Marketing in a Down Economy: How to make the most of your marketing dollars

by Kate Brodock on 22 February 2009

Posted in: From the Field

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This past Thursday, the New Marketing Special Interest Group of TiE Boston put on an event that focused on how to think about and handle your marketing in a down economy.  I’ve offered below a summary of the panel talk.

As I mentioned at the end of the event, I encourage anyone with questions left unanswered to start a discussion in the comments section.

Anything [in brackets] are either additions by myself (I tried to keep them very limited, and most of them are to keep you on track) and anything in italics are some key points that came through in the comments.

Key take aways:

  • It isn’t all about new media.  It’s about creating the most effective marketing program which will involve components of new media alongside components of digital media and traditional media.
  • There was a large emphasis on doing your research.  Find out where your customers are, how you solve their problems, and how to communicate that to them.  You’ll get the most effective marketing campaigns if you do that process right.
  • New media allows you to use many inexpensive tools to reach your customer.  You don’t need to have a huge budget to accomplish a lot using Web2.0 tools.  It’s applicable in both the B2C and the B2B space.
  • The new form of marketing encourages engaging with your customer, and much of this is done online.  Start conversations and join in discussions.  At the very least, know where your brand is online and how it’s being portrayed.
  • Nurturing current customers is very helpful in an economy like this, and can be leveraged to your benefit.
  • Measurement of any any marketing program is not only incredibly important, but also very helpful when thinking about future marketing campaigns.

Marketing in a Down Economy: How to get the most out of your marketing spend

Courtesy of Andrew Stein

Panelists:

Moderator, Douglas Banks, Editor of Mass High Tech
Altaf Shaikh, Founder & CEO, List Engage, Inc
Ameeta Soni, Senior Vice President of Marketing & Business Development, VFA Inc
Praveen Ramanathan, Founder & Managing Partner, Ayantek
Bob Collins, VP of New Media Strategy, SHIFT Communications

Discussion [Please note, this is not verbatim, and has been shortened to provide you with the up-front value]

Question: What are just a few words of wisdom that you have for looking at the current economy?

Altaf: Realize you’re in a down economy and face it. Look at your marketing spend and move forward.

Bob: There’s been a fundamental reset in the economy, but it’s also social and cultural.  The way in which people are engaging in conversations is online.  Develop content that attracts people to the brand. Remember that people don’t want to be marketed to.

Question: Customer and clients are probably flattening spending or spending less.  As marketers, how do you adjust your message or engage customers when that’s an issue?

Ameeta: We’ve adjusted our marketing spend, it’s going to be higher, and we’ve got new hires.  Now’s the time to gain mind-share and market-share.  We certainly do new media, but we also do a lot of everything else.

Altaf: Try to understand what’s hurting your customers and clients, and adjust your services appropriately.  This isn’t the time to cut spending.  Marketing is muscle.  To build a relationship over time, and then reduce your communications when times are tough is not the right mentality.  Stay top of mind so when they’re ready to buy, you’re there.  Look at your spend, see where you can best nurture these relationships.  80% of your revenue comes from 20% of customers, go for them.

Bob: You don’t need to be everywhere, just where your customers are and your prospects are.  Figure out where are your customers gathering at, and focus there.  Is what you’re offering useful to my potential customer?  What’s the value to the end customer?  Budgets come back, be accommodating and flexible, but do it in a way that you’re adjusting your scope, identifying what’s the most valuable immediately and focusing on that.  Also, remember there are many different inexpensive tools out there.

Praveen: Your best customers will come from the ones you nurture the most. In any industry, it’s always more difficult to go out and find new customers, rather than nurturing your current ones… where can your marketing spend be most useful?  Leverage existing relationships.  You can control this through your marketing mix (new programs vs existing programs, offline vs digital, etc).  It’s not just about new media, look at the entire picture, and the whole span of marketing program.

Ameeta: Lead nurturing works very well.  There are some very good marketing automation systems that you can use to get the right content figured out.  Track what your marketing programs are doing and really figure out how to allocate your resources on the most successful programs.

Bob: The closer you can get to the executive team, the stronger the relatinoship will be.

