Subscribe to Entrepreneur for $5

How to Market in Uncertain Times

What shape should your marketing take in today's post-war economy?

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Q: We are in the midst of planning our marketing program for the rest of the year and are unsure what changes to make, if any, due to post-war uncertainty. We're in a highly competitive field, and sales from our best customers seem relatively consistent with last year. Should we pull back our marketing and coast, or continue with business as usual?

A: Studies show that now, more than ever, consumers are looking for a return to normalcy. They want some reassurance that in these challenging times, life goes on. So, at least for now, it's essential to stay the course and focus your marketing efforts on building relationships with your best prospects and customers. Here are two tried-and-true strategies that will help keep your business strong during uncertain times:

Identify Qualified Prospects
Does your current marketing program focus on your ideal prospects? In a highly competitive environment, it's vital to fine-tune your program to target only the most qualified businesses or individuals. The days of broad-based image campaigns are over, and savvy marketers must use every means at their disposal to build a profile of their best prospects based on the demographics, preferences and even behaviors of current customers. This requires an effort to actively solicit feedback and gather data from the customer base and then use this information to plan and evaluate the media selections for ongoing campaigns.

A qualified prospect should meet at least three criteria:

  1. They must need what you market. The simple truth is, it's always easier to fill a need than to create one. So if you can identify prospects who are already using similar products or services to your own, you can be reasonably certain they need what you offer.
  2. Prospects must be able to afford what you market. The best prospects will have the funds readily available to make a purchase. If you're a B2B marketer, that means purchases of similar products or services have been approved or are simply the norm. As for consumer prospects, they should meet your specific income requirements.
  3. Prospects must be willing to pay for what you market. Most of us can walk into our local dollar store and see thousands of items we can easily afford--but are we willing to pay for them? Qualified prospects have a history of purchasing your type of product or service.

Offer Customers Value
Customers who are working with or buying from your competition meet all three criteria for excellent prospects. But inducing them to switch will take more than competing on price alone. Today, customers are most interested in the long-term value a relationship with your company will bring.

What can you offer your customer base that will enhance their relationship with you? If you don't already have a customer reward program in place, now's the time to take a value-conscious approach. These programs allow you to capture vital customer data at the point of enrollment and when sales are made and use it to create a profile of your best customers. For top-flight results, offer graduated rewards to motivate them. Make your program memorable by offering in-kind rewards that are clearly associated with your business and have a clear cash value.

Rather than rein in your marketing efforts, use this time to refine your programs and focus on building relationships with your best, most qualified customers. That's the kind of thinking that will keep your company--and the economy--growing strong.

Entrepreneur Editors' Picks