired down in a lot of tactics that keep you very busy, but in the final analysis, have little influence over helping you reach your goals.
No matter how creative the tactic or how sexy the message, if it doesn’t help you meet your objectives it’s most likely a budget suck and one worth cutting. Review your current activities. Measure them against your original objectives and then cut out the fat.
Co-op Marketing: Why not share the cost? Chances are, your company partners with others also dealing with a shrinking marketing budget. By working together, you can implement significant campaigns for a fraction of the cost.
Instead of leaving chocolate mints on their guest’s beds, we suggested that a hotel looking to promote the advantages of their downtown location begin leaving movie tickets on pillows. By partnering with a local movie theatre the hotel got free tickets for their guests and the movie theatre sold a lot more popcorn. Everyone came out a winner.
Use The Web: The Internet now makes it possible to reach thousands of customers – in ways that can potentially get much more bang for the buck than traditional PR tactics. I find this to be particularly true for campaigns that focus on regional markets where traditional print media is limited to a single paper and perhaps the local business journal.
In the long run, digital marketing tactics such as blogging, monitoring, posting, linking, and engaging with parties of mutual interest can have an enormous effect on driving customers to your website and securing a strong leadership position within your industry.
Sample components of a budget-minded online public relations program may include:
A Grade-A web site – the objective of most Internet tactics is to drive people to your website (and satisfy the first two phases of the buying cycle). You want to make sure that once a potential customer arrives at your site, he or she does more than just look and go away.
SEO fundamentals– You can engage in all sorts of (expensive) search engine optimization routines designed to analyze and track visitors to your website. At a minimum, however, you want to make sure you are doing the fundamentals right and taking advantage of every opportunity you have to increase your Google search engine rankings. Engaging in these fundamentals can be a fairly quick and inexpensive process.
Using news releases – As discussed in an earlier blog, news release aren’t simply for reporters any more. Used strategically, a press release can drive people to your site and make the phones ring.
Monitor and engage – Chances are, your next customer is already engaged in Internet activities – either participating in an industry forum, writing his or her own blog or simply reading what others are posting. Monitoring and participating in relevant conversations can be a goldmine of new sales opportunities. Implementing a relatively inexpensive PR tactic involved with monitoring and responding to online chatter can turn a single comment into a conversation that spreads across the Internet – with you and your company positioned as the industry experts – and communicating with those who are most interested in your products and services.
E-mail – A permission-based e-mail marketing campaign can quickly engage hundreds, or even thousands of existing customers. Case in point: a local organization was sponsoring a lecture by a well-known media tycoon. Original PR efforts garnered coverage in the local business journal and a listing in the business calendar of the city’s newspaper. Two weeks prior to the event, however, only 5 RSVPs had been returned. We then began a permission-based e-mail campaign for the company – one that was directed at an audience they knew would be interested – their current customers. Those passing the e-mail on to others were rewarded with a $1 discount on their admission. The event took place to a standing room only crowd.