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    How to grow a business in tough economic times

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    During World War II when times were tough and money was tight, most businesses around the world were forced to make immediate cost-cuts.

    The first thing to go was their marketing budget. However, surveys conducted a few years later found that those businesses that had continued to advertise during the war became the market leaders.

    In short, tough economic times can bring opportunities for business growth and really the last cost saving you should look at is your marketing budget.

    You do, however, have to become a great deal smarter on how you spend your advertising dollar.

    Here are five things you can do right now:

    Firstly, in an economic downturn people become hungry for information, so they read more, watch more and browse the internet more. This means your advertising has a better chance of being seen and absorbed.

    To help increase your advertising effectiveness, add more information and content about your product or service, including the benefits it has to offer.

    Try to place your ads around finance sections of a newspaper or news programs on television or radio.

    Secondly, you need to build and enhance your relationship with your customers.

    In tough times, people feel threatened and are less likely to take risks.

    Your marketing needs to build confidence in your customers, reduce the risk of purchasing from you and make it easy to do business with you.

    Invest in a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, send out regular, informative e-newsletters, invite customers to exclusive, invitation only product releases, set up a customer loyalty program with rewards for repeat business and look for improvements in your ‘after sales’ service.

    Thirdly, get creative! In the 1980s the Sydney Swans needed to increase their market awareness and get fans behind their AFL team. They went to an Advertising Agency, identified that their target audience was teenagers, as this group would form the future of the club, and were told a budget of $500,000 was needed to reach 18 percent of this market over three years.

    Instead, they thought ‘outside the box’ and made one of their players, Warrick Capper, a recording star.

    Through extensive media coverage, video clips, airplay and Warrick’s tight shorts, they reached 80 percent of the audience in just six months. And instead of costing $500,000, they actually made money on the record sales.

    Think about how you could market your products and increase awareness more creatively.

    Bring in your team for a ‘creative brainstorm’, research your customers’ needs and define your ideal target market. Bring in a creative, marketing expert who will see your business from the outside and start thinking ‘outside of the square’.

    Fourth is about getting more bang for your buck from your marketing dollar. In tough economic times, you need to cut out wasted, non-effective marketing activities. But to do this, you need to measure what works and what doesn’t.

    Sophisticated online marketing can give you real-time results like who has received your e-newsletter, who opened it and where they went next. Newspaper ads can contain a specific phone number to call a specific person to track their effectiveness. Direct mail campaigns can include return coupons. Television or radio ads can be tracked using your media schedule by any immediate impact as they go to air.

    Once you know what’s working you can put more of your budget towards that and take it away from activities that are producing mediocre results.

    Lastly, you can make actual cost savings by looking at less expensive alternatives for marketing your business like direct mail and online.

    Direct mail enables you to pinpoint your target market by demographic and location.

    You can purchase database lists from companies such as Impact Lists or Dun and Bradstreet that contain contact details tailored to specific criteria, such as income, age, social status or business size.

    Alternatively, you can look at location-based direct mail through companies like Mail Post, where you target an area like all businesses within a 5km radius of your shop.

    Like point three your direct mail campaign needs to be creative and professional to cut through the clutter, get noticed and, more importantly, get read.

    Keep it simple, straight to the point and offer a real incentive to take action – merely advertising your business, product or service and a phone number is just not enough.

    Try adding a product sample to the flyer, put it in an envelope and make it look like a bill or an invitation, print it on heavier, gloss stock to take away that ‘junk mail’ feel and get it professionally designed and written.

    For online you first need an effective website. Once designed and built your website is probably the most cost-effective marketing tool your business could have, generally costing around a dollar a day to run. It’s also the most measurable with today’s content-managed platforms, providing live activity reporting from the site.

    Your website should be fun and inviting, colourful and informative – a less cluttered home page that is full of teasers and links to other pages or sections encourages visitors to seek more and delve deeper into your website.

    Many people use the web to make their purchasing decisions, so pack your site with product information, useful content and plenty of forms for people to fill in and request more from you.

    A downturn in the economy doesn’t mean a downturn in business – think smarter, be creative and don’t cut your marketing budget – you too could be tomorrow’s market leader.

    Tony Eades is the creative director for DesignShop, Australia’s fastest growing online design and print solution provider. He is a business marketing expert, with more than 20 years experience in design, advertising and client media campaigns.

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