In the News

Marketing in a market downturn

There is no question that the market took a significant downturn due to businesses scaling back, shutting down and shifting priorities due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It would make sense that traditional marketing needs to shift as well. This is especially true when your customers have changed their own priorities and might consider a sales pitch or flashy campaign insensitive.

Is the answer to just stop marketing your business, pull all your ads and hunker down until consumers are in a buying mood again?

Quite the opposite, in fact. Your marketing might need a slight course correction, but there is no need to take your foot off the gas if you are conscientious of your surroundings, are agile and prepared to put on the breaks when it is necessary.

To understand marketing during an economic recession, you need to understand the dynamics of a recession. Without getting too technical, each recession has three phases — the fall, the rise and the growth. Your marketing will be focused on softening the fall, shortening the duration of the rise and accelerating the growth.

The most important marketing step you can make right now, while we are still struggling to fully recover, is to invest in branding and understand your customers during the fall and slump.

Your marketing should be focused on messaging that builds loyalty and familiarity. You are part of your community, and it makes sense to let your customers (and potential customers) know how you are helping them.

Be empathetic and sensitive to the stresses and anxieties of your customers. You may have to change your images or messaging that were perfect before COVID-19. Your message should be informative and positive, but not naïve.

During the fall is also when you can identify and market those products or services that are most relevant to customers now. Customers behave differently during an economic downturn as well. Most at the very least scale back their spending — some more aggressively than others — and re-prioritize their typical buying.

Use whatever data you can — sales numbers, web visits, click rates on email campaigns or social media posts — to understand what your customers are most interested in right now. Use your media investments to boost these items. And put marketing for other products, launches or initiatives that do not relate to your customers’ immediate needs on the back burner for now.

An economic downturn is also the time to get creative. Insert some personality and content into your marketing through email and web to help you stand out and build relationships. Explore new ways of delivering your services and invite your customers into that journey. Invest time in resources you haven’t explored, like search engine optimization or digital marketing.

The brand loyalty and customer insight you build to soften your fall will also boost your rise when the economy rebounds. Spend the time now to consider how your brand can stand out and invest in the planning and tools you will need to remain top of mind and first in line when your customers are ready to return. And, eventually, you will be in a great position to invest in marketing that will help your business grow along with the economy.

The past few months have been uncertain for businesses and customers alike. You can be a source of certainty, hope and assurance for your customers by listening to their needs and returning to your mission with your marketing. And, when stability returns to our world, your customers will know they can rely on you and hopefully return the favor.

Building Your Small Business Brand

What is your brand?

That can be an intimidating question for many small business owners. And it is one that too many people neglect out of fear of getting it wrong.

The good news is you are already creating and building your brand. According to Jeff Bezos, “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.” Marty Neumeir, author of “The Dictionary of Brand” and renowned brand strategist, says, “A brand is a person’s gut feeling about a product, service or organization.

In other words, your brand is what people think, feel and believe about your business. A brand is far more than your logo or slogan or advertising. Those things contribute to your brand, certainly. But what is as important as your creative assets, if not more, is the experience people have when they interact with your business.

The trickier question, then, is how can you build with intention a brand that is an asset to your bottom line and your company’s future?

Know Yourself

The first step in building your brand, according to branding experts, is to spend time getting to know yourself. Define your core values and what you want to be known for. Be unambiguous, specific and aspirational, and keep it simple. Imagine you meet a potential client in an elevator, and you only have that short ride to sell them on your business.

You should also know your target audience. Defining your customer — and what you mean to them — is a critical step in defining your brand. Ideally, you will use market research and data, but do not discount the value of your own, honest insight. You can probably describe your ideal customer already because you have built a business around serving them.

The last part of knowing yourself is to know your industry and what makes you special within it. What makes your widget unique? Why do your customers choose you, not your competitors? Experts call this your “unique selling proposition.” Whether it is outstanding service, a unique product or attention to details, your unique selling proposition should be integrated into your brand.

Color in the Picture

Once you have defined your brand, it is time to get creative. Now is the time to choose a logo that will be many people’s first impression of your business. This is also the time to think about your brand style — how your brand looks, including colors, fonts and design aesthetics you will use on everything from your web site to your walls. This might be when you create a tagline — the “Just Do It” of your brand. And, this is almost certainly the time to build a functional and appealing online presence, check out social media and print your business cards.

If you are not confident in your ability to do this on our own, it would be a good idea to seek out a marketing and branding professional. Paying an expert to get your branding right the first time is well worth the investment.

Fulfill Your Promise

It is important that you do not just say who you are as a brand, but you also demonstrate it. Every time your business interacts with the public — including customers, vendors, brand impressions and products — is an opportunity to reinforce your brand promise.

Brands like Zappos know that the customer experience is as important, if not more so, than the product they sell in building brand loyalty. Ben and Jerry’s is known for quality ice cream because they know their brand is being judged with every spoonful of Cherry Garcia.

Unfortunately, every interaction is also an opportunity to break that promise and erode trust in your business. Imagine how your trust in Zappos would be eroded if you received poor customer service, or if Ben and Jerry’s decided to use cheaper but lower-quality ingredients.

Consider the values that your business stands for and use those values as a lens through which you view every decision and product. If something is not true to your brand identity, consider why you are doing it and how you can better center that choice in your values. Remember, trust in your brand is not about the promises you make, it is about the promises you keep.

Building a brand people trust and value is not complicated, in the end. Fancy logos, catchy slogans and flashy websites are not as important as a product and reputation people can trust. It comes down to knowing who you are as a business, telling your customers what to expect from you and delivering on that commitment.