Business marketing in an economic downturn demands a critical re-examination of your existing marketing plan and finding low-cost yet effective ideas to remain profitable. While it may seem logical to cut back on advertising and promotions during a slow economy, it is essential to keep your business name and logo in the public eye if you want to be perceived as successful, reliable and enduring. The solution lies in identifying smart alternatives that will help your business achieve this objective. Savvy marketers suggest that instead of ‘playing it safe’ by cutting back on your advertising budget you should rather initiate a campaign to rejuvenate your marketing strategy. However, in order to be effective these low-cost ideas need to be creative, unique and original. First, start by re-evaluating your target market to find out who exactly is buying and why; it’s also critical to identify which advertising options work best in generating sales in a downturn economy and then increase the budget for these options while reducing other ‘business as usual’ areas. Second, re-focus by rethinking your marketing mix and adapting your plan of action but not the overall budget. You may want to boost your business by launching a PR and Publicity campaign, which should include sending out press kits to relevant media for publication; make sure the press releases are newsworthy and that your focus is to connect with customers’ needs while at the same time promoting your brand image.
Low-cost marketing ideas in a downturn economy:
1. Embark on a market research campaign to re-acquaint yourself with your industry. Gaining a fresh perspective of consumers’ expectations will be worth the time and expense and provide new opportunities to establish a relationship with investors, suppliers, customers and prospects. Consider exploring new opportunities such as ‘going green’ or ‘frugal practicality’ to boost awareness of your business.
2. Update your web site on a regular basis to showcase your business. Offer time-sensitive special discount deals. Also include information rich content that provides solutions to problems associated with reduced disposable income; people are always looking for ways to stretch their budget. Create links on your site that enables prospects to download free information (catalogue, price list); make sure the download is linked to special offers on your product or service. Keep a database of customers’ personal information; send them electronic holiday cards, birthday wishes, newsletters and notices of special offers and sales. A good way to collect personal data is to include a registration card with your product to capture the name, address and other information about your customers. Ask their permission to forward material to their email address.
3. Join social network groups on the Internet. This will provide the opportunity to communicate market-related information to potential consumers. Networking with consumers through this medium also opens doors to new markets at little or no cost.
4. Increase your involvement in community or charity work. Your business name will receive valuable exposure and offer opportunities to receive free publicity. People are generally prone to supporting businesses that give back to their community.
5. Corporate gift giving is your opportunity to make a lasting impact on customers. When most businesses are cutting back on giving branded gifts to customers, now is your chance to make an impression with a unique corporate gift. An effective corporate gift need not be expensive, but it should be memorable. Besides, it’s the thought that counts.
6. Hand out seed-embedded calling cards. Handmade from recycled paper, these calling cards are embedded with seeds (to grow a patch of flowers or culinary herbs). The card is attached to a standard printed business card so that the recipient can remove the section that contains the seeds while retaining the other section with your name and contact details. The idea is for the recipient to plant the seeded section of the calling card in soil and watch the plants grow.
7. Distribute door-hanger calling cards to homes in your target area. These door-hangers, printed on 300gsm stock board and die-cut to fit over a door knob, include relevant information about your business. Include eye-catching graphics and perhaps a catchy slogan. Contact Theresa for a design and printing quotation.
8. Advertise your business through your voice mail message. Take time to write a catchy script for a phone message or voice mail that communicates to the caller in a professional yet friendly manner. In brief, inform the caller who about your business and specials on offer. When people call during closed hours, this may be your only opportunity to tell them about your products or services. Consider allowing the caller to leave a short detailed message and their phone number so that you may return the call.
9. Hire reliable people to place flyers on windshields of vehicles stationed in parking lots. Many motorists regard windshield flyers with irritation and it is therefore important that your flyer offers something of value, like a discount coupon for your product or service or free consultation. You could also include a seed-embedded insert with your flyer to promote a slogan or theme to highlight your business promotion.
10. Create custom-designed place mats (or coasters, napkin holders) printed on stock board (300gsm) for local restaurants that incorporates your creatively designed advertisement. Approach owners of café tearooms, sandwich shops, coffee houses and pizza parlors to offer free paper place mats (or coasters, napkin holders) for their tables and trays. The artwork should include your company name, contact details and possibly a discount coupon. Consider also including advertising copy promoting other businesses in the area and share the cost of printing. Contact Theresa for a design and printing quotation.
11. Use your car to advertise your business. You can advertise your business wherever you drive or park your vehicle. Put on magnetic signs on the car doors. Create a custom auto sunshade from a length of sturdy cardboard that you can prop up against the windshield whenever the car is parked; create eye-catching artwork that incorporates your business message and contact details. Contact Theresa for a design and printing quotation.
12. Get the customer’s attention with creative in-store. Add colourful ‘shelf talkers’ signage hanging on the edge of the shelf below. Spraypaint graffiti-looking signs on walls. Hand out custom printed inflated balloons. Contact Theresa for a design and printing quotation.
