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Marketing Matters: Marketing in Recessionary Times

Donna C. Barson
The sky is falling! The sky is falling!

No, this isn’t a column about Chicken Little and her famous warning, although goodness knows the poor thing could use some positive press after being labeled an overanxious worry wart all these years.

Rather, this is all about strategies and tips for the poor marketer in these uncertain—dare I say “recessionary”—economic times. Anyone who pays attention to the news knows that the U.S. economy has been going through a rough patch recently. So how does a personal care marketer survive?

First, the good news: consumers will still use personal care products, even in bad economic times. No one has found evidence yet that people are stopping their use of moisturizers, eye cream, toothpaste, shampoo, deodorant, etc., no matter how bad things get. Growth in the category might slow, but no substantial declines are being forecast.

So, right off the bat you know that there is still a demand for your products out there. However, understand that consumers might trade down from higher-end, prestige products to less expensive products. The key to getting consumers to buy anything is product marketing. Far too often, marketing is the first thing cut by companies facing a tough economic landscape. This is a mistake. During a tough economy is when you have to do your best marketing. Colgate-Palmolive, Kellogg Co., P&G and Kimberly-Clark are among those that have rededicated themselves to marketing even while implementing cost-cutting.

Examine who you’re marketing to. Are you still going after primarily younger consumers? That group might be squeezed the most in these recessionary times. What about marketing to baby boomers? One estimate is that baby boomers have $3 trillion dollars to spend. That’s approximately 50% of the buying power in America. Why are marketers concentrating mostly on younger consumers?
According to a recent study, marketers don’t understand baby boomers, and, consequently, often make errors when trying to market to them. Boomers themselves feel ignored and characterized as one large group by marketers.

Marketers do tend to lump all baby boomers into one group, but if there’s one thing that the boomers have taught us, it’s that they like to be treated individually. You must do the same in your marketing to them. Learn what is driving the different segments of the boomers, and market accordingly. It’s not only age.

Market to boomers even if others aren’t doing it. Rule one of marketing in a tough economy: Don’t follow the masses, lead them.
Having said that, it’s also important to know when not to try such a strategy. If you’ve spent the last decade building an identity as being appealing to the younger crowd, it wouldn’t make much sense to suddenly abandon that image and try to market to boomers.

That brings us to the second point: Know your market. Conduct a comprehensive marketing and sales audit. Who is buying your product and why? Use an outside firm if possible to conduct this audit. This way, you ensure an unbiased view of your marketing and sales situation.

And remember this: Past recessions have traditionally been times when strong companies increased their market share at the expense of the weak. If you want to stay in the game, you must compete—not batten down the hatches and hope to ride out the storm. Thus comes rule number three: You must make your product stand out in a recessionary marketplace. One way of doing this is through price. However, a smarter way of making your product stand out is by offering value. Examine your product from all angles. Can it be repackaged to offer better value? Is there a service you can provide that will make people choose you over a competitor? If everybody is cutting back on promotions, this might be the perfect opportunity to offer a promotion of your own.

And this leads right to rule four: All marketing does not have to be expensive. We have become accustomed to the splashy ad campaign recently, but this is probably not the time to blow millions on a marketing strategy featuring expensive celebrities. Focus on benefits and value. Try inexpensive marketing, such as press releases or through your Web site. Why not set up a blog for a certain product or group of products? Have consumers opt-in for e-mails and then communicate with them regularly. You’re a marketer, readjust your creative thinking cap and concoct cheaper, yet appealing, marketing strategies.

For example, Johnson & Johnson is pioneering a new strategy for its baby lotion that goes well beyond the traditional. The company is reaching out to a whole new generation of parents via the Web. This is a classic example of doing something different in tough times in order to stand out. Furthermore, both L’Oréal and Avon announced licensing deals with leading clothing lines in mid-March. Definitely not the way it did business in the past, but possibly the way of the future.

It’s easy to market when sales are booming, the money is flowing and the good times seem as if they’ll never end. The trick is how you market when times are tougher than a cheap steak. And if all the cries of “the economic sky is falling” get you down, just remember: the only thing that really happened to Chicken Little was that she got struck in the head with a tiny acorn.

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