The Economy Stinks, So Let's Close Our Eyes and Dance - January's Marketing Blog

Just in case you weren't aware, Barack Obama was inaugurated as our 44 President.  He made it clear in his speech that the economy is not well, and it will not heal itself for some time.  I suppose we didn't need the new President's inauguration speech to tell us the economy is bad.  I think we all know what is going on, but what does that mean to your marketing programs?  What does that mean to your budgets and your expenses, where should you hold back and where should you spend?  I will try to address some of these issues in this month's blog.

Spending Your Way Out

Some say that Ronald Reagan was the greatest Republican president, so you might remember what President Reagan advised us when we were in economic distress in the 1980s - he told us to spend.  I think this is good advice for these difficult times when it comes to marketing.  Often in tough times marketing budgets are cut to the bone in an attempt to reduce expenses.  These times call for greater differentiation, greater focus, more precise messaging and more precise targeting.  Tough times are times when one can stand out, where one can get attention when one might not have been able to get attention in the past.  It is time to step things up and take advantage of the fact that your competitors might have cut their marketing budgets.

I am in no way suggesting you should spend more than you have, but I am suggesting there are other places to cut rather than marketing. 

Things to Think About

Staffing Industry Analysts has the same challenges as you - we too have to do more with less.  Yet we still have to get our messages out and differentiate them amongst all of the other noise.  So when we talk about marketing in our offices, here is what we talk about:

  1. These are different times, therefore we have to do different things
  2. We have to execute flawlessly, now is not the time to make any execution mistakes
  3. Now is not the time to give things away, but to emphasize value
  4. Do we have the right message for the right audience at this time?
  5. How can we be smarter about our list purchases, media buys and our collateral usage

So, let's talk about each of the items above.

These ARE Different Times

At the end of the day many of us are worried about keeping our businesses intact, keeping our jobs and otherwise trying to prosper when things don't feel very prosperous.  This caused us to evaluate how we do our marketing cycles; here is what we are doing differently:

  1. We are marketing earlier and more often - I am actually sure you might have noticed this
  2. We are constantly working on headline copy, offers and using telesales to back up our direct marketing efforts - you might have noticed this as well
  3. We are being very deliberate about additional media purchases that tie to our direct marketing, both additional Web ads and print ads - ultimately we are trying to make sure that however one might receive the message, the message is being delivered
  4. We are tracking every single piece of marketing that goes out the door - whether it is postal, email, or print or on-line ads we are reviewing click throughs, bounce backs, postal returns, etc.
  5. We are cleaning our lists, purchasing additional lists we have not purchased before and we are measuring performance
  6. We are more controversial with our messages - you might have noticed this as well.  Like you, we need to stand out and sometimes a little controversy is a good thing

Executing Flawlessly

As the members of Staffing Industry Analysts' marketing team might tell you, they have received the proverbial kick in the butt.  Even though for months we talked about executing flawlessly we weren't.  Not to air the company laundry in my blog, but we missed dates for mailings, we were late on our plans and we were making errors.  This is a really bad time to make errors, so what did we do?  A couple of things:

  1. We started what we call at 10 at 10 meeting that the entire company is invited to.  We meet for 10 minutes at 10 o'clock on Mondays.  We communicate messages, offers, deals, etc. to everyone.  It is a stand-up meeting and communication has improved as a result
  2. We have another meeting on Monday to discuss our marketing messages for the week.  We review the lists to make sure the right message is going to the right audience and the right offer follows
  3. We have daily check-ins to see who needs help and where, and we move people around to support other team members

Don't Give it Away

As we all know, it is easy to sell 'free,' because 'free' sells.  But if you start giving your services away now, your customers will expect that you will give them away in the future.  If you stand your ground, continue to position the value of your services, perhaps add more value to your service, but continue to sell it, you are better positioned to sell in the future.

We all may have to deal with lower revenue numbers and a few lost customers.  Better to have that than huge losses in revenue because everything is free.  Let me remind you of what created the 'dot.com' demise - everything was free.  As my colleague Dana Shaw says, 'we will sell our way out of this.'  I think she is right and I think that is the best advice for us all.

The Right Message for the Right Audience

Now more than ever you have to get targeted messaging right.  This is the exact place where you can SAVE money.  If you focus, understand your customers and understand their needs you will not be sending out bad messages that miss their target.  Review your target audience at a strategy session.  Think about the services that you offer and make sure you have right service for the audience you are targeting.  Now is not the time to go broad, it is the time to go deep! 

Think about your customers/prospects pain points and clearly identify why your service solves their pain now.  NOW is a key component of the equation.  You want your customers/prospects to take action now, so you need to have the NOW solution.  Make sure your prospect lists clearly have the titles and or functions that meet your services.  If you are in IT staffing, you don't want to be selling to the marketing function. 

Challenge your ideas of messaging.  As I said above, be controversial; set your company a part from all others - as the saying goes, 'dare to be different.'  Don't hide in the woods and position your company as the same as the other guy, but less expensive.  That positioning and messaging is unlikely to work in the long run.

Buying Smarter

I just sat through a meeting with our sales team where we were reviewing sales prospects for our media services.  While it may sound self-serving, I really can't understand how companies are going to stay in business without any advertising.  Your prospects have to know you exist.  You can have your sales team call and knock on doors all you want, but part of the process is lubrication.  Every machine needs oil and marketing is the oil for the sales engine.  By not buying any media you are making the machine work harder and ultimately parts will break because it lacks the lubrication it needs.

If you are targeting your messages, if you are communicating clearly and executing well, if you accept that things are different now than they were in the past - you have to be different.  You have to communicate your differences to your audience and execute on those differences.  From a Staffing Industry Analysts point of view, here are some of the things we are doing differently:

  1. We are changing conference agendas.  Creating more pre-sessions and opportunities for sellers to meet buyers
  2. We are launching three new products in uncertain times.  Some people think we are foolish for launching three new products, but why not?  In these uncertain times, the new products might be the anecdote our customers need
  3. We are communicating differently with our customers.  We are creating higher touch systems to talk to each of you throughout the year
  4. We are expanding our media buys.  All of you know we were purchased by Crain Communications last year.  Well this year you will see ads for our services in Crain's publications and on their various websites

At the end of the day, we made the decision to expand our coverage, expand our footprint to get a more focused and targeted message out.  You should consider doing the same.

Swaying to the Music

Do you remember those awful high school dances when you just hung on to your partner and you just swayed to the music because neither one of you could really dance?  Well, dancing lessons and practice can help.  The same analogy applies to marketing.  You can't sway to the music; you have to be an active participant in your company's growth.  You have to be different, act different, buy different and talk differently.  Now is not the time to not spend, now is not the time to close your eyes and hope.  Now is the time to strike out and be different.  If you need lessons or help, get the lessons or help you need. Those who do will be the companies that will be around for the long haul.

Good luck!  As always, we love to hear your comments and thoughts.  If you have a great marketing idea, let's hear it!

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