Jessie Paul on Services Marketing For a FlatWorld

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Hard Times: How should marketing evolve?

The current downturn is, according to many, a reset. Things will get better, but the marketplace will not be the same. It is a restructuring and a reset, so marketing has to adapt and evolve too. In this article I discuss four approaches that are likely to be helpful in this new, digital, global economy.

1. Think Flat:

Harness globalisation to treat

the world as your potential marketplace and potential supplier base.

You and your customers are no longer constrained by geography and communication resources; she can be anyone, anywhere and buy from you at any time that she chooses. Similarly, you can be based anywhere and sell


Emerging economies have proved to be resilient, and are likely to exhibit growth in the long term. The current economic situation may provide great opportunities for growth in these new economies for those who are not already present there. Conversely, the current market disruption provides a window of opportunity for firms from developing countries to establish a toe-hold in the lucrative G-7 countries.

This period may also be a good time to re-evaluate whether you are actually doing work where it makes the best sense to be done, and redesign your global value chain accordingly.. Your supply chain can be infinitely innovative and flexible. Instead of rigidly applying off-shore supply or on-shore proposition - why should someone choose your offering and not buy from the competition.

It is very tempting to position an offering as serving many needs, but it is hard to communicate so many benefits on a limited budget. Look for the reason why 80 per cent of your clients choose you, and go with that.

This will change over time as both your product and the business landscape evolve so you must keep revisiting it. But being focused here will simplify your communications and enhance word-of-mouth, referenceability and memorability - all big money-savers.

The client always buys the holistic experience. But the main driver for purchase can vary depending on the customer’s mindframe. Understanding what is the key driver can help you optimize the experience. For example, in the current economic climate, for many buyers, price and ROI become far more important than other factors which they had considered important, such as after-sales service or loyalty points. Building a solution around their key purchase drivers would allow you to minimize cost even while improving customer satisfaction.

2. Think Collaboration

Communicate to all elements of the eco-system, not just your key buyers. Buyers can hear about your offering from different parts of their industry, and some elements (for example media) may have a higher level of influence in their decision-making process, and are often lower cost than other, traditional channels.

Moreover, a service really takes off when it acquires a critical mass of knowledgeable people who are willing to endorse it. Broadening your eco-system and facilitating cross-communication can speed up this process.

Often, there is no cost to contacting the members of an industry eco-system, though you will have to put in the effort to identify them and create relevant, custom communication. But you can save a lot of money by avoiding the mass media required for a direct contact with the buyer.

With the advent of social media, distributed marketing has become an important tool. How can you get customers to become brand ambassadors? Is your entire value chain promoting your company? If customers spot something nice, have you provided a means for them to share it? Customers recommending your firm is the best possible sales channel, and in most cases it is low-cost or free. Enabling it can be a big boost at any time, and during hard times can even be a life-saver.

3. Think Frugal

Constraints can force you to be clever. In general, the easiest way to reach your audience will be the most expensive. That's because someone else is doing the thinking behind creating that opportunity and also bringing in the audience for you. But if you were to create the opportunity then the costs go down.

Here are some suggestions for frugal thinking:

Avoid Waste:

If you have defined your target audience tightly, most mass media vehicles will be too broad for you. But today with some savvy negotiation you can bring down the reach (and thus the costing). This is true not just with the Internet - where tools exist for IP-level targeting - but also in print media. And online, and in social media, you can pay on the basis of results. The old saying of John Wannamaker that “I know one half of my advertising is wasted, I just don’t know which half”, is no longer true.

Be Interesting:

There are many things that we do as part of our business - hiring, training, signing up suppliers, going green, selling, producing, customer service. Make each of these things interesting; seek opportunities to do them differently or uniquely. This can catch the attention of both customers and influencers at a very low cost.

For example, all listed firms have to manage their investor's relations. But, some of them have raised this to an art-from and have been recognized for this through various accolades. Providing food to employees is an old practice - but Google took it to another level of sophistication and used that as a differentiator.

Consciously think about whether what you are doing can win an award or be covered in media, even while serving its functional objective. Be insightful: Thanks to the Internet, information is easily available. What customers and prospects value today is insight. A good way to stand out amongst the clutter is to have a good point of view, and provide insights into the industry.

This will generate word-of-mouth buzz and free publicity, in addition to creating a loyal base of customers. Providing insight is also an excellent way to trigger viral communication - people tend to forward insights to their friends.

Conclusion: Savvy marketing can reduce costs and increase market-share during a downturn. What is important is that firms revisit their marketing strategy and organization structure so as to reap maximum benefits.