You suspended pay raises and bonuses. You canceled the cable for the TV in the breakroom. You haven’t taken a full paycheck since the end of the summer. You even whittled the once-lavish holiday party down to a few cheese and veggie trays from the supermarket and a name-drawn gift exchange with a $10 limit. Yes, if there was an expense to be cut, you slashed it. And yet, your QuickBooks balance sheet is far from reassuring. What next? Authors Michael Masterson and MaryEllen Tribby say if you want to survive the economic slump, the start of 2009 is the perfect time to move your focus from cutting expenses to revving up some revenue-boosting marketing efforts.
“Once you’ve cut your expenses to the bone, you must get back into revenue-producing mode,” said Tribby, co-author along with Michael Masterson of “Changing the Channel: 12 Easy Ways to Make Millions for Your Business.” “And while there is no easy way to bring in revenue during a recession, success hinges on implementing the right mix of marketing efforts. Remember, motivated, financially capable businesses and consumers do exist, but if you aren’t getting in front of them, you are leaving their money on the table.”
“Changing the Channel” teaches owners and employees of businesses of all shapes and sizes how to master the 21st century marketing landscape — lessons that are much-needed in today’s tough economy.
The trick? Multichannel marketing — combining new concepts, such as search engine marketing and social media, with tried-and-true methods like direct space advertising and public relations — to reach a wider customer base, build customer loyalty and increase sales.
Unfortunately, say the authors, many businesses just aren’t taking advantage of all of the (surprisingly affordable) marketing channels that have opened up for them — an especially deadly mistake in a slow economy.
“Marketing in the 21st century is extremely cost effective,” said Tribby. “Many of the channels that have opened up are cheap and easy to test, so that a company can quickly see which marketing messages and channels are working for them and which aren’t. These channels allow you to market more without spending more money.”
The key, say the authors, is direct marketing. This method offers many advantages: low cost of entry, plenty of markets, and the ability to accurately measure the impact of your marketing efforts on sales. It includes radio, television, magazine and newspaper ads, catalogs, and sales letters sent through the mail, and now, advertising via the Internet.
“Essentially, multichannel marketing offers customers more than one way to buy from your company,” said Tribby. “And in a downturned economy, you can never be overexposed.”
Here are a few seeds of knowledge from “Changing the Channel” that will help companies of all shapes and sizes generate revenue and grow their businesses, both in today’s sluggish economy and the better economies of the future:
Strong customer relationships = more revenue. Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of multichannel marketing is that it provides great customer relationship-building opportunities. Direct mail and direct e-mail allow companies to stay in front of their customers. Telemarketing provides the opportunity to offer additional services, via the telephone, that they may be very interested in buying. And event marketing provides an opportunity to create a great, fun experience for clients.
“Naturally, it’s easier to get your current customers to buy from you than it is to bring in a large, new batch of customers,” said Tribby. “By using the right marketing channels, you can keep your customers constantly thinking about your company and what special offers it might be making. Creating loyal customers will be money in the bank for you.”
Direct mail is still a viable marketing channel. If you wrote off direct mail when direct e-mail became easier or if you’ve always associated direct mail with get-rich-quick schemes and used cars, now’s the time for a re-evaluation of this useful marketing channel. First of all, unlike e-mail marketing, which is regulated by anti-spamming laws, direct mail can be completely unsolicited, allowing you to reach out to people who may not already be familiar with your product or business. Secondly, because you can easily test which direct mail pieces are successful and which ones aren’t, it is an especially safe and fast way to market a business or product in a slow economy.
“Direct mail advertising makes more sense today than it ever has,” said Tribby. “And it has always been a sensationally effective way to sell products. Because of the low expense of direct e-mail marketing, marketers can test their headlines and leads to potential customers before going to the expense of printing and mailing it. It is a very cost-effective way to attract new customers to your business.”