Altaf: Marketing automation system does very well.. you can track programs fully with a good CRM program.

Praveen: How do you invest?  It’s about finding the appropriate individual and contacting them directly.  Don’t downplay the value and effect of offline channels.

Bob: Where your customers are, what value-add can you provide.  What’s resonating and what’s not?

Altaf: There are a variety of software solutions out there for all sorts of companies, big and small.

Question: What about product portfolios?  Cutting products? Adjusting pricing?  What are you hearing about?  Something’s getting cut, what’s it going to be?

Bob: Expand your offering to fit the immediate business problems of your customers, diversify your portfolio and focus minimally on the long-term.  Developing partnerships is also a way to go for some people.

Praveen: Figure out what your differentation strategy is.  Look at your product mix, find where your customers are, and figure out how to channel your marketing to align with those needs.  What do you customers want? Understand their voice and the process they go through to select a product.  Target that.

Ameeta: Continually revisit your assumptions every six months or a year… where do you need to tweek or shift?

Altad: Diversification is a Catch 22.  Some sectors are doing well, some are not.  Luckily we were diversified: retail needs us, but we’re also not letting the financial sector go away.  Who do you want to stick with?  But diversification may take a lot of resources and expertise.

Bob: [On diversification] You can’t just go after the new shiny object and showcase an expertise you don’t have.  Look at what your capabilities are and what can you offer that you haven’t shown your current or potential clients.

Praveen: In B2B, you really focus on an industry that’s not so mass market, so the way you structure your marketing plans can be very different.  [Case study for B2B] One of our clients offered a collaboration tools to all of its Tier One customers to really develop that relationship.  They can share information on new products that haven’t even been produced.  That will pay itself off in leaps and bounds in this economy because you’re providing them access to info that they can use to build next generation of products [while developing stronger, long-lasting relationships.]

Bob: That process is also invaluable to you because you understand better what’s important on the ground floor.

Ameeta: Partnerships can really help.  New markets take time and effort, so look for complimentary marketing.

Question: Branding and market share.  When you have a down economy, you can be a turtle, or you can buy yourself market share.  We all know you should do the latter, but how? Do you identify new partners and markets?  What are some new strategies?

Ameeta: Just as you go back to customers first, and similarly partners, check who you’ve engaged with in the last year or so and gotten traction from, and decide if you can approach them first.  Can you introduce new product or get into a new market together.  Find out what you can do more easily.

Altaf: The common philosophy is t just try to keep the lights on and get through 2009… but for others, this is the time to do more prospecting.  There are great data modelling tools you can use to look at your customers and identify what makes them great, then see if you can find more like them.  Develop a strategy to go after these folks.  Branding isn’t enough.  You can’t expect your message is going to stick in such an economy.  When your list [of prospects] is wrong, nothing else matters.  So identify customer segment well.

Ameta: Go after your customers in the most inexpensive and creative ways. Using things like guerrilla marketing and new media can give  small companies a great presence on the web.

Bob: Develop education [content] for your client base and potential client base.  Do a series on interviewing an expert in field to showcase the benefit of your product.  Do it with a regular camera, get it up, get it out there.  Develop content. Find experts in your company to develop that expertise.  It doesn’t need to be an eBook, but make sure it’s spreadable and sharable.
Altaf: A lot of companies think branding means spending a lot of money.  [Case study for inexpensive branding programs]  Disney was given a huge budget, and instead hired seven bloggers, gave them exclusive access to behind-the-scenes information to blog about before “launch” and then let them spread the information along. [If anyone has any direct links to this case study, please pass them along].  You don’t need a huge budget for this type of marketing.

Bob: Yes, they spent their time creating valuable content.

Praveen: New media can play a really good part in this process.  One thing new media does is levels the playing field.  It doesn’t matter if you’re huge or teensy.  It gives you a leg up if you do it correctly within a small company.

Bob: Even print editions are getting online, sometimes more of the value is coming from comments section, which allows for conversation.

