Marketing On A Tight Budget

Keeping your markets aware during tough economic times

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Marketing your business is a requirement in order to maintain top-of-mind awareness in the gases and welding markets. However, the recession that started in 2008 and looks to continue well into this year means taking a hard look at each marketing line item and determining which can be trimmed, eliminated or replaced to reduce overall marketing costs without sacrificing market exposure..

It is important to continue fueling your marketing engine during these times. Letting your awareness wane will make it much harder to recoup once the economy turns the corner and into future years as well. A McGraw-Hill study of 600 companies from the 1981-1982 recession revealed that in 1985, those companies that maintained aggressive advertising had sales that grew 256 percent more than those companies that did not keep up their marketing and advertising activities. And a Cahners and SPI 2002 study showed that companies that kept up aggressive marketing during recessionary periods gained 1.5 points of market share.

Below are a couple of reasons you should maintain or even increase your marketing in 2009:

  • Maintaining market awareness costs less than trying to get it back when the economy rebounds.
  • It sends a message of stability and confidence to your prospects and customers.
  • Your competition is more likely to cut marketing during hard times. This presents an opportunity for you to steal their “top-of-mind awareness.”
  • Right now, deals are to be had. Agencies, printing companies and specialty companies, just like your company, are looking to sales promotions and special offers to keep sales stable.
Maintaining market awareness costs less than trying to get it back when the economy rebounds.

The key is to do it smart, more efficiently and more effectively than ever before. Before you consider the “what to” and “how to,” you must first take an inventory of your marketing expenditures. This list should include everything from sales force (most B2B’s primary marketing strategy) to the collateral they use and the media you use to promote your dealership in your market. By breaking it down into groups, you can get a better picture of where you are investing your marketing resources to maintain current customers and bring in new business.

Once this is done, look at these areas and assess their efficiency and effectiveness. Once you’ve determined where to scale back, you can decide to apply those savings to the bottom line or reinvest them in other marketing activities.

Sales Force
Literature & Sales Collateral – Many companies have a plethora of sales literature that sales reps haul around in their trunks and you maintain in countless file cabinets and closets. What literature can you combine into one, or what can be converted to a PDF file and e-mailed instead of going through the expensive mailing process?

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Lead Generation & Conversion – What is your process for inbound leads, and is it working? Many of you may use third-party lead generation data, but what happens with those leads? Do you qualify them? Is the sales force accountable for reporting results, and what are those results?

Social Media & Other Networking Opportunities – Online communities like Facebook and LinkedIn, as well as other industry-specific trade groups, are great places for your reps to network with people right in your market and gain exposure with a click of the mouse. Have your sales force ask their current clients what local clubs and trade associations they belong to that are relevant to your business, and have them join or attend as a guest and get networking!

Referrals – There is no better way into the door of a new client than a recommendation from a current customer. Be sure your sales force is asking for referrals on a regular basis. Chances are, those good clients of yours know one or two people doing the same job at another company.

Inside Sales – An inside sales force can make as many as 35 to 55 contacts every day to current clients and prospective clients. That’s as many as 275 contacts every week to generate leads for your outside sales force, follow up on special sales promotions and maintain an accurate database for your advertising efforts.

Advertising & Promotion
Use E-mail – All of us subscribe to some type of newsletter. The key is providing useful and relevant content for readers. By tailoring a newsletter that provides information your audience can use to improve their businesses, you will set yourself up to become the “thought leader” in your market. And mixed in to your educational efforts are sales promotions relevant to the content that can generate leads and sales.

The beauty of an ongoing e-mail campaign is the ability to quantify the results. Open rates, clicks and click-through by readers can help you build more effective future issues. And e-mail is a very cost-effective addition or alternative to using only direct mail to promote your company’s products and services.

Web Site – Is your site optimized? If I’m looking for your product, in your markets, does your company pull up on the first page? If not, get with your Web developer right away, or consult with a search engine optimization specialist to be sure your Web presence is easily found.

Are you using your Web site to generate leads? Your Web site is a virtual branch, just like your brick and mortar. It’s important that you see it that way and post your sales promotions and special offers right alongside your “tips and secrets” that will help your clients become more efficient gases and welding experts. Your Web site should transform from an online commercial for features, advantages and benefits to a source of highly valuable and relevant information that your prospects and clients can turn to for advice.

Pricing – I have never been a fan of reducing prices during hard times. Reducing your pricing reduces the value of your product and makes it harder to raise those prices once conditions rebound. Instead, use sales promotions, special service and parts offers, and product bundling that have clear deadlines to increase the level of immediacy to your prospects and clients. Making wholesale price reductions leads to future problems; avoid them at all costs.

Yellow Pages – Today’s electronic age of Google and Yahoo has all but eliminated the Yellow Pages. Make the minimum investment there, and invest the savings where you’ll get more exposure. I know it’s tempting when your local Yellow Pages representative shows up with your competition sporting double-column ads, but don’t take the bait. When was the last time you picked up a Yellow Pages to find something your business needs to survive?

It is important to continue fueling your marketing engine during recessionary times.

Direct Mail – Direct mail is a must for any dealership looking to target its market. Integrating direct mail with e-mail and other online marketing is the key to hitting your targets in multiple locations on a frequent basis. You don’t want to be a “one-trick pony” who only e-mails or sends direct mail. Successful companies will integrate their campaigns to include direct mail, e-mail, online, print, social media and other means to maximize their exposure.

There are some things you can do to reduce your direct mail costs and still maintain a reasonable frequency in the market:

  • Use postcards. Expensive newsletters do not get the bang for the buck. Instead, use 8.5 in. x 5.5 in. or larger postcards with hard-hitting, quick messages on the front and special offers on the back to keep your brand in front of your client and reduce printing and postage costs at the same time.
  • Create marketing cooperatives. Many of you have fellow dealers promoting the same brands. By working together and arriving at similar messages, you can decrease your design costs, and oftentimes, your printing and mailing as well.
  • Repeat campaigns. If you design, print and mail 2,500 messages in January, print 5,000 and send the remaining 2,500 out at another time. This eliminates repeated design and layout costs, greatly reduces your overall printing costs and keeps your brand in front of the prospect. But be careful that your messages are applicable later on in the year. Deadlines or seasonal offers (like Spring Savings) won’t work in December, so be careful at the design stage.
  • Produce multiple messages at one time. If you’re going to use the same medium (postcards, for example), get quotes to print one, two or even six at one time. “Gang running” all your messages at one time can provide dramatic savings on your print production costs.

Integrate Your Service Department – Technicians are on the front lines every day and represent a great opportunity for incremental sales. While you don’t want to turn them into salespeople, there’s no reason that they can’t hand your customer a wire savings special and discuss findings with the client. You can do the same with safety training and other after- market offerings.

History has shown us that whether it’s a recession or all-out depression, we always rebound. And those companies that continue to market will benefit the most as the economy rebounds. Be confident, be marketing, and be on the offensive when our economy rebounds to ensure you have maintained or even increased your slice of the gases and welding pie in your market area.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association
67c_lauterwasserbarry Meet the Author
Barry Lauterwasser is president of Symbion Marketing LLC, located in Louisville, Kentucky, and on the Web at www.symbionmarketing.com.