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Slumber Party

Low-budget marketing tips you can use while the economy is sleeping

In an economic downturn, yesterday's marketing strategies just won't cut it. Either they're too expensive, or your audience has tuned out. But that doesn't mean you should start cutting your marketing budget. Instead, you should use this time to develop specific strategies that produce bottom-line results. That means you have to get back to basics and adopt new, hard-working tactics that bring you closer to your customers.

Here are five steps you can take today to help your company ride out the rocky times. They may not give you a recession-proof business, but they'll keep your marketing efforts moving in the right direction through this downturn and beyond.

1. Make ads pay. Starting today, eliminate your old "image" campaign and replace it with one that's designed to produce bottom-line results. Every ad must communicate benefits and make a strong call to action that produces a measurable response. To track the results of your marketing efforts, place response codes in all your ads and lead-generation tools. You should also train your staff to always ask prospects where they learned about your company and use contact-management software to record all the information you get from them.

2. Use CRM. It's never been more important to know and understand your customers. A good customer relationship marketing program is a high-touch, low-cost way to get feedback while increasing sales. By listening carefully to your customers, you'll gain insight into what they want most and how you can provide it. Rather than cutting your prices, now is the best time to offer additional value-enhancements to your present product or service offering that let you rise above your competitors and meet your customers' needs in more compelling ways. Segment your customer base, set up a multitiered program of telephone contact and mailings, and offer special support or additional services to the customers who generate the greatest sales or profits.

3. Dig deeper. Are you aggressively looking for new ways to persuade prospects to take interest in your company? Take advantage of focus groups and surveys, and stay abreast of the latest research and published articles (try www.magportal.com) to discover your target market's current needs, desires and buying preferences. Put customer feedback forms on your Web site and take steps to make your online presence more interactive.

It's also a good time to take on a new prospect group by expanding into an ethnic or demographic niche. Is there a way to retool your product or service to meet the special needs of seniors, people with a certain disability or your local Asian or Hispanic community, for example? At a time when broad-based consumer marketing has become too costly an option for many entrepreneurs, filling the needs of smaller niche markets can reduce your business's marketing costs while increasing sales.

4. Turn on the spotlight. Right now, media relations and special events are essential tools. You can intensify your media relations efforts by targeting several media outlets (find them at www.gebbieinc.com) with story ideas tailored specifically for their viewers, readers or listeners. Identify specific journalists or editors to receive your information and find out if they prefer releases via fax, e-mail or standard mail. After sending your initial information, follow up with phone calls and a polished press kit.

To increase your company's visibility, associate with a charitable cause or community-based group for a special event. Take a high-profile position-rather than melting into the crowd-but be careful to avoid the appearance of giving for the purpose of self-aggrandizement.

5. Get personal. During an economic downturn, it's a great idea to get back to basics by beefing up your networking activities. Designate several members of your company to get out and attend different groups, assign goals for follow-up and regularly add contacts to your database. Communicate with your entire prospect database about once every six weeks by direct mail, e-mail, fax, phone or in person, and you'll come out of this downturn with a strong and loyal customer base.

Kim Gordon is the owner of National Marketing Federation and is a multifaceted marketing expert, speaker, author and media spokesperson. Her latest book is Maximum Marketing, Minimum Dollars.

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This article was originally published in the May 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Slumber Party.

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