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Use Marketing to Stay Strong in a Weak Economy Shrewd business owners see opportunity in a down market.

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Today's companies face the challenge of marketing in an economic state of turbulence and uncertainty. The key to maintaining forward momentum in today's market is to resolve to be competitive and shift to an opportunistic mind-set. Rather than focusing on the turbulence, your company should leverage the dynamics of a down market and become an even stronger competitor. A weak economy can actually serve as an opportunity to evaluate your marketing and public relations initiatives so you can make them more effective and efficient.

In good times, it's easy to get into the proverbial marketing rut; some companies have been marketing themselves the same way for years, using the same old marketing plan year after year. But when you're forced to scrutinize every expenditure, suddenly a new zest for change can emerge.

Let this weak economy empower your company to find fresh, creative ways to remain visible, stand out as a distinctive brand and be the leader in your category--even on a smaller marketing budget.

The key to competing strong in a weak economy is to remain visible and project an image of strength and stability. Customers have a heightened sensitivity to any sign of weakness, so resist the urge to dramatically reduce your marketing activities.

To flourish in challenging times, you'll need to distill your marketing and public relations efforts into a powerful, concentrated mix that delivers a high level of visibility and impact on a limited budget.

If your company is looking for ways to do more with less, taking the following 10 steps can help you compete strong:

  1. Rethink your marketing strategy.
    Rather than making random budget cuts to reduce your marketing costs, determine how much spending is feasible based on your current financial situation. Then create a new marketing strategy that optimizes every dollar and integrates your activities to gain the highest return for every effort. This approach will ensure you forge a cohesive, strategic plan that will enable you to remain visible and strongly compete on a reduced budget.
  2. Evaluate your brand.
    Now is the time to carefully evaluate your brand, the market and your competitors. You need to get a 360-degree view of your current situation and how your existing marketing activities align with the current market conditions. Review your marketing assets (such as your company's brochures and website) to determine if they are relevant to today's customers. Also look closely at your competitors to determine if your company stands out.
  3. Target your marketing efforts.
    When marketing on a limited budget, laser-focused targeting of your ideal customers is vital. Invest your time in creating a targeted customer database to use for direct marketing. You may not be able to afford broad advertising efforts, but that's OK because direct marketing (snail mail and e-mail) allows you to directly reach your customers in a more efficient and cost-effective way.
  4. Message strategically.
    In a highly competitive market, you need to stand out with messages that are relevant to the times. Evaluate your messaging to ensure it connects with customers. Keep in mind that their wants, needs and interests may have shifted with the economy.
  5. Update your core marketing materials.
    If your brochures, website and other materials are not relevant to today's customers, or if they blend in with those of competitors, make the investment to update your core materials. Many times, customers will visit your website or request information before calling your business. Be sure to make a good first impression to optimize every opportunity.
  6. Integrate traditional methods with online tools.
    Today's communication model is a two-way dialogue. Integrating traditional marketing tactics with web-based tools and social media can boost your response rates by engaging customers at a deeper level. In many cases, boosting exposure through online social networking adds very little cost. Direct marketing can be used to drive customers to microsites (small, three-to-five-page websites) that focus on generating leads. Empowering customer interaction with your company can add significant impact to your campaigns and boost exposure for those on limited budgets.
  7. Generate media buzz.
    Increase your media exposure by launching a public relations campaign. Distribute regular press releases to your industry or local media outlets. Submit applications to speak at events or conferences as a thought leader. If your advertising budget is limited, supplementing your media and industry exposure with public relations is a good idea.
  8. Increase your network.
    Network with other business owners and customers at industry or local events to increase awareness of your company and generate interest. Do not underestimate the power of word-of-mouth; it is a powerful, cost-effective marketing tool.
  9. Forge partnerships.
    Remember, people don't have to work for your company to work with you, and your peers are in the same boat as you are. Many companies cannot afford to hire extensive staff or experts when times are tough. Strategically partnering with complementary companies can provide you with new leads and expand your network without adding costs. Look for win-win partnerships that can help your business move forward and help you achieve your goals.
  10. Optimize your existing customers.
    Many companies spend all their energy trying to win over new customers when existing customers may be the quickest way to increase business. It is critical to maintain strong customer relationships to retain customers. Look for opportunities to upgrade and cross-sell to your existing customers since you already have a relationship with them.

Resolve to become a fierce competitor to win more of the business that's out there. It is possible to leapfrog the larger competitors in your line of business--not by spending more, but instead by shrewd opportunism. Take a look around--if your competitors have cut back on their marketing or gone dormant, you might have an unprecedented chance to overtake them. Make every marketing move strategic and calculated. Strong marketers will prevail.

Tami Hernandez is president and founder of Martopia�, an award-winning branding, marketing and public relations firm located in Chicago, Ill. For more than 20 years, she has provided strategic branding and marketing consultation to a broad range of businesses, from emerging companies to Fortune 500 corporations. Tami is author of The Compete Strong Playbook.

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