Marketing in a Recession – A survival guide?

Just a few thoughts about how to market in a recession.

Background –  my belief is that marketing is actually a ‘Strategic Management Discipline’ and should be at the centre of everything an organisation does to do its business, now and for the future.

It is an ongoing, continuous, process that is part of the fabric of your business, day to day, not something you do as a one off project, or once a year when things are quiet, or only when the bank manager asks, “What you are doing?”.

Real Marketing™ encompasses at least 7 areas and how those areas interact. These are: –

  • Sales – This is a subset of Marketing not the other way round – this is about sales processes and routes to engage with customers.
  • Promotions – We do this as well as, not instead of – this is how we get the messages about and from our organisation, products and services out to clients and others.
  • Finance – Is about: Pricing, yield, profit, revenue flow, payment terms, cash flow, ROI and ‘Will we make any money doing this?’
  • Research and Development – What are we going to make money out of once the market for what we are doing now, declines or goes commodity on us? What else could we do? What are our competitors doing and how and what is their pricing?
  • Distribution – What’s the point of making, promoting and selling something if the customers cannot get their hands on it in the right quantity, at the time that they want it, and where they want to buy it from?
  • The Marketplace – What is your target and actual Marketplace? How big is it? Is it expanding or contracting? What is it like? What are its characteristics? What avatars occupy it?
  • The Future – Marketplaces are in constant flux and change. It is thus necessary to have a plan for tracking your marketplace (and similar ones!) and anticipating those changes; ideally to your advantage. You need to do PEST, SWOT, Upside/Downside, Risk/Reward and other business analyses ideally on a regular basis and then compare performance with projections.

The trick, and indeed the vital necessity, is to keep all of them going, and in balance, to drive the business forward.  They are of course all interrelated and you cannot change one without it affecting all the rest.

(Most of the major business schools support this model in stark contrast to the many who confuse promotions or even advertising with the whole of marketing.  Increasingly and especially in a Web 2.0/3.0/IoT world, ‘push marketing’ is becoming less effective and ‘pull’ marketing increasingly important. Equally, the barriers to entry or survival are lower as a result but you do have to get it right)

This is particularly important in a recession, but some things that might need even more attention in a recession are: –

