A B2B Marketing Perspective
Right now, business marketers are struggling. An unsure marketplace is rife with a whole lot of crisis-based unknowns. Some feel the need to tell customers and prospects we are here for them, ready to respond to their every need. Others want to hype product benefits and availability, often at a reduced price. A few even appear to go dark by completely shutting down their customer interaction.
Although our current situation is unprecedented, the experienced marketer knows that cutting back on communication during any slow-down or crisis is not the best strategy. You will risk losing customers, share of mind, brand equity and business. Seasoned marketers also understand that those who continue to communicate with customers and prospects will emerge from the downturn stronger, with more loyal customers, enlightened prospects and greater brand recognition. They will also enjoy quicker economic recovery, often eclipsing their competitors.
In a recent column penned by MediaPost’s Robert Passikoff, he asserts the adage “When times are good, you should advertise. When times are bad, you must advertise.” He supports his argument by citing statistics from past crises that prove companies that advertise during a crisis fare much better than those that cut their marketing budgets and activity. Read it here.
According to Forbes, a natural reaction in a crisis or a recession is for advertisers to cut back. Those brands that maintain their budget or change their messaging can achieve a long-lasting boost in sales and market share.
During a crisis or business slow down, you may choose to employ either a customer retention strategy or a ramp up of your business’ marketing program to help ensure you not only survive the period, but thrive. You should avoid the temptation to cease or slow your communication with your many audiences.
Customers purchase your products and services because they know and trust them – and your brand – which in turn offers them peace of mind. It may have taken you a considerable amount of time and effort to attract your customers, so keeping them loyal is certainly job one during an economic crisis. After all, effective marketing messages reinforce an emotional connection with your brand, making it hard to choose another. Here are a few suggestions for ways to keep in front of your customers or to reward them for their loyalty:
A good customer retention strategy includes reinforcing customer purchases by continuing to promote your brands and by letting them know you appreciate their business. Your customers do want to hear from you, so keep them informed – on a regular basis – about what is happening in the company, with your products and what is coming down the road. News on product innovation, performance results, customer use or application, and how the company continues to invest in the industry will help keep customers interested and aware, and encourage continued purchases.
You may choose to reward continued purchases by employing a customer loyalty program where customers receive free goods, discounts, points toward future purchases and other premiums. They will appreciate the gesture, the premiums and being thanked for remaining a customer.
Preferred Customer Pricing or Deals
Like a formal loyalty program, special pricing for existing customers goes a long way toward showing your gratitude for their purchases. You may also choose to offer more relaxed payment terms or zero-interest payments for those who buy today. The feeling that you elicit from your customers when you understand their predicament during hard times will not be forgotten.
Show your customers you support their industry and their customers by sponsoring trade associations, online events and those businesses allied with their industry. Sponsorships are an effective way to stay engaged, promote your brand and lend your support in non-promotional ways that register with customers and prospects.
Like sponsoring an industry event, the cooperative effort between a for-profit company and a non-profit organization shows your audiences you are there to help. Profit-generating, powerful global brands have the resources to raise awareness of nonprofit organizations, while also promoting their brand or product. Cause-related marketing is a respected and accepted business practice that boosts customer loyalty and exposes your brand to prospective audiences, earning improved brand reputation and awareness.
While shying away from advertising is not a good idea, keep in mind the sensitivity of the marketplace. Consider the rawness of the collective emotional landscape. Make sure the ads you put out or causes you support do not come across as insincere, tone deaf or elicit feelings of too much, too soon. Consider creative approaches that attract attention yet remain direct and practical in their messaging.
More Assertive Approaches
As your competitors slow their marketing efforts during these trying times it gives you the opportunity to earn their customer’s business. Yes, product loyalty can be fickle and may easily be swayed, so work this to your advantage by demonstrating your product’s benefits while your competitors are mum about theirs.
The customer retention strategies above can also work to get the attention of prospects. Consider employing the following:
Your Media Dollars Go Farther
The cost of advertising during a downturn may actually drop, making your media dollars go farther. Whether you use print, digital, broadcast or out-of-home media, there are some incredible rates and deals available to those willing to negotiate. So, consider increasing your media spend during a downturn and you will most likely emerge stronger. You may even leapfrog your competition in the process.
Short-term price reductions can attract buyers who have yet to purchase your products. When the economy bounces back, regular pricing can return. In the meantime, you have added new customers to your brand who, after experiencing your products first-hand, are more likely to repurchase.
Perhaps a more attractive strategy is to offer better terms in lieu of price reductions, like zero-interest payments or extended payment terms allowing new buyers to stretch their dollars while sampling your products.
Always in demand by the business media, a well-constructed case study provides the proof needed to sway prospects to try what you have to offer. Seeing your products or services positively showcased through an actual customers’ eyes is about the most powerful sales tool there is. You already have satisfied customers, so why not tell their story to an audience eager to hear it?
Selling to the C-suite
While marketing executives, managers and directors may believe that advertising in a downturn is a sound strategy, the company’s top leadership may not. They may view advertising as a line-item expense, not an investment in their brand and future. Yet, selling or convincing the c-suite leadership to continue or increase marketing spend during tough times can be a daunting task for some. Here are a few tips to consider as you make your case:
Do your Research
Obtain data, expert opinion and examples that back your argument for maintaining or increasing marketing. Present the ideas you have in a manner that is informative and easy for the executive to take into consideration. It’s your job to keep your boss informed and up to date, so make sure your input is backed with information that establishes you as an expert in your field. Ideally, your idea becomes their idea, making it much easier to implement.
Hold a Conversation
Above all, schedule your one-on-one meeting as a request for a conversation, not a presentation. Then conduct the conversation with confidence, with the goal of educating the individual or setting the stage for future talks where you seek their input or approval for your recommendations. As you bring them more insight and useful information, they will begin to view you as an asset to the organization, seeking your input as market conditions change, effectively bringing you into their inner circle and opening the door for providing counsel on other big-picture topics unrelated to marketing.
Dropping out of the marketplace by reducing or eliminating your advertising and marketing during a downturn can result in lowered brand and product awareness, effectively opening the door to your competitors. Keeping your customers and prospects aware of your product benefits, company commitment to the industry and their businesses will pay-off in the short- and long-term as businesses begin to recover and customers ramp up their spending.