Let direct e-mail help you pick the low-hanging fruit. A successful direct e-mail marketing campaign is a great revenue-booster. Direct e-mail allows you to send frequent, strong market messages to those loyal customers who buy almost any product your company offers them. The good news is that in an economy that has you pinching every penny, this marketing channel is easy to implement and is so cheap that you can communicate with customers almost as much as you want. It is also easy to test offers, see what’s working, and quickly make changes to generate more sales.
“A solid direct e-mail campaign is a great trick to have up your sleeve,” said Tribby. “The extremely low cost of delivery is only the beginning of this method’s benefits. You can also monitor, in detail, customer reaction to your ad. You can, for example, find out if they clicked on a link in the e-mail to read the full promotion. You can also see the results, whether they are taking you up on your offer, immediately — an important factor when you are operating in a business environment where every dollar counts.”
Don’t avoid social media. Many business owners view social networking as too tricky for them to get involved with. And that’s a shame. When used correctly, social media allows you to put your message in front of potentially huge numbers of people. You can create outbound campaigns to blogs and forums and chat rooms. You can start your own blog. You can stimulate conversation on social media sites about you, your business, and/or your products by publishing special reports or covering news or sending out targeted surveys or questionnaires. If you do these things gradually and organically and with a solid message, you can win over the users of these sites and build profitable relationships with them.
“Your company Web site is a great place to start,” said Tribby. “Build a strong social forum by giving customers who visit the site interesting articles or study results and inviting them to share their thoughts and feelings. The customers in your forum will tell you what you are doing right and what you are doing wrong; there’s no need to waste money on a customer survey. Heeding the advice you receive is likely to translate into dollars for your company.”
Find new customers through search engine marketing (SEM). If there has ever been a time to expand your customer base, it’s now. And search engine marketing (SEM) can help you do just that. Any company able to get its site to the top of the results page on one of the major search engines can count on garnering targeted traffic already interested in what it has to offer. Such visitors are likely to sign up for a company’s e-newsletter, buy its products, and keep coming back for more. Not only is SEM inexpensive and sometimes even free, it’s an invaluable way for companies to find their ideal customers.
“SEM helps you narrow down a pool of millions and millions of Web surfers to one that includes only those already interested in your product or service,” said Tribby. “It’s the best way to market your name, ideas, Web site and products to people who want what you’re offering. It makes the task of turning them into paying customers much easier.”
Use PR to enlist the media to spread the word about your company. What’s so great about public relations? Well, first of all, it’s nearly free. If you have a decent writer on staff, your only cost will be the event you’re publicizing (if one exists) and the miniscule amount it takes to mail or e-mail out press releases. Furthermore, when it works, it can work like wildfire, going from local to regional to national — and even to international — audiences faster than it takes to write up a marketing plan for a conventional advertising campaign. The trick is creating successful stories. To do that, you must know the media you want to reach and understand what kind of stories their consumers delight in.
For example, a company wanting to be picked up by USA Today might consider creating a public relations story that ties into a U.S. trend. That’s because USA Today tends to focus on smaller, human interest stories that are angled toward current trends while leaving the serious news to papers like the New York Times or Wall Street Journal.
“Target your press releases to the specific publications and media outlets whose customers you want to reach,” said Tribby. “Rather than sending out a thousand general releases about a story that has general appeal, it’s much more effective to send out a dozen or so targeted press releases containing stories that are exactly right for the intended audiences. And always make sure the press releases going out contain one of two elements: news about subjects the publication’s readers are already interested in and captivating and/or curious tidbits to fill in their gaps.”
Don’t go it alone. In this tough economy, it can be comforting to hear from business owners who are fighting tooth and nail to keep their businesses open just like you. But have you ever considered joining forces with them? When a joint venture is executed properly, it doesn’t subtract from a business, it adds to it. There are many ways to approach joint ventures. The best opportunities are those that pair up businesses with asymmetrical resources and skills.