  1. Credit check before engaging – you should check the financial stability of those you wish to deal with, before you engage. What is the point of doing lots of work for someone who is unable or unwilling to pay you?
  2. Don’t take their risk for them – I’d also avoid payment terms where someone wants to pay you after they get paid. Why should you pay their banking charges and take their risk?
  3. Have very clear up front contracts for products and services – You must understand exactly what is expected, up front, anything else is a chargeable extra. Asking for more than was agreed after the event, with the threat of non-payment, is a common subterfuge as is using it as an excuse for late or refused payment.
  4. Farm much more than hunt – It costs many times more to find a new client than it does to get another order from an existing one. In a recession however, you will lose clients because they will cut back on their trading, or go bust.  Equally, they will be under attack from your competitors who are losing their clients too.  It is vital that your customer service and communication with clients is perfect n a recession – others will go the extra mile to capture them from you if you don’t.
  5. Protect customer expectations and base – You do this by ‘up front contracts’, and exemplary customer service and delivery, as above.
  6. Stay in touch and reassure – Make sure that you are in regular touch with your customers, give them offers, remind them of extra products or services they could have from you – above all keep them appraised of your situation and assure them of your continued attention and desire to do business with them.
  7. Check pricing strategy – In a Recession, there will be pressure on prices but if you drop yours, and volume falls as well, or you sell your limited resources too cheaply, it is easy to go bust. Your price is always what your clients are willing and able to pay.  If they are unwilling to pay, what you need to have to survive, stop trading in that item.  More trading in loss-makers just means you go bust faster.  You’d last longer spending your money in the pub, watching TV!
  8. Seek opportunity from the failure of competitors – If a competitor goes bust, find out if you can approach their customers (after all, they now have to go somewhere else) or, even if you can buy their customer and supplier databases from the liquidators or administrators, – this represents an easy access, new market, for you, especially if you are able to honour their outstanding warranty claims.
  9. Cooperate – Seek strategic alliances – Go seek these out, find those whose products or services are complementary to yours, or who are happy to exchange promotional links, or address your market place, with a different proposition, even if you pay introductory or affiliate payments. If there are common purchases, find out if there are group purchases possible for better discounts.
  10. Nurture your networks – Now more than ever you need your networks, find ways to help your network and make sure they know that you need referrals as well – to do this well they have to have a very good idea of what you do so make sure that you have communicated it clearly and often.
  11. Promote like crazy – now, more than ever, you need to increase your promotional efforts to the maximum that you can manage – and to get smart with it. If you don’t know how to do Viral for example, learn! (or of course hire someone who does). Do contras of what you do in exchange for advertising (or indeed other services such as web design, SEO or blogging), and make sure your web site and SEO are as effective as they can be.
  12. Don’t be tempted to cut back – Cutting back on marketing such as promotions, sales effort, distribution scope and R&D will simply leave you silent and blind in the marketplace when you most need to be seen and heard, and to be able to respond to market change fast and accurately.
  13. Automate – Automate as many back office and other processes as you can. If you can sell straight from the web site 24×7 via Paypal, or take advance orders and payment, then do so.  If order taking and processing, and even payment receipts, can be automated, then do it. You need all the time you have for delivery and sales.  Go find things to automate and if you can afford it, outsource those things you are no good at, or don’t do well, so that you can be most effective at what you do.
  14. Delegate – Don’t be tempted to believe that you are the only competent person in your organization, just because things are tough, – you are no use to your organization if you collapse from overwork or stress.
  15. Bail out early if necessary! Find an alternative – If your market really has died (and check very thoroughly that it really has), either stop trading as soon as you know, or find something else (possibly a variant or close cousin of what you were doing) to do instead, where there is a market.
  16. Preserve reputation – Whatever you do, do consider the impact on reputation – it becomes increasingly important in a recession as trust evaporates everywhere.
  17. Communicate – With Customers, Staff, Suppliers, Bankers and the media. Try to make it relevant and interesting even if the only message is “We are still here and still going for growth and success” – silence is often seen as having gone bust!
  18. Use suppliers to find business for you – Make sure that they are aware of what you do, who your target audiences are, what business you are looking for and ask them for referrals. After all the more you do the more you buy from them, no?
  19. Ask for referrals – Everywhere! Your clients, your customers, your bank, your network(s) (you do still network don’t you?), your suppliers, your relatives, your friends (but be very gentle with them, you’ll really need them if it does all go pear shaped).
  20. Continue learning and training – About marketing of course, after all you need to be up to speed on the latest techniques especially in SEO, but also about your business and your marketplace.

March 2020 Update

  1. Sell Knowledge – Increasingly, in recent years, and as some of us, perhaps near the age of retirement, need to step back from day to day to day engagement, there is a drive to provide knowledge and content via online automated delivery and billing. How best can you get what you do or know online?
  2. Sales Ladder – Create your Sales Ladder, at each stage deliver value ideally exceeding expected value to the recipient each time with an introduction to the next level.

Items Priced:

  • Free
  • £10 – £15
  • £100 – £150
  • £1,000 – £1,500
  1. Content – use the slack trading periods to invent and generate online or email able content. This might be:
  • Knowledge – What do know that others might value or pay for?
  • How to do things – What do you know how to do or do better?
  • Art – Music, Poetry, Literature, Images, Photographs
  • FAQs – Choose your topics
  • Consultancy
  • Mentoring
  • Counselling
  1. What else can you think of? Now is your time to be free to be creative
  2. Delivery/Charging Models – What models of charging or delivery will work for you? These might be: – Subscription, One off, Introductory, consultancy Mentoring, or Group Membership and I am sure that there are others!
  3. Tribes/Loyalty – Now is the time to build your tribe online. Let’s face it: your target audience will not be going out or be away from their homes very much and will be looking for things to fill their time and keep their spirits and skills up. How can you best help with that and build a loyal tribe for the future

Maurice T Watts – Marketing Troubleshooter Melville Marketing

©Copyright Maurice T Watts and Melville Marketing, February 2012 and March 2020 all reserved

Don’s Story – Does PR Matter?

