Marketing tends to be seen by many business owners as a soft function, one of the first spending areas to be cut when times are tough. But of course it is not only one of the most vital functions of a business, but, counter-intuitively, the slower the economy, the more your investment in your marketing effort needs to be.
Fortunately, the investment does not have to be cash – you can cut your marketing budget provided you increase your marketing effort in other ways such as increasing the focus of your team on marketing or spending more time on it yourself.
Here are ten ideas to help focus your marketing effort:
1. Cut the waste, but be careful not to over-prune
You can be pretty certain that the Pareto principle applies to marketing efforts that are left to sprawl. In other words, 80% of your successes come from only 20% of your marketing efforts. You therefore have lots of opportunity to cut activities that yield no results if you have not been pruning your marketing activities before.
But be careful, because unlike functions such as production or administration, the results of your interventions in the marketing side of your business are not always immediately apparent. Making contact with a customer for the first time may not persuade him immediately, but may be the crucial first step in a whole series of contacts that will result in a sale in six months’ time.
Subject your marketing efforts to the same rigid cost-cutting and efficiency that every part of your business has to undergo in these tough times, but when you do so, remember that the results of marketing efforts are often pending. It can take years of constant attention and experimentation before a business owner can be sure which marketing plans actually work.
2. Mine your existing customers
It is a well-established fact that winning over a new client generally costs six or seven times more than winning repeat business from an existing customer. Although some component of your marketing plan should always be aimed at gaining new customers, a strategy to sell more to your existing customers will almost always yield more results.
Simple systems such as sending a note to a customer thanking him for a purchase, together with a special offer for an additional buy (plus a deadline to create a sense of urgency) can work wonders.
You should also incentivise your existing customer base to send business your way. Offering them a discount or a bonus for every new client they introduce is only one way of doing it. Some businesses take a much more subtle, indirect approach. They make the customer experience so amazing that they will tell their friends and family about it.
3. Team up with a complementary business
Make a deal with a complementary business – an auto-electrician if you have a mechanical workshop, for example, or a card shop if you run a florist, to do joint marketing. You undertake to market the other business every time you deal with one of your clients, while they do the same for you. In this way, you get access to a whole new database of clients.
4. Don’t compete on price
Most owner-managed businesses are too small to compete based on offering the lowest price. That is the preserve of multi-national corporations that can leverage economies of scale to produce products at a price lower than you can get the raw material. Rather concentrate on quality, the warmth of personal service and flexibility to meet individual clients’ specific needs than on low price.
Keep this principle in mind whenever you offer discounts; use discounts as a gesture of goodwill, rather than creating the cheapest bargain in town.
5. Repeat your message
It is very difficult to measure, but some studies show that it takes about seven contacts to convince a customer to buy. This obviously differs from industry to industry, but whatever the average, the principle is that it will nearly always take more than one pitch to convince customers. Therefore, don’t do one pamphlet drop, and then drop the idea because the results were poor. Rather plan a series of them and evaluate it after the entire campaign. The same goes for mail shots, advertisements, door-to-door efforts, stalls, trade shows, in-store promotions and nearly any other marketing effort. You can also combine various forms of outreach into one campaign.