Why Now is the Best Time to Crank Up Your Marketing

Experts say that while some cutting is probably necessary, this is actually the time to take advantage of a marketing environment that is less cluttered, less expensive, and ripe with opportunity for smart businesses. By Tisha Crews Keller

 Strike While the Iron is HotWhy Now is the Best Time to Crank Up Your MarketingBy Tisha Crews Keller

Leaving marketing out of your budget is almost a recipe for disaster—it’s that crucial. You know this, but when the chips are down, it’s hard not to take a second look at those ad dollars.

Chances are, you’ve looked at your marketing budget for 2009 and reasoned that at least some of that money would be better spent elsewhere. With the economy in a downward spiral and dire predictions about this sour economy lasting well into 2010, you’re not alone as an executive calling for cuts across the budget spreadsheet.

Take a deep breath, though, before you cripple that marketing budget. Experts say that while some cutting is probably necessary, this is actually the time to take advantage of a marketing environment that is less cluttered, less expensive, and ripe with opportunity for smart businesses.

“A lot of businesses are trying to entirely cut their marketing budget. It’s the wrong thing to do,” Caron Sjogen, President of Pensacola-based Ideaworks, points out. “You can actually spend less because everyone is competing for ad dollars, so it’s less expensive to get your message out. It’s a good time to spend less than you were, but you don’t want to totally stop marketing.”

“Even the larger companies, health care and contractors, have to cut back because nobody has the budgets they had two years ago,” she says.

From a purely academic standpoint, it never pays to severely cut your marketing, even in the worst of times. Bob Kimball, marketing professor at the University of West Florida agrees with Sjogen that this is absolutely not the time to cut a marketing budget.

“This is the time you need such funding,” he says. “It’s just a fact that in the short-term, firms have to make cuts where they can, despite the fact that there may be long-term costs involved. The thinking is, ‘I need to make my numbers today, and I’ll worry about tomorrow later.’ Of course, by then, the [customer] may have moved on.”

Almost everyone in the industry will tell you that cutting your marketing to the bone will have a lasting negative effect on your bottom line—and you may never recover.

Curtis Zimmerman, President of the Zimmerman Agency in Tallahassee, points out that this is not the first time the economy has bitten into marketing budgets. His multi-faceted marketing firm serves national and statewide clients to the tune of $160 million in yearly revenue.

Even at the highest levels, he see that most companies are pressured to either change their marketing budget or get more for their buck.

Many larger companies, he says, learned the hard way the importance of their marketing, even in a recession. “There isn’t as much cutting as there was after 9/11 and in 1991 and 1987. Those downturns taught businesses that if they cut too much they will damage the brand for the future,” he observes.


Going Public

Zimmerman advises his clients that in today’s economy, they should look at not cutting marketing, but at ways to use it differently. Some clients can decrease their overall marketing budget and still increase the ROI by using a different media mix. All clients want better efficiency, no matter the budget.

To do this, he says, most companies can shift more money and resources to public relations and new media to keep the ROI up and still spend less money.

“Public relations is amazingly effective,” Sjogen says. One news release for Nature Trail, her client in Pensacola, garnered extensive coverage for the new development. Buying an ad the size of the editorial that sprung from that release would likely have been costly and not as effective. News stories and magazine articles are more effective because, since they’re not ads, the public sees them as more credible.

Gail Martin of DreamSpinner Communications in Charlotte, NC, preaches the benefits of PR. “PR is long on creativity and short on cost,” she says. Showing your expertise and building credibility is a great way to increase visibility.

During tough economic times, Martin suggests being the cool and collected one during the panic. “Show thought leadership,” she says, and show customers why it’s ok to keep buying in the midst of a real or perceived crisis.

In a recent MarketingProfs online workshop, Martin suggested ways to emerge as a “thought” leader in your industry. Post articles, write blogs and op-eds, give presentations and find other creative ways to get out front.

Sanderson Farms, a poultry supplier and a Zimmerman Agency client, recently embarked on its own public relations campaign.

Sanderson’s profits are affected by such things as the cost of oil and corn, and consumer habits like eating out (which drops off during a recession). PR is a huge part of their marketing because it’s cheaper to do and more effective. Zimmerman orchestrated a series of chef appearances on news shows and elsewhere to give demonstrations and talk about how to cut food costs, make meals stretch further, etc., all using Sanderson’s product.

In this way, people aren’t being asked outright to buy Sanderson’s chicken, but seeing the product tied to a cost-saving way to do something makes customers feel better, more in control, and ties the product to that feeling.


Listen to What They’re Thinking

During a downturn, customers are inherently interested in a “safety” message, says Jay Hamilton-Roth, a national consultant for MarketingProfs.com. He points out that marketers should focus on the emotions behind buying behavior to affect the motivation.

“Align your product with a safety (security) message to connect with consumers during a crisis,” he says. Ways of doing this are to make your product a need, not a want; make it a small luxury; and reframe your message to target safety (think diamonds as investments rather than gifts).

Right now, your customers want value and to get more for—not necessarily to spend less of—their money.

Be wary, Zimmerman warns, of positioning yourself as the low price leader. “Building a brand and building revenue are not mutually exclusive,” he points out. “If you position yourself as cheap during a downturn, you won’t ever recover. Make sure your brand doesn’t change—protect it.”