A Scuba Dive Training and Gear Retailing client was speaking to me one day when the MD said “Maurice why does everyone locally think we are c**p [expletive denoting low quality] ?”

First Action was to check as to truth of assertion and details of why, if possible.

Surveys: formally of local dive clubs, visitors and, informally, of friends and contacts, revealed that the general opinion in the area was that the store was selling air refills where the air was of poor quality in terms of it’s purity.

So called “Bad Air” – pretty much the worst sin in Diving and very serious indeed for the shop’s reputation.

This was, in fact, patently untrue since the store was regularly tested by the HSE and other authorities, on a shorter than necessary interval, and was receiving certificates for the highest possible purity of Air.

It should be noted that, in a dive shop and training school, Air Refills are what drive trade to the store and school and are an excellent source of opportunity sales in the shop and also sales of up-skilling courses and diving holidays. On a weekend, an individual can refill up to 4 times and certainly once!

The school also offered boat dives, both all day hard boat and ½ day RIB dives, including free Air Refills with the dive and providing instructors or qualified buddies too along with potential gear sales. If clients didn’t want the air they’d use another centre for the dives too.

Investigation revealed that a competitive dive shop was telling its customers and contacts that my clients were selling Bad Air. Since the proprietor was a local man and respected diver compared with my client who was an even more respected diver, but perceived as being “Down from London” to make a profit, the rumour – a blatant lie- was spreading rapidly.

The Remedy had various phases.

Firstly the Air was tested again, by the most respected laboratory in the country, showing it to be of the highest possible quality. Copies of the test certificate were attached to the door and windows of the shop, with a Warning Notice about bad air quality, and pointing out that this was the certificate to look for to be certain of good Air quality. (We knew that the competitor used an adequate but, lower cost, less stringent, test house!)

Secondly Instructors from the School (one of the most highly certified in the Country by the way) were dispatched to do guest speaking training sessions on air quality and testing issues instructing the club divers about testing, how to test, dangers of impurities, sources of impurities etc etc. This is a topic on the branch training scheme but professional instructors are a bonus at branch/club level. The instructors were able to tell the members about the quality of the test house used and give examples (including copies of a ‘typical’ test certificate which just happened to be from my client’s shop) of good practice.

Thirdly, since this was in a coastal venue, the local weekly papers were happy to run a series of articles written by the proprietor about diving and diving safety issues with examples of good practice. There were a series of 10 articles, run during the summer peak dive season, and one was about air quality and a few others mentioned its importance. A spin off from this campaign was an increase of trade to both school and shop over and above those alienated locally both from locals and from holiday visitors to the area.

Fourthly, since the proprietor was a well known, and very highly qualified, instructor nationally and had a good personal network, in Diving, he was able to publish a factual expert article about air quality in the national magazine for Divers again boosting the school and providing authoritative information about quality backed up again by copies of the test certificates for the centre.

Fifthly we ran a viral campaign by having staff, friends and supporters spreading the story, about the disinformation from the competitor and the reality including the high quality re tests, as far and wide as we could. This involved ‘friendly’ guest visits to every dive club within 50 miles radius and conversations in the bar after the meetings. We did the same with our contacts in diving nationally and in other clubs especially those in London (the nearest major city).

Sixthly, we discovered, at emergency staff meetings (held to engage the whole organisation/team in the problem and solution), during this exercise that the staff didn’t really feel part of the centre. They saw themselves as just ‘wage slaves’ with no investment in the success of their employer (they missed the point entirely that if the centre folded they’d be out of a job!) and did not really see why they were involved. We pointed out the dangers to them and got their buy-in to the quality issues (they were actually affronted at the unfair ‘bad air’ accusation and took it personally!) with the result that they told every visitor to the shop about the tests and the superb quality of their air!

We also issued the whole staff with Logo-ed T-Shirts, Sweatshirts and Fleeces to wear at work, as a sort of uniform, which also made them feel more of a team and improved staff buy-in to the mission.

The Result?
Good local reputation for the shop and school
20% increase in trade
Happier, more motivated, more committed staff.
Oh, and also:
Happy client for Melville Marketing
Nice celebratory dinner for Maurice with Client!

Distribution – part of Marketing?

Surely not!

