Even in the best economy, marketing can be a daunting task. Competitive pressures are significant and in many cases this means that you have to do more with less. But in every economic slow down there are always companies that actually excel and prosper. They are able to reach new customers and streamline their marketing operations. To market in a down economy you must be prepared. We need to have our strategies in place, and now more than ever we have to make sure they produce. Let’s face facts. When times are tough, businesses react by cutting budgets, mistakenly believing these dollars are discretionary, or some of the functions expendable. But the fact is that the best-positioned and most successful companies actually increase their spending during an economic recession in order to achieve superior business performance, build their brand and strengthen their competitive advantage in the marketplace.  Puzzle Pieces marketing is dedicated to providing you with the tools and resources to more effectively help you respond to today’s business climate and also to prepare for tomorrow.  We have marketing tools to share with you that can help you not only survive in a down economy, but that can help you thrive with significant marketing success. We are here to help you and your organization ride out the recession and be stronger for it.

Some marketing considerations during a slow economy are:

Research. While bigger budgets are unlikely, you can use research to fight for every dollar. Be proactive and anticipate how to put your product or service at the advantage in a recession.  Firms have not only survived, but thrived during difficult times, including Proctor & Gamble pushing Ivory soap during the Great Depression, Intel launching “Intel Inside” during the 1990-91 recession, and Wal-Mart launching their “Every Day Low Prices” campaign during the 2000-2001 post dot-com bubble slow down. There’s plenty of other research out there. Find it and use it to your advantage.

Invest. Marketing and public relations should be seen as a strategic asset for a brand or company, not a drain on profits. The key to succeeding during a recession is to look at these dollars as an investment and not an expense.

Reallocate. If your competitors are slashing their budgets, you can gain an edge simply by maintaining your spending, or minimizing your cutbacks. You can also look to add to your PR budget by pulling dollars from other departments and eliminating ineffective advertising or marketing programs that no longer add value. Also consider reallocating money from your sales budget, realizing that excellent public relations and image-building efforts drive sales and support your company’s overall goals and objectives.

Focus. Keep your wits about you and focus on four things: your competition, your brand, your customers, and your communication. If you have a strong, successful brand, focus on what has worked for you so far. If your brand is in a relatively weak position, focus on systematically exploiting your strengths while addressing your weaknesses.

Forward March! Rather than calling a retreat, it’s time to take the hill; charging forward with a plan to communicate with your key publics on a consistent basis. Let them know how your company is dealing with these tough times we are in. Update them on every success or new development. In tough times your instinct is to hold back, but your competitors are going to be distracted. That’s the time to be aggressive.  Invest in your own success while others are afraid and burying their heads. As a result, your public relations program will stand out among your competitors and give your organization a clear competitive advantage with sales, reputation growth and brand management.

PR. Public relations is a management function that helps companies build trust, and maintain relationships. It encourages two-way communication and transparency. PR provides credibility and can enhance reputations. It allows companies to do more with less spending, delivering tailored messages to key publics through a variety of channels. Advertising and more traditional marketing campaigns, which can be highly effective and should be part of every company’s arsenal, can get very expensive, very quickly. People tend to rely more on word of mouth and personal recommendations during times of economic trouble, rather than risking the unknown or believing solely in advertising. Bill Gates is quoted as saying, “If I was down to my last dollar, I’d spend it on public relations.”

Publicity. Publicity has long been an essential component of PR and remains an extremely important tool for creating awareness, influencing opinions and changing behavior. It works indirectly – through an editor or reporter – who can reinforce the clarity and context of an organization’s messages. Journalists, often working under deadline pressure and juggling multiple stories, look to PR professionals to help them ensure the accuracy of their information, get relevant quotes and obtain story ideas. A recent survey of U.S. journalists found that tips from PR professionals helped generate nearly half their stories. Favorable publicity provides a critical, third party endorsement for a product, service or company and the “implied” endorsement of a reporter who chooses to cover a story lends valuable credibility. Studies have also shown that more people read articles than ads (by as much as 7-to-1), and that editorial coverage is more believable than advertising.

Everyone Counts.  Keep in mind that everybody in your company and every point of contact with your customers and other key publics – from the receptionist to your website – says something about your organization. Building your reputation and brand isn’t solely the job of your PR or marketing folks. It’s a company-wide effort.

High-Value Customers. New business is always important, especially right now, but don’t lose focus on your high-value existing customers. Losing loyal customers can be very costly. Make sure that you are not only meeting their existing needs, but also anticipating new ones. Work overtime to keep them happy.

Be seen. More than ever, now is the time to be visible here, there and everywhere. Be sure to participate in community affairs, volunteer efforts and professional organizations. Get yourself and your company on the agenda for an upcoming panel discussion conducted by your local chamber of commerce, Rotary, or industry group. Keep reminding yourself of the old saying, “Out of sight, out of mind,” to inspire you to stay visible.

Look Inside – Don’t forget about your employees. Their engagement and productivity is vitally important to your business during good times and especially during tough ones. Communication is key. Be as direct and honest as you possibly can about the complexities and challenges. It’s easy to want to pull back, and natural to want to withhold divulging negative information. But that is the hand we’re all being dealt right now. In the absence of substantive news from the top, employees will fill the void with half-truths from the rumor mill, which definitely doesn’t help morale. Tough times naturally breed anxiety and uncertainty. Being transparent with your employees can help them maintain the enthusiasm needed to do great work, which is exactly what your company needs during times like these. And if layoffs become necessary, there are steps you can take to minimize the damage.