Time to Build Your Communities

Happy New Year! Let’s be counterintuitive for a moment, shall we?

We’re in a recession and we all know it. Traditionally (and sadly) in an economic downturn, when companies seek to lower their expenses, they cut their marketing budgets — and why not? Marketing costs money, and if you believe your marketing messages will fall on deaf ears in a slowdown, then you certainly won’t want to spend money on marketing programs, so cutting marketing makes sense.

Before you run out and fire everyone or slash the budget to the point that stamps are rationed by the CEO, consider something else. Marketing is essential to promoting your ideas, and even in a recession, promoting your ideas is a powerful tool for doing business now and down the road.

Slashing the marketing budget might have been a reasonable idea back in the last big recession — the one that happened before the fax machine was big news — but in today’s world, with fabulous communications and dirt-cheap ways of reaching people, it makes sense to think twice about marketing cuts.

There are three things that marketing — alone or in conjunction with sales — can do to help you make the downturn as shallow as possible for your bottom line. In no particular order, here they are: spreading your thought leadership; showing your customers that you are involved in their success, aka doing the right thing; and building communities that will drive your inevitable upturn.

Thought Leadership

So, your customers aren’t buying more of what you provide. They bought from you once because they thought you were the best at what they needed you for, and you want them to keep thinking that way for two reasons.

First, if you manage to provide them with ideas for maximizing their business with and without the use of your products and services, then you’ll at least get to the point where they place a replenishment order. Also, keeping customers’ minds occupied with thoughts of you will keep them from looking around for brand X because it’s cheaper.

Do the Right Thing

More importantly, though, sticking with your customers by showing you understand and are involved with their success is a great way to build bonds and to show them concretely that you are the real deal.

Historically, sales people have been almost exclusively relied on to provide thought leadership and show involvement, but two problems come with that approach. Sales people sell, which is tactical; they aren’t great at thought leadership and doing the right thing because these are strategic activities.

Stopping by with doughnuts might be the closest a sales representative can come to being strategic, but how many times can that work before the customer gets fat or annoyed — or both? Nobody likes to have to say ‘No,’ as in “No, we aren’t buying that today,” so don’t make them say it now, when it’s just as easy to get them to say ‘Yes’ to becoming involved in a community.

Building Communities

Now is a great time for marketing and sales to work together to build customer communities. A good community takes a bit of time and effort for the organizer and for the attendees — and while no one would like to admit it, in a slack period, time is something we all have in a bit more abundance.

What does a community do? It brings together customers on a periodic basis — once or twice a month — to trade ideas about current use and future need. Smart sales and marketing people will look at a community as a laboratory where they can test ideas for products and messages, and just listen.

Communities are gold in a slump, because they enable customers to share the Kool-Aid, which is a natural thought leadership conduit. Communities also give the customer better insight into you and your products, and if you are doing your thought leadership job properly, they set the stage for your recovery by identifying needs for existing products and services, as well as needs for new ones.

Marketing departments are the natural and rightful places for much of this activity — and married with effective sales representation, they can do a lot to keep the valley of a slump from turning into a crater. So, while you might be thinking about cutting your marketing budget, also consider how you can redeploy some of those resources to prepare for the upturn.

Denis Pombriant is the managing principal of the Beagle Research Group, a CRM market research firm and consultancy. Pombriant’s research concentrates on evolving product ideas and emerging companies in the sales, marketing and call center disciplines. His research is freely distributed through a blog and Web site. He is working on a book and can be reached at [email protected].

1 Comment

  • Nice piece. 2009 might be the year to prove that what we need isn’t less marketing–just better thought-out marketing that is more targeted.

    The Marketing Doctor (John Tantillo) has written how in these tough economic times, marketing will be more rather than less important: grocery store brands, are paying attention to what their target market wants; the steel and auto industries are paying the price for having ignored their target markets; and those who think through their brand and business model and market effectively–rather than throwing everything at the net and hoping for the best–are shown to be successful even when those within the same industries are flailing: cases in point: TriCityNews–a paper that has resisted the online trend and continues to provide local advertisers and, at the other end of the spectrum, Amazon–which actually saw sales increase while most other retailers saw sales decline.

    (post on each topic are on Tantillo’s blog – )

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