Those who know me will recollect that I maintain that Distribution along with Promotions, Sales, R&D and Finance are all interlinked parts of Marketing. I have a story for you today that makes the point.

A well known catalogue and online goods retailing operation were advertising in early October that goods purchased then did not have to be paid for until March 2007 on a “special” “buy now pay later” deal.

They also said that dehumidifiers were available on 48 hours delivery at OK, but not spectacular, prices.

My lady friend therefore ordered one online on 18th October as the weather turned cold to reduce condensation in her home. 3 days later she was told that delivery would be on 14th November not the 48 hours in the catalogues, adverts and on the website.

Imagine how she feels to be told on 9th November that “we anticipate” delivery on 15th January 2007. The “special deal” is beginning to look like pay on delivery! She is, of course, thinking about cancelling and buying elsewhere.

So my question is: – How do you think that she, as a customer, views them as a supplier, especially as she has bought things from them for some years on a regular basis? Deliveries used to be reasonable but recently had become longer and less reliable.

While she has been waiting, all other purchases have been put on hold or diverted to other suppliers. She is considering not bothering with them again.

More questions:

• Is her impression of the brand good?
• Is she confident to deal with them again?
• Is their reputation damaged in her eyes? And in the eyes of all the people she tells about it?
• Will she believe their promotions and adverts?
• Will she perceive them as providing good value for money?
• Will their price offers attract her in the future?

Of course not!

Now the received wisdom is that it costs up to 30 times as much to acquire a new customer compared with retaining an existing one.

Conclusion: A failure in distribution is resulting in loss of: – business, customer confidence, credibility, as well as wasted advertising expenditure and sales efforts along with increased costs. On top of that if other suppliers have the item in stock this supplier will also lose market share.

Agreed this is only one customer but who is willing to bet that she is the only one in this situation?
(BTW have you noticed how many adverts there are on the TV for dehumidifiers at this time of year – could it be that they are a popular seasonal item?)

My case rests!

First Published on by Maurice Watts, the Marketer on 9-Nov-06

Real Marketing

Do you want Real Marketing? Do you need a Real marketer?

Do you want Real Marketing? I only ask because there seems little of it about. What do I mean by ‘Real Marketing’? I suspect that what follows will come as a surprise to many who think that they know all about marketing without ever having studied it. I might single out accountants and many managers, especially in the SME sector, but that would be cruel.

Real marketing is not simply about promotion let alone just advertising and possibly PR (itself often perceived as free advertising – As if Editors were not wise to that idea!).

It is actually a ‘Strategic Management Discipline’ (Source – CIM, Harvard BS, Henley College, Ashridge, MBS, LSE and many others who should be taken seriously) and should be at the centre of everything an organisation does to do its business now and for the future.

Real marketing encompasses at least 5 areas

  • Sales (Yes, this is a subset of Marketing not the other way round)
  • Promotions (We do this as well as, not instead of)
  • Finance (Pricing, yield, profit, revenue flow, ROI and ‘Will we make any money doing this?’) Research and Development (What are we going to make money out of once the market for what we are doing now declines)
  • Distribution (What’s the point of making, promoting and selling something if the customers cannot get their hands on it in the right quantity, at the time that they want it, and where they want to buy it from)

Real Marketers not only deal with all of the above but also with how each area interacts with all of the others and not just once but all of the time in an environment where everything changes all of the time and there are no hard and fast rules to follow.

In the days when I had my own marketing consultancy my least favourite client said

“Maurice I have this great product – market it”

whereas my favourite client said:

“Maurice I have this great idea for a product should we market it?”.

My point is that by the time you have made something or got a service ready for launch you should already have done a big part of the marketing. At the simplest level, do you already have complete answers for the following questions as an absolute minimum?

  • Who wants it?
  • Who needs it?
  • Who is already doing it? How are they doing?
  • How much is someone willing, and able, to pay for it?
  • How many people are likely to buy it, at what price, at what volume, from where, and when?
  • How and at what cost can I get it to them?
  • How and at what cost can I tell them about it?
  • Can we make or do it all at a price that lets us make a sensible profit and pay back the banks, investors and shareholders with enough left over to grow and develop new products or services in the future?

