Businesses and consumers are cutting back on discretionary spending, which could mean lower response rates for you. On top of that, many marketing budgets are being cut. This combination has sent many marketers into a panic. That’s why you need to reevaluate your marketing game plan for a recession. Here I’ll reveal the specific actions you can take to survive this economic downturn and be more successful this year.
To everything there is a season
First, it is important to know that recession is a normal part of the business cycle. The U.S. economy will come through a downturn or recession and then enter a new period of growth. But the hard truth is most recessions last about 16 to 18 months. Whatever the length, you can increase cash flow and profits now…and secure a major advantage over your competitors. You can also expand your market share in the next few years.
Lessons learned from the past 5 recessions
One of my favorite recession research studies gives us some strategic guidance for you.
McGraw-Hill Research published a study of 600 companies in 16 industries over a 5-year period that included a recession. Researchers concluded that firms that chose to maintain or increase their marketing budgets experienced sales growth that was 256% higher than those companies whose advertising suffered. Furthermore, those who cut back on their advertising realized a small increase of only 19% in that same time period.
Here is another lesson learned from the last recession: The 25% of companies that increased their marketing budgets saw an increase in market share that was 2.5 times greater than competitors who cut back. But that’s not all you need to know. Here’s what I’ve learned from past recessions…
- Companies that don’t adjust their marketing to the new economic environment suffer.
- Businesses that follow the direct marketing model trump those who rely on traditional advertising.
- Historically, companies maintaining or increasing their direct mail marketing through economic downturns increase sales and market share during and after the slow period.
- Businesses that regard direct response advertising costs as investments rather than expenses enjoy higher long term dividends.
- Companies that stay aggressive in a downturn seize market share from more timid competitors.
- Companies that cut back will lose revenue and opportunities, with fewer upsells and cross-sells for several years after the recession…profoundly impacting the bottom line in the long-term.
Lesson learned: Think twice before arbitrarily cutting your budget. With so many of your competitors cutting back, you’ll have new opportunities for growth.
Now let’s look at the 9 survival strategies you should implement now.
Strategy #1: Re-examine your current marketing initiatives
Image advertising is a waste of your time and money, especially in a time like this. If you’re not using advertising that provides a measurable, quantifiable cost per lead, cost-per-sale and lifetime value of a customer, you’re practically throwing your money away.
You absolutely must know your:
- Cost per lead
- Cost per sale
- Lifetime value (LTV) of a customer
In a recession, it is more critical than ever to hold every marketing campaign accountable. That’s the only way to know how you should react in a down market and get the maximum impact for every single dollar spent. For example, the lifetime value of a customer tells you exactly how much you can afford to spend to acquire a new customer. Without these statistics, it is impossible for you to know whether you’re making the most profitable use of your marketing budget. It’s the only way you’ll know whether you’re getting a positive or a negative return on your investment.
Strategy #2: Review your Unique Selling Proposition (USP)
A powerful USP will grab prospects’ attention, distinguish you from competitors and draw them into your story. Now is the time to review and revise your USP. If it doesn’t tell your prospects how they will benefit from your product in today’s downturn and distinguish you from the competition…chances are you’ll become irrelevant. Your USP needs to be prominent, easily found and up-todate in all of your marketing-TV, direct mail, website, you name it.
Tip: Before sending out your next campaign, take the time to review and revise your USP. Then place it at the beginning, middle and end of every marketing piece you create.
Strategy #3: Address marketing evils with preemptive copy
Marketing evils are the barriers that stand between your customer and their decision to buy from you. They create skepticism toward your product. Today’s marketing evils include:
- Economic crisis
- Legal and regulatory changes
- Budget cuts
When money is tight, fear of making a poor purchasing decision is high. Prospects will question what you say and raise more objections that prevent them from buying. Don’t ignore the worries, fears and concerns that are plaguing your prospect. Instead, use preemptive copy to address and overcome prospects’ skepticism.
Well-executed copy for this recession will achieve the following 4 goals:
- Address and dismiss your prospects’ objections.
- Demonstrate how your product solves their most pressing problems.
- Explain why your product is absolutely necessary-even in an economic downturn-and why it’s in your prospect’s best interest to buy now.
- Clearly demonstrate why an alternative choice is not going to cut it.
Tip: Ask yourself these questions: Do I feel that the writer cares about me and understands my problems? Why should I respond now or later? Do I still have objections?
Addressing these evils and explaining why your product overcomes them will boost your response. Likewise, ignoring these evils will depress your response.
Strategy #4: Take advantage of dropping marketing costs
Media spending is plummeting and we haven’t hit the bottom yet. As a result, online and offline media costs are dropping-and, in some cases, this trend is likely to be long-term or permanent. Here’s where I’ve successfully helped marketers with cost-cutting negotiations:
- Media costs
- Postal discounts
- Media options
The price of radio and TV time has seen deep cuts-which may be why the ubiquitous Snuggie(TM) ads aren’t confined to late-night TV spots. In addition to lower costs, you’ll find deals and opportunities never seen before. For example, many local newspapers and even The Wall Street Journal are selling ad space right on the front page.
