What does it take to survive and prosper in a difficult, even hostile, marketing environment? Take a clue from nature, where success comes down to survival of the fittest. The most prolific creatures on the planet must be adaptable, rugged, aggressive and attractive to conquer all. Now, more than ever, these essential qualities are the prerequisites for staying ahead in a competitive, or depressed, marketplace. Apply these four survival strategies to your own marketing programs.

Adapt to Change
The changes in the marketplace and economy are affecting consumer behavior and attitudes nationwide. Products that were once considered everyday purchases may now be considered luxuries, even by affluent consumers. Organic foods, for example, were always priced higher than regular fare, but now as prices on many other foods have risen and put the squeeze on consumer pocketbooks, some consumers say they are less willing to pay top dollar for the healthier organics.

How have marketplace changes affected your customers' attitudes toward what you sell? If you're unsure, use meetings, phone calls, surveys or informal roundtable discussions with customers to get inside their heads. Your survival may depend on your ability to adapt your marketing messages immediately to fit customers' newly minted mind-set.

Win Marks for Toughness
Companies with real staying power become entrenched in the minds of their customers. They use ongoing marketing programs with consistent themes to strengthen relationships and become part of their customers' lives. Now is the time for rugged dependability, and that means sticking to a marketing course that involves clear and frequent communication. So stop marketing in fits and starts, and de-clutter your campaign by focusing on a consistent core message.

Imagine your customer and prospect database displayed over a bull's-eye, with the best customers and hottest prospects closest to the center and all others in concentric circles farther and farther out. If you're on a limited budget, focus the greatest percentage of your marketing dollars on maintaining a strong campaign with those closest to the bull's-eye, and fewer dollars on prospects and customers of lesser financial value to your business. Your company will remain stronger during this recession and come through it in a better position if you can tough it out by staying top of mind with your best customers.

Be Strategically Aggressive
The current marketing environment mandates a more aggressive stance. With consumers and B2B purchasers focused on price, you need a strategy that draws customers in and adds to your bottom line without giving too much away. You can increase couponing, special promotions or customer reward campaigns, depending on your type of business.

To beat your competition in this new environment, assess their programs. If you haven't conducted a competitive analysis in a while, take time today to gather advertising materials from your principal competitors. What are their key selling messages and promotions? Which media do they use to reach their core audiences? Resist the temptation to slash prices across the board and instead look for ways to offer additional value with competitive pricing. And undertake a more aggressive campaign in the media your principal competitors use to reach customers.

It Pays to Look Good
In nature, many male birds compete for mates with beautiful displays, dances and songs. Like them, it doesn't hurt to do a song and dance to stand out from the crowd during these months when many buyers are cutting back on purchases. It's never been more important to have polished, professional materials. Business-to-business buyers and consumers alike want to feel they're making safe purchases, particularly for bigger-ticket items. They also want to know that the companies from which they choose to buy will support them post-sale.

Update and streamline your website to contain deep content and provide customer service. Review all of your sales tools and marketing materials for outdated content and graphics, and bring them up-to-date. Looking successful will help bring greater success your way.