Five Principles for Innovative Marketing in a Downturn

When times get tough, many businesses slash marketing budgets. In fact, a recent American Marketing Association poll revealed that 66% of their members are halting or reducing spending on key marketing campaigns.

However, studies show that business and customer loyalty is dramatically won (and lost) during a downturn.  A 1981-1982 study by McGraw-Hill Research and a more recent study in 2001 revealed that companies that continued to market aggressively during a recession increased their market share by approximately 250%, not only during the recession but for the 3 years following. The lean times are when brands have the ear of the customer  (after all there’s 66% less competition shouting for attention) and consumers will remember your loyalty and service to them when things pick up again as well.

I was asked recently to discuss these issues at the DIRECTION by Indigo fashion trend conference in NYC. There I shared some of our tips for marketing in a downturn. Although signs show that we are currently on an upswing, these 5 principles are actually just as relevant in boom times as they are in lean ones. The key difference is in lean times you are trying to do more with less and, therefore, need to be even more on target.

During my presentation, I outlined the following 5 steps:

1. Refocus on who you are
You’ve heard it time and time again, but focusing on your core strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats in the market place is a crucial tool for also focusing your marketing efforts and spending dollars. Let’s face it, some customers are more costly to attract than they are to let go. Be honest with yourself and redial your efforts back into areas and audiences where you are needed most.

2. Stand apart and innovate
Your brand is uniquely “you,” or the summation of the people leading your brand. With this in mind, even companies with very similar product offerings are actually inherently different, from their brand culture to their customer service and, ultimately, the nuances of their product offering.

Seize these differences and capitalize on them. Chances are there are customers out there who prefer these subtle differences as well.

While you are at it, we suggest differentiating your product even more and truly innovating for more marketing buzz and attention.

During my talk we looked at examples of brands innovating in their sales approach. From an online store like Charles & Marie who offer a curated list of “must have” items for those in the know enough to be invited to join their club.

To Rollasoles who, rather than starting yet another slip-on shoe company, sell their products in vending machines at bars, targeting women with tired feet.

3. Add value
These days everyone is watching their pocket books, but as we discussed in our recent webinar, consumers are really looking for an affordable luxury. Anything you can do to increase the perceived value of the product becomes not only a justification for your pricing, but a tremendous point-of-difference for your brand and a marketing tool.

During my talk I shared lots of examples of brands giving back, either to the craftsmen making the products, consumers, or the community at large. Whole Foods, however, is taking the idea of value literally, offering guided tours of all the “values” they have in store. What a great way of actively combating sentiments that Whole Foods is just another a high-priced grocery.

IKEA is no stranger to promoting value to their customers. Their recent furniture swap allowed customers to bring any furniture they wanted to swap to their parking lot. There was no fee for participating and no real connection to how the store would make a sale. However, it cost them relatively nothing to organize, they got great free publicity, and chances are consumers knew exactly where to turn to find a lamp or rug to match any new acquisitions.

4. Build loyalty
Now is really the time to rally your fans. Be there for them and they will in turn be there for you. Now more than ever, consumers are looking for an emotional connection to brands, and these efforts will maintain that connection for the long haul.

No one has done a better job of rallying their fans recently than the Salvation Army of Northern New England. Their “Cost Nothing Campaign” was an all-volunteer effort to spread the word of the Salvation Army’s mission with hand-written messages on shop windows, bathroom mirrors, pizza boxes, and coffee cups. The impact on those participating in the campaign was inevitably far more effective than anything they could have possibly paid for.

A contest, like this one from Marshall’s, is another great way to rally your fans.  Here fans were asked to create a profile professing their love of shoes. This winning entry received over 7,ooo votes and countless feeds from social media profiles and blogs.

5. Go Digital
Certainly, digital tools are some of the most cost-effective marketing opportunities available today. This is not only for their low cost of entry but because of their huge return on investment.

During my talk we covered the power of blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to allow you the ability to not only to talk to your fans, but more importantly, to engage them in a conversation. Here MAC’s Facebook profile shows that a recent update from them received a “thumbs up” from over 1400 people and 145 written comments. These are the types of responses direct-mail marketers would kill for.

These digital platforms are a great way for launching advertising campaigns and special offers. Take Burger King’s innovative “Whopper Sacrifice” where Facebook users were asked to defriend 10 friends in exchange for a free coupon for a Whooper. Highly controversial, but effective, this campaign also gave Burger King access to the people you defriended. Burger King notified those people that the coupon recipient valued a Whopper more than their friendship and then offered an option for retaliation. A very “messy” manner of engaging with customers, but an effective and memorable one for sure.

As you can see, the recession hasn’t stopped everyone from getting out there and staying top of mind. If it has been weighing you down,  it’s time to break your head free of the sand and start looking around for new opportunities. If you need help identifying those opportunities, perhaps with a new marketing plan or a more specific, digital marketing plan contact us. We are here to help.

Now is the time, it’s not too late!