Agora Inc. is a great example of what joint ventures can do for a business. When the company started out, it was very good at direct mail marketing, but its employees had very little investment expertise. Rather than attempt to develop financial gurus in-house, Agora sought out investment writers who had newsletters with few subscribers. It then proposed a joint venture, with both sides as 50 percent partners. The investment writer would continue to own his subscribers and his editorial product, would continue to have all the fulfillment obligations, and would hire Agora to act as his newsletter’s marketing agent. Agora would take all the risk with the marketing efforts and keep the revenue stream. The partner would get the new subscribers risk-free.
For a financial writer with limited marketing resources, it was a no-risk, all-reward proposition. For Agora, it was an efficient way to attract first-rate writing talent — some with established reputations and great track records in making stock tips. In that time, the company saw revenue climb from $1 million to more than $60 million.
“To find a JV soul mate, think about the major players in your marketplace,” said Tribby. “Consider the strengths and weaknesses of each and how your company might benefit from working with them. Next, create a list of potential partners along with a strategy for approaching them and a compelling argument for how they could benefit from the joint partnership. After a necessary period of negotiation and implementation, the relationship should grow well and quickly and painlessly. The idea is to develop joint venture relationships that are easy to maintain, financially profitable, intellectually rewarding, and long lasting.”
Learn the art of the pay-per-click ad. Pay-per-click ads are typically small. On Google, they usually are limited to four lines of text — a headline, two lines of body copy, and your URL. Because this is a very technical channel and marketing tactic, many business owners and even marketing directors leave it up to their “techies” to put together their PPC campaign. This is a big, big mistake. Think of it this way: Would you have your computer guy write your direct e-mail advertising? Of course not. You’d hire a professional copywriter. And that’s exactly who should create your PPC ad.
The trick is to make the copy both crisp and compelling. Generally, it’s a good idea to create a URL that describes the product being sold. That way, if people type the URL directly into their browser, they have an idea of what to expect. The body of the PPC ad should offer an enticing and, if possible, immediate benefit to the reader. So, if your site is DiscountedDishes.com, the body of your ad might read, “Millions of discontinued plates.” The headline should be unusual or newsworthy in order to grab the prospective customers’ attention. Something like “Designer China Rip-offs” can convince a prospect to click on one company’s ad rather than another one that has a more ordinary headline.
To save big bucks on print and radio ads, take the leftovers. Whenever possible, try to purchase remnant ad space. This is ad space that has not been sold to advertisers in time for deadline in print media or air-time in radio. It also is referred to as remainder advertising or last-minute advertising space. Buying remnant space can be a huge money saver for companies that are looking to market in these channels but are short on marketing dollars. Here’s how it works: Find out the media outlet’s deadline; then call right before that deadline and start your negotiations.
“About five years ago, we bought a full-page ad in USA Today for the discounted price of $1,500,” said Tribby. “We were advertising a $24 book on investing and would need only 63 orders to break even. Because the newspaper’s circulation was nearly 2 million at the time, getting 63 orders, which was a .00315 percent response, seemed like a very reasonable expectation. We ended up with 217 book orders. That’s an ROI of 347 percent on the $1,500 investment — proof that in the age of the Internet you can still bring in a sizable chunk of revenue through a good old-fashioned print ad.”
Test, test, test. In multichannel marketing, thinking means nothing; it’s what a company knows that counts. To determine if prospective customers will buy what you’re selling, your marketers should test the waters.
“Consider how we decided on the title for the new book,” said Tribby. “We had five potentially good titles, so we put all five in Google PPC ads to determine which one would really resonate with people who needed the kind of information we’re providing here. Well, based on the results of those ads, “Changing the Channel” won hands down.”
“Keep in mind that the key here is not that you use one of these marketing techniques,” said Tribby. “You use a mix of several of them. If you just use one, you are missing out on lots of potential revenue and prospective customers, because you will be leaving large swaths of your market untouched.
“So, put together your multichannel marketing campaign now,” she advises. “Throw up a couple of PPC ads … start growing your opt-in list and send out a few e-mails … have lunch with an industry expert and ask if she’d be interested in doing a joint venture…. Your company — and your bank account — are sure to thank you!”