Q: Even within small companies there may be different views.  Give a two sentence description and what value you provide, be as clear as possibile, for when your describing.  In an entrepreneurial environment, with some people seeing things differently, is it that they’re defining the problems differently?  How can you manage the different veiwpoints in-house?  Assuming the brand is strong external, what if internal brand isn’t so strong? [Combination of moderator question and question from the audience]

Praveen: We’re all in the business of providing value: you define the need, and how you fulfill it. It’s such a fundamental question to answer.  When you communicate that externally, it needs to come from a very defined set of people.  Twitter is a prime example of this… many companies have dedicated professionals.  This is more of a business strategy discussion.

Bob: IBM is a good example of this: there are so many services, but they do a really good job of keeping the same brand across this.

Praveen: What new media does is it creates the challenge of “guerilla marketing”…. other individuals can take your brand name into channels and do what they will with it.  Understand who those people are outside the company [whether they're users, ex-users, competitors etc] and how they’re communicating the brand.

Bob: It’s not a broadcast.  You can get an amazing amount done without having a blog or website or anything, just by engaging in conversation online.

Ak: If you’re small, and lucky enough to have a customer or two, ask them why they worked with you.  Take that information and use it.

Ameeta: Your customers can sell for you.

Question: Your customers ask about ROI, prove it to us.  What do you say?

Bob: Sales, at the end of the day, is the ultimate ROI, but along the way, you evaluate what you need to measure.  Make your goals, and determine how to measure them in the beginnging.

Altaf: Analytics and ROI are very useful and important.  What do you attribute the sale to?  Matchback analysis [simply put, figuring out where the end sale "came from"]  is a tricky subject.  What can help you or go a long way?  If you can cookie your prospects (1st or 3rd party), and you know where they’re going, you can get a lot of information.  That’s the type of ROI that I would take back to C-level executives: “These are channels that are helping towards the sale.”

Praveen: Think about it as entire marketing channel advertising. How can you build compaigns that cut across these tools?  Which tool is required for particular campaign?

Bob: Get access to clients analytics.  Not necessarily about where you think you want to go.

Praveen: You want to be careful, attribution across different channels is almost a pipedream.  Connecting the activities in your campaign across a given period of time is great, but it’s difficult to do over the long-term.

Ameeta: Sometime time gets stretched over 6-9 months.  Profile your ideal customera and figure our how you’re going to reach them. If you get that down, you’re going to get better ROI because you’re reaching the right people.

Bob: What’s the big critical barrier to get into the B2B space?  Your customers are not asking questions about you.  [Client case study] We recommended that every quarter, their client company round-up their customers, and they have conversations every quarter with them.  All they did in their reports was tell the story about the engagement with the customer and what the critical factors were to reaching them.

Question: I want to hit new media, digital media (email marketing, webmarketing) and traditional media.  How are can these be used most efficiently?

Altaf: When people think of email marketing, they think of batch and blast.  What this means is that it’s on your timetable, not their timetable.   There are many missed opportunities in this approach. We like to think of “drip marketing automation“.  When someone signs up, do you have a process that goes out, and engages them with a further “nurture series” to follow up on what they’ve proved to be interested in [instead of simply hitting them with the next "batch"].  If you give them a 30-day trial, nurture that 30-days!  It gives you much better open rates, an d great ROI.

Ameeta: Email marketing needs to be part of a concerted portfolio and broken out to what people are interested in.  Webinars work well…. for initial interest.  You need to break it out to get real, lasting interest.  We don’t just do something that’s pure new media or digital…. it’s a mix.  If we do a direct mailing, we spend a lot of time developing the right list and we’ve had huge success rates by doing that.

Praveen: I like to think of Social Media Optimization.  It’s a channel in it’s own right.  Create your brand in various social media channels, connect the information across the board with their partners.  Look beyond personal networking, and think about company networking.  Build link pages.  These pages can drive traffic to your site.  Invest the time to build branded pages across platforms and increase the number of linked pages coming into your site.  Use new media as a platform to humanize your product so consumers can connect with you.

Bob: Have an opportunity to have a real engagement and conversation around issues.  1) Listen!  Do searches, read converastions, then engage.  2) Anything you’re doing from a traditional standpoint, see if you can socialize it. Get it out there..  It’s not about broadcasting!  It’s about honest conversation.

