There is nothing like a downturn in the economy to make business owners rely on good old American ingenuity. Having to tighten your marketing budget does not necessarily mean less marketing or less powerful marketing. In fact taking time to do a marketing makeover analysis may lead you to some better and more cost-effective avenues for getting out the message about your products or services.
Think ‘Out of the Office’
Whether you’re a sole proprietor or have a marketing team, carve out some time for an alternative marketing brainstorm session outside of your office. Find someplace creative and comfortable to meet, such as an upbeat coffee shop, a fun restaurant, a bookstore, or a library. Bring some colored markers, a lot of blank paper, and any marketing books you find inspiring. Ask your team to do some quick searches for innovative marketing case studies. Visit the Web sites of major business schools or advertising and marketing associations for sources. Then give everyone a chance to talk about what they think could work and agree upon ways to implement some of the best ideas.
Downgrade Your Ad Buys
One way to immediately cut a marketing budget is to downgrade the type of advertising you are doing or its frequency. If you’ve been advertising on television, try radio, which is less expensive. If your business caters to higher-end consumers, become a sponsor of public television or radio, which requires no production costs at all. Remember that just about every business is also feeling the pain. Use that to your advantage when negotiating terms. Haggle for long-term, less expensive contracts.
Now Is the Time for Online Marketing
Of course, some of the most cost-effective marketing opportunities are on the Internet. It’s inexpensive and allows for targeted, specific marketing. Using Google’s AdWords service, you can create campaigns based on keyword placement and geography. Your ads display on Google and its partner sites when users search on Google using one of your keywords. You can limit the ad run based on countries or states you choose. And you only pay if someone clicks your ad. The best feature is that AdWords allows you to cap your spending on a daily basis. If you designate a budget of $10 a day, the ads will automatically stop running when you’ve spent that amount and then begin the next day.
If you have a Web site, learn to use keywords that drive traffic to it and increase your profile in search results. If you’re not familiar with online marketing, ask a Web-savvy friend, or hire a company to do an analysis of your Web presence. Adding reciprocal links can bring more traffic to your site because search engine robots follow links. Be sure to update your Web site often (even in small ways) as that is another way to lure the robots to your site.
If you’re selling products (as opposed to a service), you can use the Internet to opt in to affiliate advertising programs, which position your business on other sites in the chosen network in exchange for a small transaction fee if you make a sale via the link. These programs are popular with nonprofits, which use them as fund-raising tools. Be proactive and reach out to appropriate programs to market your merchandise.
Everything Old Is New Again
While understandably your first thoughts for alternative marketing may be Web-related, brushing up on historic marketing tactics can’t hurt. In fact some might be refreshing to the consumer. Much of what we call “guerilla marketing” now has DNA similar to marketing tactics of years gone by. Circuses held parades upon arriving to town to help boost ticket sales. If you’re from the Southeast, you’ve no doubt seen the “See Rock City” barns. The owner of Rock City, a roadside attraction in Lookout Mountain, Georgia, offered to paint farmers’ barns for free if he could include the words “See Rock City” on the side facing the road.
Consider working out deals with local restaurants where you supply coffee cups with your company’s name. You get exposure, the owner gets free cups. Many schools sell coupon books as fund-raisers; offering a coupon is an inexpensive way for you to get your name out. Another option, depending on what you are selling, is to go straight to the school, soccer league, or Boy Scouts and cut a deal with them to sell your product for a commission as a fund-raising project.
Pull out the colored markers and brainstorm alternative ways to get exposure in your community. Are you trying to get the word out about your solar panel business? See if you can work with a local school on a solar power–oriented science fair that could double as an information seminar. Help underwrite the project (i.e., make a donation to the school) and invite the public and press. Do you own a bike shop? Consider hosting some bike safety or repair workshops for families. Give participants a small discount to your store for attending.
To Volunteer Is Divine
Encourage and reward your employees for putting together teams for walk-a-thons or other community fund-raisers. Check into the cost of sponsorship, and if you do nothing else, make sure your team has shirts or hats with your company’s name. Sign up a group to man the phone bank when the public television station has its annual fund-raiser or for the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon. Be public-relations savvy and make sure the local media knows of your firm’s participation.