The crisis on Wall Street created quite a ruckus on every Main Street across the globe. Stock, currency and commodity markets signal that investors believe even tougher times are ahead. For marketers, those tougher times have already arrived. The Association of National Advertisers reported that 87 percent of marketers have made cutbacks to their marketing and advertising plans. That’s not surprising; marketing budgets are historically the first to be cut in a downturn. And this downturn is going to get ugly.
There has already been a noticeable shift in buyer behavior. Consumers across all segments are responding to the troubled economy by reining in spending, postponing major purchases and trading down when possible. In fact, they are looking at once-trusted brands with a more critical eye.
You are facing what may be the most difficult decisions of your career. Do you use what’s left of your shrinking budget to go after “share of voice” in an attempt to pick up market share? That will certainly sound appealing to your agency and media partners. In fact, they have probably been in your office coaching you that now is the time to increase your marketing spends to gain a competitive advantage. But will that strategy truly help you better engage your most valuable assets? In other words, will it improve the customer experience and, so, build your brand and grow revenue?
The new direction reduced the cost per lead and better engaged both of their most valuable assets.
What about your company’s “other” most valuable assets—your employees?
Some organizations say that their most value assets “walk out the door” every night, and their goal is to make sure those assets come back to work the next day. But, based on the number of U.S. workers laid off so far, it appears some of the staff will not be returning. Employers are making more mass layoffs than any time since 9-11. So there you have it. Do you use your remaining budget to help support headcount or go after share of voice?
If you’re a B2B marketer involved in relationship-based, complex-solution-selling environment, you need to step up the engagement of your staff as well as your customers. It may sound like a contradiction in the form of competing budget items, but it’s really not. You can support your staff and create messages that are relevant and will be heard.
I recently was involved in an engagement in which the company increased qualified leads by 7 percent while cutting the budget by 24 percent. The decrease in spend was not the result of reducing headcount. During the campaign, the sales force set three consecutive monthly sales records, as well as three consecutive quarterly sales records. The integrated program responsible for those results combined a social media strategy with a content-based marketing campaign. The goal of the content-based marketing program was to engage the targeted decision-maker by providing fact-based research that was relevant to that organization’s unique needs and challenges.
The intellectual property was developed in house, and the follow-on in corporate blogs, podcasts, webcasts and social media activity through LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter provided low-cost forums of engagement between all the company’s functional areas (sales, marketing, product management, product development and support) and the customer. In short, the organization was able to “do more with less” by retaining its current staff to generate relevant content and to engage customers and prospects through the new social media channels. Yes, media partners took a hit. There was less print advertising, and there were fewer trade shows. But over all, the new direction reduced the cost per lead and better engaged both of their most valuable assets.
Linking social media channels to content-based marketing programs doesn’t necessarily cross over into all industries or business environments. And it doesn’t take a degree in finance to understand that economic downturns often force cutbacks both big and small, no matter how hard you try. However, research does show that mutual long-term commitment and engagement among employees, companies and customers does pay off.
Consider SAS Institute, which is known for its stable workforce and steady revenue growth. That workforce also supports a 98 percent customer retention rate. Unless you consider both employees and customers to be mutual “most valuable assets,” you could not hope to build the kind of solid, responsive customer relationships that that figure suggests.