Altaf: A lot of companies put their best material behind lock and key.  Realize what you can give away for free.  [reference to World Wide Rave, by David Meerman Scott]

Question from audience: What do you do if the decision-makers don’t embrace the new media technology?

Bob: Tell them that their buyers are online.  Google likes Web2.0, influence it.

Praveen:  [BU Case Study] BU was finding their normal marketing channels (radio, newspaper) saturated with every other business school in the area.  So they took out an ad that directed readers to their online services, and offered there a series of testimonials from several prominent BU MBA graduates as a “discussion.”  It was wildly successful.

Kate: Connect the concept to marketing.  Many people think of new media as a separate, new thing and that scares them.  When you relate it directly to marketing (it is marketing!) and communicate as a new tool set to enhance marketing, people start to get it more.

What were some of your takeaways?  Was anything left unanswered for you?  How does your company deal with marketing in a down economy?

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  • http://www.polarityinc.com Steve Patti

    Here's the great thing about the economic meltdown — it's going to separate the marketers from the pretenders. When prosperity is high for all industries, marketers are lazy in spending without quantifying performance or ROI on their tactics & sales funnels. There are too many CMO's who cannot answer basic questions about how their tactics are performing, the nature & quality of the customers they are attracting (LTV, reference power, social web leverage, etc).

    Ad agencies are unable to help because they are in the business of delivering “impressions” instead of sales. So marketers are left to navigate Linked In groups, conferences, and an endless list of consultants promising a better way.

    The answer is to go back to basics and recognize EVERY marketing tactic you can name had better accomplish one of the following: Awareness, Consideration, Purchase (remember the sales funnel?)

    What's more, the same principles used to manage a paid search ad campaign can be applied in offline channels — that is, isolating tactics, campaigns, conversion rates, and resulting sales dollars/profits (we'll show you how in a separate discussion).

    If you're an ad agency getting squeezed by clients cutting their budgets on “interruption” advertising and you're searching for how to offer a measurable marketing service where you actually integrate multiple tactics and measure/adjust along the sales funnel, we can help. Ditto for companies where marketers are now being asked to justify each campaign and/or cut budgets.

    With respect to cutting marketing budgets, how can you possibly identify which tactics or campaigns to cut if you don't know their performance, ROI, or sales contribution? There are companies out there spending $1500 to acquire a $2500 customer sales @ 20% GPM ($500). Why? Because they are not isolating specific sales back to specific sales funnels to understand where the waste is originating.

    Let us help you — no Powerpoint, just results.

  • http://www.polarityinc.com Steve Patti

    Here's the great thing about the economic meltdown — it's going to separate the marketers from the pretenders. When prosperity is high for all industries, marketers are lazy in spending without quantifying performance or ROI on their tactics & sales funnels. There are too many CMO's who cannot answer basic questions about how their tactics are performing, the nature & quality of the customers they are attracting (LTV, reference power, social web leverage, etc).

    Ad agencies are unable to help because they are in the business of delivering “impressions” instead of sales. So marketers are left to navigate Linked In groups, conferences, and an endless list of consultants promising a better way.

    The answer is to go back to basics and recognize EVERY marketing tactic you can name had better accomplish one of the following: Awareness, Consideration, Purchase (remember the sales funnel?)

    What's more, the same principles used to manage a paid search ad campaign can be applied in offline channels — that is, isolating tactics, campaigns, conversion rates, and resulting sales dollars/profits (we'll show you how in a separate discussion).

    If you're an ad agency getting squeezed by clients cutting their budgets on “interruption” advertising and you're searching for how to offer a measurable marketing service where you actually integrate multiple tactics and measure/adjust along the sales funnel, we can help. Ditto for companies where marketers are now being asked to justify each campaign and/or cut budgets.

    With respect to cutting marketing budgets, how can you possibly identify which tactics or campaigns to cut if you don't know their performance, ROI, or sales contribution? There are companies out there spending $1500 to acquire a $2500 customer sales @ 20% GPM ($500). Why? Because they are not isolating specific sales back to specific sales funnels to understand where the waste is originating.

    Let us help you — no Powerpoint, just results.

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