Industrial Marketing in Tough Economic Times

 

Written by Kerry O’Malley Monday, 29 August 2011 17:32

Unless you’ve been hiding in a cave for months, you know that the U.S. economy is in some serious trouble. There are very few industries that haven’t been affected by the country’s economic woes. In times like this, it is the natural inclination of business owners to start cutting employees and departments considered to be extraneous to the company’s core revenue source. It’s no secret that marketing and advertising are usually at the top of the list. I’ve always considered this to be a “shooting yourself in the foot” mentality, and I’m not alone. “Successful companies do not abandon their marketing strategies in a recession; they adapt them,” said John Quelch, Harvard Business School. The author of the hugely successful book, “Guerilla Marketing,” and a powerful advertising executive, Jay Conrad Levinson said, “Marketing is not an event . . . It has a beginning, a middle, but never an end, for it is a process. You improve it, perfect it, and change it, but you never stop it.”

I believe a tough economy presents companies with opportunities to gain ground on their competitors. Some will stop marketing altogether, and as their name disappears from your industry’s landscape, you can capture the “top of mind” position with your customers and prospects. Some of your competitors simply won’t remain stable through the downturn and they will either go out of business or become an acquisition for a larger company. Either way, the company that finds creative marketing strategies and continues to make marketing a high priority will be on top when the economy once again gains solid footing.

Here are some things to consider and evaluate to help you keep your marketing program on track, even in a bad economy.

Make education a priority and don’t be afraid to try new things.

Whether it’s you or someone else in your company responsible for marketing, get up to speed on the latest trends, particularly as they relate to your industry. Where are your target customers going for industry information, and what opportunities do those sources offer for advertising and promotion? You may have been on auto-pilot, advertising in the same magazines and going to the same trade shows for years. Have you explored online marketing opportunities? Online versions of trade publications, E-zines, email marketing, and social media like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook all provide great promotional opportunities for minimal cost. Now is the perfect time to get up to speed on some of the non-traditional, online marketing methods and dive in. You need to understand and take advantage of ALL of your marketing options.

If your website is getting outdated (more than 3 years old!), invest in a new one that is search engine optimized and built to draw more traffic.

Particularly if you are cutting back on print advertising and trade show attendance, your website must become an even more powerful marketing tool. The technology used to develop websites is constantly changing. Just as the search engines constantly change their methods for providing search results, so software and web developers must keep improving the plug-ins and tactics they use within a web site to make it more of a search engine magnet. A current, keyword rich, search engine optimized website; Blog; and social media presence are the recipe for landing on the first page of Google search results. Compared to ongoing print advertising, displays at large, national trade shows, and more traditional marketing tactics, a sound online strategy is a bargain in terms of cost.

Look for ways your company can provide solutions or relief to your customers – and then promote the heck out of it.

Take the time to really understand how the current economic situation is affecting your customers, and then do everything your company’s resources will allow to provide solutions or relief. Remember that all of your customers are feeling the stress of the economic downturn, just like you. Now is the time to think about ways of relieving their stress as well as the solutions your products and services offer.

Many of your competitors are just coasting, and have cut back on R&D. If you have the ability to develop or improve on products that will help your customers save money, do it.

Recognize your customers’ challenges on your Blog, and offer advice, technical assistance, and solutions.

Do you have an engineer who can offer live support through your website? There are lots of “Live Chat” plug-ins that are easy enough to incorporate into your existing website.

How about sponsoring events at your facility that are just for fun, but provide some much needed relief from the stress of the day to day grind?

Do you offer “lunch and learn” sessions where you educate customers on various topics related to your products or services? What if you go a step further, and along with your lunch and learn you make a massage therapist available for 15 minute “mini” massages after the meeting?

All of these ideas are things you can promote on your website, Blog, social media pages, and in other direct marketing tactics. Show you care – then make sure your customers know it! Believe me, the companies who offer something more today will be remembered when the economy turns around.

Review all of your current advertising activities and look for ways to get more bang for your buck.

Unless you’re a Fortune 500 company you’ve probably already cut back on your print advertising as compared to 4 or 5 years ago. Let’s face it: it’s expensive. Running a full page ad in a well circulated trade publication can cost between $5,000 and $9,000 PER AD! Yes, there are less expensive alternatives to print ads: email marketing, advertising on trade related websites, and even direct mail can be much less expensive. However, I would never recommend that you cut out your print ads completely. 

First, review the BPA audit statements of all the magazines in which you currently advertise. You might be advertising in two or three publications with a high percentage of cross over in readership. If so, cut one out.

You can also make your ad more to the point and reduce the size of your ad. Even in a half or third page ad, creative use of color and text will draw the eye.  Smaller ads aren’t ideal for image building or branding.  If this is your priority, you’ll probably have to stick with the full page; but maybe you can reduce the number of print ads and ramp up your online advertising on the publication’s website.

And finally, while publishers are a little hungrier for business, I suggest you (or your agency) become better at negotiating sweeter deals. Since you’ll be running more ads in one magazine (because you’ve dropped one or two with cross over) you’ll have more bargaining power. If the publication is bi-monthly, offer to pay for 5 ads and ask for the 6’th for free. Or pay for all the ads but ask for some free advertising on the publication’s website.

And if you really don’t feel comfortable asking for something specific, put the ball in your rep’s court and just ask, “What can you do for us that X and Y Magazines (their competitors) won’t?” You don’t “get” if you don’t ask.

Evaluate whether or not you need to make staff changes.

It’s the marketing that has to continue . . . not necessarily an internal team making it happen. This is a sensitive subject, as most employers do have a heart and don’t relish the thought of laying anyone off. However, business is business. Maybe it’s time to consider whether or not you really need a full-time graphic designer or marketing manager on staff. There are many experienced marketing professionals in every discipline who freelance for large corporations. When you compare the true cost of a full time marketing professional (benefits package, vacations, bonuses, etc.) with the cost to retain a “virtual” marketing manager, even if you hire a junior marketing assistant to coordinate activities internally, the cost will be much less than a seasoned marketing manager or director.

Marketing in today’s economy may be more challenging; but there’s no reason your marketing efforts have to come to a grinding halt. Look at how you market with a fresh pair of eyes, and you may be surprised at how much more you can accomplish – for a lot less money.

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