13. Mount a bulletin board where it is clearly visible to customers. Invite customers to post personal advertisements on the board to build goodwill; also utilize the space to put up posters promoting your business and events sponsored by your enterprise.
14. Create a slogan that is memorable and instantly tells people who and what your business is, and lets people know where you are. Use the slogan in all your print advertising and marketing communications.
15. Make your in-store restroom facilities a pleasurable experience for customers. Keep the facilities neat and hygienically clean, well stocked with toilet rolls and smelling great (opt for an industrial air freshener). Consider feeding some tranquil background music into the restroom. Give customers something to read by displaying a creative and humorous poster on the inside door that reminds them what products and services you provide.
16. Provide customers with some reading material or something to listen to while they are waiting in line. Occupying their time in a constructive manner will help reduce anxiety and put them in a better mood. Besides making magazines available to bide their time, consider placing comfortable chairs and couches throughout the store so that the elderly, spouses and children can relax while the other family member shops. You could even create a lounge area with couches, magazines and a large TV screen in the back of their store for weary shopping partners.
17. Reward employees for great customer service, and empower them to offer suggestions on how to improve performance. A very high number of customers are lost to poor performance or bad attitude. While business owners don’t have time to supervise every customer transaction, regular in-store training to motivate and develop skills is important. Create an anonymous suggestion box, which only you, the manager, can open. Have your employees wear name tags so that customers can identify them.
18. Create a store newsletter and include photographs of regular customers and a short interview in which they express positive comments about your business. Provide incentives to increase business, for example, extended business hours, free parking, discounts for senior citizens, or an in-store child-care facility.
19. Place a friendly employee at the entrance door to welcome customers to the store, pull out a shopping cart, answer queries they might have, direct them to sales items, or present them with an in-store leaflet. The host or hostess at the entrance door also acts as a security guard. Utilize this opportunity to collect critical data about what kind of customers visit the business (age, gender) and the type of questions they ask.
20. Create a short after-hours phone message to give customers information about your business they might find valuable. For example, “Thank you for calling Swift Renovators. We’ll be open promptly at seven-thirty tomorrow morning to serve you. Our business hours are seven thirty a.m. to six p.m. Monday to Sunday. To leave a message of any length, press 1 now. For store location and directions, press 2. For an update on new products and current sales, press 3.”
21. Offer a self-serve gift wrap service. Equip a table with a selection of wrapping paper, ribbon, cello tape and scissors. Consider selling gift certificates, which can be gift wrapped in a box.
22. Direct Mail Marketing: Put together a selection of pamphlets, discount vouchers, booklet bookmarks and a product brochure, plus a small free gift, and mail to customers and prospects. Contact Theresa for a design and printing quotation.
23. Print official-looking invitations and send to customers and prospects to announce a sale, grand opening, seminar or other event. Contact Theresa for a design and printing quotation.
24. Make up a ‘welcome kit’ to send to new customers, containing a product brochure, calling card, discount vouchers and a promotional gift item, plus a print card welcoming them. Package the kit in a unique ‘envelope’ or container (something that personifies your business) to create interest; such as an empty paint can, oversized greeting card or plastic envelope, CD Jewel case, large brown paper bag, Have the ‘envelope’ delivered to their door by courier so that the recipient has to sign for it.
25. Include a product leaflet when you send your invoices to customers, it’s likely to prompt repeat purchases.
26. Check your local newspaper for new business prospects.Newspapers list business ownership changes; send the new owners a short note of congratulations, a gift certificate for your services, and a calling card. Contact Theresa for a design and printing quotation.
27. If your business makes house calls, such as an electrician, plumber, builder or painter, send postcards to homeowners in the area letting them know what service you provide. For instance, a card from a building contractor might say, “Our team just built your neighbor’s fourth bedroom and painted the exterior of the home at 11 Montgomery Street. The respective jobs costs less than you think and are guaranteed for 10 years! If you like what you see, give us a call for a free estimate.” Most tradesmen post temporary signs in their customers’ yard while they’re working on the house.
28. Before organizing to exhibit at a trade show, advertise a special contest or in-store event to publicize the exhibit and to draw attendees to your booth. For example, you could advertise a lucky number draw to win prizes or a free video presentation at your booth. Run advertisements in the local newspaper about the forthcoming trade show and promote your booth. Negotiate with the trade show management to share the costs of running the ad campaign, which will attract attendees to their show. Send out personal invitations to customers and suppliers to attend the show; you may want to include a gift voucher so that they can redeem a gift at your booth. Dress up an employee in a costume to represent the company mascot and walk the halls and isles of the trade show to entice attendees to visit your booth. Offer trade show attendees branded tote bags to hold show literature, which will advertise your company as they walk through the aisles of the show. Give away branded t-shirts at your booth if the recipient agrees to put it on right away, thus advertising your company and product.
29. Promote your product or service by exhibiting at local church or school fairs, and flea markets. Place a small ad in the local newspaper. While you could man the booth yourself, you might want to exhibit your product with another vendor’s product.
