Wish You Were Here

Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the March 2002 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

As regular readers know, I have been riding the rails of Amtrak with Jane Applegate and the Back on Track America (BOTA) team, helping entrepreneurs all over the U.S. refocus and re-energize in the aftermath of 9/11. Our task has been complicated by the recession we're mired in. At the four BOTA events I've attended, the marketing seminars have been packed with entrepreneurs trying to come up with new ideas and strategies to reach increasingly elusive or reluctant customers.

Seminar attendees at the BOTA event in Palo Alto, California, were privileged to learn from Jay Conrad Levinson, author of the myth-shattering Guerilla Marketing. Jay delivered so much valuable advice (in only 12 short minutes), that I wanted to share it with those of you who couldn't be there. Here, then, (paraphrased from my notes) is the wisdom of Jay Conrad Levinson:

One of the most common mistakes businesses-large and small-make is to stop or curtail their marketing efforts in tight economic times. That's wrong. Really wrong. Indeed, recessionary marketing can be very effective. Just remember, during times like these, customers and clients seek value. And value does not necessarily translate to lowest price. What consumers want today is to know they're getting more for their money. And that you're going to be there to stand behind your product or service.

One way to convey that is to offer a guarantee. Many business owners don't realize the longer the guarantee, the fewer the people who ask for their money back. Six-month guarantees get used less than 30-day ones. And lifetime guarantees get the fewest takers of all.

The primary goal of recessionary marketing should be to increase the size of your orders, to get more transactions from the same customers. This is easier, and cheaper, to accomplish (especially today) than finding new customers. While you should treat your "B" list customers like royalty, you should treat your "A" list like family. One way to get them to buy more is to give them something. Try free samples, seminars, consultations or speeches. You'll also save money by practicing "consent marketing," or, as another marketing guru, Seth Godin, calls it, permission marketing. This works because people who've told you they want to hear about your products or services are obviously more open to buying from you.

This is not to say you should ignore attracting new clients. Here you can offer the tried and true-discount coupons, but with a small twist. Try handing out the coupons at other businesses that have clientele similar to yours. Use a different brochure to snare the newbies; first-time customers may need more explanation from you than your regulars.

Do not ignore Web marketing. You can provide content to your buyers, whether on your own site or on someone else's. E-mailing is more cost-effective than mailing, and often draws impressive results. You can buy e-mail lists and test them (make sure the list is opt-in; you don't want to start spamming people).

One of the most effective marketing methods remains using your existing client base to bring in new buyers. This can be accomplished through use of testimonials and endorsements. All your customers are members of something, be it a church, an association or the PTA. Enlist them in spreading the word about you and your business. Remember, nothing sells like positive word-of-mouth.

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