UWF’s Kimball agrees. “Stress value, not fluff in products, and stick to the basics,” he says. “Do more promotion and probably a little less advertising, but don’t cut … to the point that you make your product a price-based commodity.”


Measure Twice, Cut Once

So, if cutting marketing to the bone isn’t the answer, then what is? Most executives know that at least something has to come out of every budget line.

This takes us back to Zimmerman’s original point that businesses have to find better ways to use their marketing dollars.

He believes that the key to successful marketing is prudent planning.

“Small businesses don’t believe that what big business does is relevant to them [because of the size difference], but that’s not true,” he says. “Small businesses run on revenue projections, while the big buys run on earnings reports. It’s the same principle.”

One thing business people must do, he says, is to project for future revenue rather than look back at missed revenue. Both small and large business owners have one thing in common: how easy it is to lose sleep at night.

In terms of marketing, both Zimmerman and Sjogen believe in measuring results constantly and changing the marketing mix to grow profits. The more agile you can be, the better your results.

“If your business has a cash register, it’s easy to measure your marketing effectiveness,” Zimmerman observes.

“But to measure effectiveness for service providers, the key is to make sure you project earnings for the year and measure against those every day, rather than just how much you’ve brought in so far,” he says.

This helps you manage your business better because you can change what you’re doing on a dime. For instance, if you are using a combination of online ads and paid search, you can change keywords very quickly if your revenues aren’t meeting your projections today or this week. You can see the results of that change tomorrow.

Sjogen says this works well when your Web site is tied to your print advertising or other media. “If I run an ad in the newspaper on Sunday, I’m going to see on Sunday and Monday how many people went to my site and I’ll know they saw the ad,” she says.

Having consistent messages and a call to action in your advertising that ties one thing to another is a smart way to get basic metrics on your marketing.

Another simple—yet very powerful—way to do this is just to ask, “How did you hear about us?” Sjogen says to keep a record of those responses. If you’re doing a good job of tracking this, then you know what media is working for you.


The Internet—The New Phone Book

It goes without saying that the Internet has changed the way all of us do business. But in the world of marketing, if you’re not online, you’re not in the marketplace.

In her “DIY Marketing” workshops, Sjogen teaches the number one priority for any client is to have a Web site. She points out that 68% of people who see a newspaper ad will go online to research further, and more than 78% of those will go on to purchase.

She’s a firm believer in traditional media such as print, television and radio, but it’s expensive so it’s where most people are cutting budgets.

Even traditional advertising channels must point back to one more way for folks to get to the point of purchase, Zimmerman explains.

“There are digital strategies that can apply to everyone: Wikipedia, FaceBook—these are basic things for online exposure,” Zimmerman adds. “If your audience is never online, then you don’t need to advertise online.”

In the dizzying world of blogs, wikis, social media, and millions of other ways to be connected, protecting your reputation is critical.

While some industries such as health care don’t necessarily benefit directly from online advertising, basic “good” content building is a must.

For instance, Zimmerman asks, how will a doctor counter a negative blog entry if they don’t have any good content already out there? People shop for a doctor long before they need one, so building those good impressions is very important.


They Didn’t Build Rome in a Day

Once you’ve decided to stick with marketing, experts say you should also stick with your campaign for a while.

According to Sjogen, a good image has got to be the basis for marketing.

“It’s not something you can run once and stop,” she says. “You have to get it out there and run it a long time. When you are sick of your ad and logo, that’s when people are starting to remember it.”

Traditionally, research shows consumers have to be exposed to a consistent message seven times before they can accurately recall it.

You can do a simple coupon or call to action once in a while, but it doesn’t replace the image and brand building.

Building your image is more than just buying ads and a catchy slogan. “It’s how you answer the phone and pay your bills on time. You don’t want to waste [your marketing] by not following through with what you promise in your advertsing,” Sjogen warns.

Persistence is a common theme in business, and it applies no less to marketing. In this downturn, keep your aim high and the payoff is sure to come. Zimmerman sees a very bad trend in too many marketers trying to portray the bad economy as a reason to buy products.

“People need to see your company as a positive beacon,” he says.

While it may be difficult to bite the bullet and squeeze efficiencies out of your company, do it for the sake of your brand, your image, and your revenue projections.

“I speak from my own business,” Sjogen says. “It’s a little fearful to go out and spend money, but to survive, businesses are going to have to. You absolutely cannot cut it out. You’ll see an impact if you keep marketing.”



Simple Ways to Market on a Dime


  1. Increase your PR activities and find creative ways to reach your target market.
  2. Reframe your value proposition into a “safety/security” message during a recession.
  3. Look at your Web site again and invest in making it more efficient and useful.
  4. Investigate online alerts and analytics to increase your Web site effectiveness.
  5. Start a business blog.
  6. Project revenues and be prepared to change course to meet them.
  7. Talk to your customers about what they want and need. (This is not a sales talk.)
  8. Understand the value you provide to your customer and be able to relate that to them.
  9. Give incentives for customer referrals – the most valuable lead you will ever get.
  10. make customer service your #1 priority. The best marketing you can do right now is deliver superior customer service at a reasonable cost.

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