30. Instead of having a storefront in a mall and pay high overheads, consider opting for a short-term rental agreement to put up a temporary mobile booth in a strategic position within the walkway of the shopping mall. A good time to exhibit is on the weekend or during special promotional events that bring traffic into the mall.
31. Celebrate your business’ birthday by inviting customers and the media for an in-store celebration and a sale.
32. Present customers with free promotional items that tie into a holiday celebration or product launch.
33. Customers value receiving ‘something extra’ in appreciation of their making a major purchase. Giving them something that adds value to their purchase builds a relationship with the customer. For instance, if the client has purchased a lounge suite, present them with a floor rug or scatter cushions to compliment their purchase. A plumber can give every customer a sample bottle of liquid drain cleaner or air freshener as part of house calls. An auto repair shop can do a complete valet service before the vehicle is delivered to the customer.
34. Re-use and re-cycle where possible. Make your packaging reusable. Let your customers know that you encourage re-using packaging materials by printing the corporate logo on recycled materials. Contact Theresa for a design and printing quotation.
35. Encourage customers to become active participants in the development of your business. By involving customers in the process and taking cognizance of their suggestions you build mutual trust and ensure that your service is a memorable experience for them.
36. Create a smart dress code for people working in the business. The style of dress need not be expensive or high fashion; it is important that employees are comfortable and confident wearing the garments. A good choice is tailored trousers for gents and either trousers or knee-length skirt for ladies. A soft-collar golf shirt is appropriate and casual for both men and women. Have your company logo machine embroidered on the front pocket of the shirt.
37. Make sure that the interior and exterior lighting of the store is adequate. Customers tend to buy more when an establishment has good lighting and products are clearly visible. Your company signage should be especially prominent at night, including well-placed ground lighting to light up the outside walls.
38. Put customers in a good (purchasing) mood by broadcasting uplifting music in your store.
39. Know what your competitors are doing at all times. Make a point of visiting similar stores to compare what they are doing that you can copy or build on. As yourself how you can stand out and provide a better product or service.
40. Sell custom merchandising such as t-shirts, caps, sweatshirts, mugs, towels and tote bags with your company logo screen printed or machine embroidered on them. Have you staff wear the logoed garments to remind customers that the items are available to purchase. Your employees will be walking advertisements in and outside of the store. Be prepared to sell the advertising merchandising at cost price or just above, bearing in mind their value in advertising your business. It is however important that the items are of a high quality as this reflects on the perceived equivalent standard of the business. Contact Theresa for a design and quotation.
41. Changing the name and image of your business could mean a complete turnaround from a struggling concern to a highly visible and prosperous enterprise. Choose a name that is unique, memorable and one that conveys a definite need. Changing the name of the business warrants re-evaluating the original business plan and spending quality time re-thinking the position of the business, its image, and objectives, marketing mix and development strategies, and auditing your customer service. You may need to upgrade the product itself or even expand the range; in order to provide a more comprehensive value product consider combining your product or service with another to create a package that has more marketability. Keep your employees informed (usually by memorandum) of any changes that are incurred in creating a new product so that they are thoroughly knowledgeable when taking to customers (training manual).
42. Create an informal refreshment bar in your store so that you may offer free beverages and snacks to your customers. This gesture builds goodwill for your company and can differentiate you from your competitors.
43. Utilize the expertise and talents of your employees to give a special service to customers. Can an employee play a musical instrument, do miming, tie balloon animals or create visuals on computer to design furniture layout?
44. Every employee should have his or own batch of calling cards. These should be handed to relatives, friends and other prospects. Contact Theresa for a design and printing quotation.
45. Create a fair quantity of pamphlets that contain useful information about your business. Include your company logo, eye-catching graphics or photographs, a description of what the business offers, and phone numbers on the front and back of the pamphlet. Purchase a number of acrylic display cases to hold the pamphlets, and place these on the counter at doctors and dentists waiting rooms, auto repair shops, hairdressers, real estate agents, etc. Put a sticker on each acrylic case that says ‘Free, take one. Contact Theresa for a design and quotation.
46. Create an event in front of your store to increase foot traffic and attract people to your store; alert the media to get your event mentioned in the local newspaper. Examples of traffic-increasing events include the following:
– Invite a musician to play the violin or cello in front of your store entrance.
– Commission an artist to make sketches of people posing for a portrait.
– A mime or clown could entertain passersby.
– Drama students could present short puppet show skits.
– The company mascot could make candy floss using a candy floss machine.
47. Increase the visibility of your store during a sale by using bunting or helium balloons tethered to a rope, mascots, banners, and a red carpet leading into the store.
48. Set your business above the competition by producing a custom published booklet that contains content-rich information about your company and products to strengthen your communication efforts and develop relationships with your target markets. A custom publication serves to separate your brand from the competition, build customer loyalty, and boost the prospect of sales from both existing customers and prospects. Contact Theresa for a design and quotation.
49. Have a giant cake or pizza made and invite customers to sample a slice. You may even want to make this a weekly event exclusively for pensioners’ shopping.
Words by Theresa Lutge-Smith (email@example.com)