Decades of empirical data prove that companies who continue marketing themselves during lean times gain a competitive advantage while those that pull back not only lose market share, but also the previous investment in building their brands and acquiring customers. This is even more detrimental in today's online world where both media fragmentation and social networking communities require a consistent voice and presence in numerous media channels.
While the business standard is to spend 10 percent of revenue on marketing and/or advertising initiatives, companies can still effectively market themselves in a tight economy on a smaller budget. Besides the labor involved in the Web 2.0 world, there is minimal investment required with social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube that allow an ongoing dialog and a 24/7 focus group. Social media allows a two-way exchange with either prospective or existing customers that provides information and invaluable insight that can be gleaned to help companies stay on top of what is being said about them, lessen damage, gather feedback on products, services and the company itself, and even provide product innovation, to name but a few benefits.
One example of social media in action was a campaign GráficaGroup executed for Purchase College in New York. With aggressive student application goals, the college needed to break through the media clutter to differentiate itself. Working with a limited budget, GráficaGroup used the social networking website www.ning.com to establish a virtual workgroup of idea and concept collaborators consisting of students, administrators and others from around the country.
After sorting through the various submitted suggestions, the consensus idea was a "video mash up," a Google map overlaid with student videos. Students were given video cameras to film themselves discussing the reasons why they choose Purchase College and how attending the school had changed them. Visitors to the school's homepage at www.purchase.edu can find the map and student-produced videos to help perspective students identify with other students from their hometown area. The interactive user experience created adheres to social media's tenets of being transparent and "real."
Beyond social media, your own website can be a robust marketing channel if utilized correctly. While the cost of entry into the business world requires a website, it doesn't stop there...it just begins there. The key is the free data captured in your tracking reports. That information allows you to identify your customers, segment them, and communicate with them - not at them - in a variety of ways, including opt-in email campaigns and simple applications that build brand awareness and facilitate doing business with your company.
Additional marketing tools include the simple direct mail channel (letters, envelopes, postcards, etc) which still works as long as you provide relevant information to different customer segments. Another cost effective avenue is public relations since it efficiently spreads your key messages to various target audiences.
So whether it's social media, direct mail, public relations or any other type of marketing initiative, the key is still getting the right message to the right person at the right time and in the right media. This can be done on a small budget in tough business times, as long as you are willing to put forth the effort and investment on more cost efficient, but just as highly effective, methods of marketing your business.