Strategy #5: Reevaluate your offer and make it preemptive
In this recession, consumers are hunting for the best way to get more for their money. It’s critical to update your value proposition so that it’s powerful and preemptive: It should answer prospects’ questions before they ask them and overcome their objections. Remember, your offer is not about the product-it’s about the prospect and what the prospect gets. The strongest offers reinforce value. They focus on the deal that the prospect will receive and present a get-morefor-your-money image.
Here are 3 components of a successful offer:
- A discount or price reduction. Right now people are looking for value, and a discount is the simplest way to deliver it. Just look at the most successful catalogs, emails and mailing pieces. You’ll find discounts in every one, from consumer retailers like J. Crew to B2B marketers like Thermo Fisher Scientific. Even designer makeup and beauty products are on sale, which is rare.
- A premium. It’s a gift, a bribe, a strong enticement: Add value by giving something away. This can help you justify a higher price if you are unable to offer a hefty discount.
- A guarantee. Reassure your prospects that they have nothing to lose. If you don’t have a guarantee, now is the time to start one.
Convince prospects that they’ll be losing out on something big without accepting your offer – recession or no recession.
Strategy #6: Concentrate on your database
For most marketers, 20% of your customers represent 80% of your profits. Any significant loss of this core group could mean a serious hit to your sales, profits and future. Remember, it is always three to four times cheaper to upsell or crosssell an existing customer than to acquire a new one.
That’s why you should implement these customer-retention strategies:
- Upselling and cross-selling. Reevaluate your current process. Are you being aggressive enough in offering products or services that complement your prospect’s purchases?
- Loyalty programs. It is more important than ever to reward your best customers with extra perks to keep them coming back. Creating an exclusive club for loyal customers is also effective.
- Conversion series. If you offer a free trial, be sure you have a professional follow-up direct marketing conversion series in place to convert these prospects to buyers. Many marketers make the mistake of letting qualified, interested prospects slip away easily. See the chart above for an example of a conversion series time line.
- Retention series. Don’t wait around for your customers to renew subscriptions, reorder products or come in for your services-remind them of your value, and reinforce their decision to purchase from you.
- Database lead management. If you don’t convert those hard-earned leads to sales, you’re wasting your marketing efforts.
- Reactivation campaigns. Use your improved, preemptive offer, complete with premiums and discounts, to entice former customers to come back. Craft copy that demonstrates why your product is the best choice right now.
Strategy #7: Revamp your corporate website
Static boring home pages do nothing to encourage sales or improve your results. Yet so many marketers still rely on these non-marketing or anti-marketing sites. Instead, turn to direct marketing microsites and landing pages: Individual websites geared toward specific products and promotions. These sites use only direct response copy and art to sell a product or service. To improve efficiency and boost response, they don’t have navigation distractions. For example, you may want to create unique pages to capture leads and sales, or develop a product-specific sales page.
Strategy #8: Streamline your shopping cart and/or reservation form to boost sales
It’s a fact: 7-1/2 out of 10 online prospects will abandon their shopping cart or reservation form before completing a transaction. Here are 2 big mistakes to avoid…
Mistake #1-“Tombstone” carts. This is what I call shopping carts without sales copy. They’re a dead-end. Your cart should engage prospects, reassure them that they are making a good decision and lead them right to the “Buy Now” button. It must have direct response sales copy and direct response art.
Mistake #2-Multistage process. The more you ask your prospect to click, the more sales you’ll lose. A one- to two-page seamless checkout process is more effective and efficient than a multistage process. Prospects will be less likely to have second thoughts and click away. Above all, keep it simple.
Strategy #9: Reevaluate your media
Be sure to put your recession appropriate USP to work in all campaigns-including online and broadcast media.
- Direct mail. You’re still able to produce a low cost per lead or sale with this highly targeted medium…even in a recession. It should be a major component of any marketing mix.
- Paid search. Easy paid search is dead in this recession. But the right mix of keyword strategy, powerful direct response ads and separate, dedicated landing pages with timely content will produce a very high ROI-although the numbers will be a very small part of your overall lead generation and sales program.
- Email. The days of sending a sales letter via email are over. Sales hype will not work. Instead, use an information-driven, content-rich email. Remember value.
- TV and radio. Rates for prime airtime have been dropping, so now’s your chance to renegotiate rates and retest your options, such as time of day.
What worked last year is not going to work now because the market psychology is completely different. Opportunities for success are out there if you know where to look. Remember that your prospects’ spending patterns change in a recession, but they’ll still be spending money somewhere.
Consumers may start to give up trips to the coffee shop in favor of a do-it-yourself espresso machine. Businesses may choose new software instead of new hardware, or invest in extra tech support to avoid an expensive technology meltdown. With these strategies, you can turn this recession into an opportunity for growth, profits and greater market share.