Real marketers also need crystal balls because future gazing and a 360-degree vision of their environment should also come with the turf. Add in SWOT, PEST, and BCG analysis (if you need to ask I’ve made my point!) and one should see that its not for amateurs, the faint hearted or those of closed minds.

Organisations frequently believe that they cannot afford to do all of the above. I suggest that, for long-term survival, they cannot afford not to.

My question is therefore why, when times are tough, do they cut marketing expenditure first, leaving themselves silent and blind in the marketplace?

In my, admittedly biased, view the last salesman should turn out the lights just after the last marketer has left. If you can still promote and plan you can still sell even if you have no bean counting and production left (you can always find someone to make things and take care of the numbers). By contrast it doesn’t matter how much you can make or how good your control of the numbers is if you have no way of getting it to market and then sold.

If they are not supported and cosseted by good marketing, your sales force will struggle, become demotivated and eventually move on.

Incidentally, firing your long established salespeople when times are tough and replacing them with new ones who don’t know your business, clients or marketplace (even if they appear younger and more energetic) because sales are falling in a declining market may not be the best strategy either!

Finally, why did I submit this blog? Well, actually, I am looking for an organisation that needs a real marketer – ME – because I have just had my own post made redundant (posts are redundant not people – this is for all of the others out there in my position), following internal consolidation, although I must say that my present employer is treating me very well under the circumstances and is certainly not committing all of the ‘sins’ above.

If you don’t yet have all this information you need to obtain it or seriously rethink whether you should be in this business. Melville marketing can obtain it for you or teach your staff how to do that and possibly suggest sources too.

  • When growth Stalls – you need to look at new opportunities, marketplaces or product extensions to get you moving again.
  • When times are tough it is tempting to cut marketing expenditure – if you must OK, but you should realise that you leave yourself silent and blind in your marketplace.
  • With expert help, perhaps something can still be done on low budget even if only enough to tell your clients and peers that you are still around to do business with. If your competition cannot do even this, you are ahead when things improve.

First Published on by Maurice Watts, the Marketer on 17-Jan-03

A Stretch for Computer People

Stand with the feet shoulder width apart and the arms relaxed by the sides with the hands pointing forwards (at Right angles to the arms) about hip height.

Then make circular motions in opposite directions starting towards the centre with the hands as though polishing two dinner plates at waist height – do 3 circuits.

At the end of the third circuit bring the hands together, palm to palm, in the centre of the body fingers upwards as if praying.

Push joined palms as far upwards as possible until standing on tiptoes with hands over your head (Whilst breathing in)

When your hands reach the top turn the palms outward but keep the hands at right angles to the arms- push out as hard as you can with the heels of the hands whilst keeping the arms locked and lowering the arms sideways. (Remember to breathe out!) sink back onto your heels.

Return to the start position.

Repeat at least 3 circuits or until tension in Neck, Shoulders and Back is reduced enough.

[I wish to credit my Shiatsu Teacher Terri Goddard for teaching me this one]

Aerobics for Eyes – Personal Maintenance

If you find that after an hour or two you are getting headaches, or your eyes feel tired, try my ‘Aerobics for Eyes’

What happens with all muscles which are held in the same position for long periods, is that they stiffen up. The same is true of the small muscles within your eyes. If you are looking at an object at the same distance from you for some time they stiffen and fatigue. The most common object that this happens with is a computer screen!

Imagine holding your arm out in the same position for four hours! Yet we sit in front of a screen for long periods and don’t think of doing something simple about it.

So here’s the process:

Every hour for about 5 minutes follow this routine (you’ll need a window or somewhere where you can see some distance).

Firstly focus on a near object (a finger, pencil, ‘photo or similar about one foot (30cm) from your face) and let your eyes settle into focus so that it is clear.

Then focus on as faraway an object as you can see (clouds, boats on the horizon, far hills or trees, even buildings on the horizon – what’s important is the ‘far’ bit) equally let your focus settle until your vision is clear.

Then refocus on the ‘near’ object and settle, then refocus on the ‘far’ object and settle – and so on for about five minutes or until you eyes feel relaxed.

You’ve just done the equivalent of as good ‘stretch’, but on your eyes!

Of course you should be doing something similar for your back and shoulders at the same time but that’s for another time!