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Why the Marketing Budget should be the last thing you cut
By Alison Stieven-Taylor 

Many companies make the mistake of pulling back on their marketing budgets when there is an economic downturn, but now is the time when you should be out there talking up your business and helping your customers to better utilise their own marketing spend.

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 Alison Stieven-Taylor is an author, journalist, and magazine editor based in Melbourne.  She is also the creative director of Reality & Illusion Productions, a leading media communications company specialising in B2B communication.

Alison’s life as a writer has taken her around the world.  She has written across a wide variety of topics from entertainment (music, film and theatre) to photography, food, wine and travel.  And for the past decade she has documented the changing face of the printing industry.

“I am delighted to join the editorial team at Wide Format Online.  When I started working with the printing industry technologies such as CtP and digital print were just emerging.  Since that time I have witnessed dramatic changes not only in regards to technology, but also in the way companies do business.

“The introduction of digital technology has altered the way we communicate in both electronic formats and the printed article.  The continual evolution of the industry keeps me engaged – there is always someone who is doing something extraordinary, thinking outside the square and challenging boundaries. In ten years of writing about this industry I’ve never been stuck for words and I look forward to contributing to the quality content of Wide Format Online.”

Alison joins Wide Format Online with a bi-monthly column from January 28 2009.

But don’t just take my word for it. In a US survey of B2B marketers conducted in the second half of last year 58% said they were not intending to change their original marketing budgets with 12.3% reporting that they had increased them.

The results of this survey are indicative of other research conducted at an academic level such as the joint report published by Penn State Smeal College of Business and the University of Texas - "Turning Adversity Into Advantage: Does Proactive Marketing During a Recession Pay Off?".

This paper confirmed that “an economic recession should not prompt marketing cutbacks, but rather an aggressive increase in marketing spending to achieve superior business performance both in the short and long term”.

It also went on to say that those companies who have an established marketing strategy can actually increase their sales during a recession by strengthening their competitive advantage through dedicated campaigns.

The report compared businesses to the dedication of supreme sports people. "Athletes often choose times of stress to mount attacks: strong runners and bicycle racers may increase their pace on hills or under other challenging conditions" to gain advantage in the difficult sections of the race.

"In a similar vein proactive marketing includes both the sensing of the existence of the opportunity (a tough hill and fatigued opponents) and an aggressive response (possessing the necessary strength or nerve) to the opportunity."

Now the Doubting Thomas’s out there will be shaking their heads and refuting the evidence, but the facts can’t be denied. In a competitive market such as wide format printing, the adage ‘out of sight out of mind’ is an absolute truth. Those companies who pull back on their marketing spend diminish their presence. And in a marketplace that is crowded for choice, a drop in profile is tantamount to commercial suicide.

Of course there is a word of caution required here. If you don’t have experience in marketing campaigns then it would be foolhardy to embark on a new course without considering some basic elements first.

Set Objectives

The first place to start is to set objectives. Be realistic. What do you really want to achieve, what are you capable of producing, what are the margins, how much time and effort (which equals money) are you prepared to invest in a marketing campaign versus the return on investment?

Define Your Market

After setting your objectives you need to define your target market. Who are the people you are selling to and more importantly, who are their customers? Knowing your customers’ customers and their needs is in my opinion the most important element in a marketing campaign. Put the time into researching your customers as it will definitely pay off in the short and long term.

If you know who you are targeting then you can create a meaningful marketing campaign that will enable you to meet your own objectives (to sell more) and your customers’ objectives (to sell more).

With this information you can move onto the next step – determining the best course of action. Will a direct mail piece work for you, or do you need to engage in face to face communication? What about advertising or phone marketing? And then there are electronic formats such as PURLs, email blasts, SMS and website promotions. Just because you are in the print industry doesn’t mean you should avoid the new electronic options for communication. In fact demonstrating to your customers your flexibility in this area, and showing them you are entrepreneurial and move with the times, may engender greater confidence.

capture.gifOnce you’ve set your objectives and determined your target market it is time to develop your marketing campaign factoring in the various communication tools you have chosen.  At this time you should also set the boundaries for measuring the campaign results which is critical and will assist in setting future directions.

Marketing doesn’t come naturally to everyone so to help you get into a marketer’s headspace consider the following excerpt from an article published in The Financial Times (London) last year. In the article Harvard Business School’s professor John Quelch shares his checklist for developing marketing plans during a recession.

1. Research the customer

2. Focus on family values

3. Maintain marketing spending

4. Adjust product portfolios

5. Support distributors

6. Adjust pricing tactics

7. Stress market share

8. Emphasize core values

(To see these suggestions in full visit http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/5878.html )

Most importantly these eight factors will be similarly considered by your customers as they determine the best course for promoting their own business this year. If you can demonstrate to them the value proposition of your products be they outdoor signage, point of sale or retail displays, etc., then you will have an advantage over those who are solely focused on the production elements. If you take the approach that you are part of their marketing team and not just a printer, you will immediately add value to your relationship.

As the marketing manager of a major FMCG company told me recently, “printers need to understand that I’m not that interested in how they are going to print my point of sale materials. I’m more interested in the fact that they can tune into what I want to achieve and make suggestions as to the best way forward. If they get too technical I just zone out”.

Even though Australia hasn’t officially declared it is in recession we all know the current economic downturn is more than a hiccup. So as the Boy Scouts say, ‘be prepared’ and start laying the foundations to your marketing strategy today.

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