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    MARKETING IN HARD TIMES

      The economic fallout of September 11 has forced most companies, large and small, to reevaluate their marketing strategy. The bottom line questions everyone asks are...

    (1) How do I get people to buy in this time of uncertainty?
    (2) How do I get them to buy from me?

      Our company is in the business of buyer seduction. Every day we're developing psychological strategies to help clients answer those two questions. And we're struggling with the answers, too. In a recession, people hunker down, conserve their money, and wait for a better day. That means no matter what magic you might have in your marketing messages, fewer people will respond than in good times.

      So what can you do? Here are a few ideas.

    1. Remember that people still want the products or services you are selling.

    Buying is always a matter of degree of persuasion. In John's mind, there is always a war between "I want it" and "Why shouldn't I buy it?" When the scale is tipped the slightest bit toward "I want it," John reaches for his wallet.

    Because of the times, there's just more weight on the "Why shouldn't I buy it?" side now. While all customers may appear to be "just looking," in fact, a lot of them are just a nudge away from becoming buyers. So don't despair, give everyone you can that little nudge and you'll be surprised how many will respond to a small discount, a freebie, or some additional customer services.

    2. Use Positioning to get customers to buy from you.

    The truth is there will be fewer customers to sell, no matter what you might do short of giving it away - so you must sell a higher percentage of those who do show up.

    This means you must focus on Positioning your company in relation to your competitors. After all, customers whose mental scale tips over to "I want it" are, by definition, buyers. They're ready to buy from someone. But they will also be careful shoppers. They'll wonder if there's a better deal down the street.

    How do you position your company? You must know what your competition is doing. Where are the holes in their offer that you can exploit? What are they doing or not doing that you can use to make your company, product, offer, etc. look more appealing? When there are only a few scraps of bread laying on the ground, the winners are usually those who keep one eye on the bread and the other on their competitors.

    Your marketing messages - advertising, in-store displays, direct mail, promotions - should be designed not only to sell your product, but to make your company seem like the best place to buy it. Marketing messages which sell the product in someone else's store are less than worthless.

    3. Selling 'features' is not enough, especially now.

    Most companies emphasize the features of their product or service. It's natural, especially for small companies. The executives are in love with their "baby," and like any proud mother they want to show it off to other people.

    We've all been on the other side of the baby carriage, saying things like, "That's the most beautiful baby I've ever seen" while thinking "What's the big deal with Billy?" Right? For most people, babies are babies unless they're yours. We'll, that's the way your customers think about your product or service, too!

    Your great leather sofa from Spain or new type of insurance policy may be magic to you, but it isn't to most customers, whether they're consumers or other businesses. They know of several other places they can get something similar.

    No matter who you are selling to, the fundamental principle of Psychological Marketing is this: "People do not want what you are selling." Instead, they want to satisfy a personal set of complex buying motivations, some logical and some emotional. That's why they buy.

    Your product or service is just a means to get that satisfaction. For example, people don't want to buy a car radio, they want the entertainment and news it will give them. And they don't pay $50,000 to own a noisy, cramped Porsche Boxster sports car. They pay for the opportunity to go fast, look cool, and appear rich while having fun behind the wheel.

    While features are important, they're primarily important as a way to convince buyers the product or service will be able to deliver the benefits they really want.

    In hard times, the companies that know what their customers REALLY want to buy, and then promise to sell it to them are the ones who survive. They don't emphasize marginal features just because they love their 'baby.' Keep that in mind while you're planning your marketing messages.

    4. Treat customers like friends.

    Several recent columns have focused on the importance of great customer service. That is critical in hard times because it can provide the nudge that makes customers buy from you instead of a competitor. It also provides repeat sales and quality referrals. By treating customers like friends, you can also gain another important advantage for hard times - information.

    Most of us deal with customers in a traditional manner - "Hi, what are you after? This is what I've got that fits that bill. Here's the price. Are you interested?" That's the way you treat a stranger, not a friend.

    Talking to customers like friends means taking the time to find out more about what they want, why they want it, what they liked and didn't like about other places they've looked, what little extras they think would be nice in a deal, etc. When you talk to people like friends, they see you in a different way, and they want to do business with you a little more. That right there is sometimes enough of a nudge to get the sale.

    But even more valuable is the information you learn about how to sell them and others like them. Treat customers like friends and they'll respond in kind. They'll help you look out through their eyes and understand their heart's desires.

    Its an axiom in the car business that if you let a customer talk long enough he'll tell you how to sell him. But customers won't open up if they believe you're a phony who doesn't have a personal interest in them, rather than in just their money.
     
    In hard times, we all draw inward. But this is a time which requires your marketing to reach out, to get inside your customers' minds and promise to satisfy the inner needs, wants, fears and desires that drive their buying decision. You can only do that by opening yourself up to new thinking, new ideas, and new approaches to marketing.

    Also see "20 Tips for Marketing in Hard Times"
     
     

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