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How Should You Handle Advertising in a Recession?

Times are tough all over.

Small businesses especially are feeling the squeeze as credit dries up, and customers stash their wallets under lock and key.

Yeah, times are tough.

And when times are tough, one of the first things to happen in the small business world are budget cuts.  Guess which line item is one of the first to get cut? Yup…advertising. (How’d you guess?) 

It’s understandable…you have to cut somewhere.  But when you cut your ad budget, you may be cutting in the wrong place.
In the 25 years I’ve worked in the advertising and marketing business, I’ve seen several recessions come and go.  And I’ve seen lots of ad budgets cut because of it.  But one thing I’ve learned is the company that seriously cuts its ad budget often lives to regret it. 

Think about it.  Why do you advertise in the first place?  To increase sales.  Doesn’t it make sense, then, that during tough times when sales go down, you should advertise even more?  Besides, what do you think happens if you cut your ad budget, but your competitors don’t?  They get the sales you might have had if you hadn’t cut your advertising budget.  When you stop advertising your sales go down.  That’s on top of your sales going down because of the recession in the first place. 

So what do you do?   You lose business if you stop advertising, but you really need to save money any way you can.   I have two pieces of advice.  The first is to go into recession advertising mode.  Tighten up the things you can tighten.  Maybe even start looking at advertising in ways you haven’t tried before.

Here are some ideas to get you started.

1.  Know your target customer. When the string’s pulled tight on your advertising budget, you don’t have any wiggle room to chase customers who will never buy from you, or hire your services.   The idea here is that knowing your customer means you also know what newspapers they read (and what sections), what radio stations they listen to, what tv channels they watch, what interests and hobbies they have, etc.  All of which helps you narrow down the best media channels in which to reach them. If you’ve never taken time to determine who your target is, go to my website (www.businessburrito.com) and click on “Marketing.”

2.  Target your message. What is the one thing you do better than your competitors?  Centering your marketing and advertising messages around your one thing is always the best way to get the most bang for the buck, but this matters even more is recession advertising.  If you’re advertising to the right target, with the right message, in the right media outlets, you are going in with surgical precision, not with a shotgun blazing everything in sight.  And that means you get a better return on your investment.

3.  Negotiate your media buys. If times are tight for you, chances are they’re pretty tight for the media outlets as well.  Which means they may be even more willing to negotiate deals, as well as offering more specials. Even in good times, don’t ever pay media retail.  Media reps will usually negotiate in some way for your business.  This may take the form of throwing in more insertions, better time slots, sponsorships…sometimes even reduced prices (especially if you sign a 12-month contract).  Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need.

4.  Advertise on the Internet. This works best if you have a website and use it to sell products, information, or services, or if you use it to direct your customers to your bricks and mortar business.  Google AdWords program lets you target specific keywords and place ads that direct your traffic to a specific landing page.  Whenever anyone “clicks” on your ad, you pay a specific amount of money.  This is called “Pay Per Click” advertising, or PPC.   In essence, you are pre-qualifying your traffic, so all you pay for are people who are looking for what you are selling.  There are all sorts of other advertising opportunities on the Internet:  From PPC to banner ads to ezine advertising.  Search “internet advertising” and see what you find!

5.  Consider radio. Radio can be one of the most cost-effective mediums out there.  Why?  Because it can effectively target your consumer, usually for less money than other mediums.

6.  Email. Guess what…email costs almost nothing except time!  If you have an email list, all you have to do is start emailing your customers with specials, coupons, news and info…the possibilities are endless.  If you don’t have an email list, start building one today!  Collect email addresses as you check customers out; keep a pad by the cash register for them to sign up in exchange for 10% off their next purchase (or some other incentive).  There’s no excuse NOT to be doing this.

7.  Co-op advertising. Is there another business that is compatible and complementary to yours with which you could team up to advertise, and thus share advertising costs?  A strategic partnership with other quality businesses can create a win-win situation.

Okay, I said I had two pieces of advice.  The second one is…increase your advertising!  I know…you were about to cut your advertising budget out entirely until you read this article.  But if you are thinking of cutting it, doesn’t it stand to reason that your competitors are considering the same thing? 

If you increase your advertising at a time when your competitors are cutting back, just think how much more visible to the consumer you’ll become!  You didn’t become a small business owner by not knowing how to take calculated risks.  This is one that could pay off big-time.

When you advertise, you are building your brand.  When you stop advertising and putting your brand in front of the consumer, your brand starts losing its power.  Therefore, when you stop advertising during rough times, you are throwing away an investment that may have taken you years to build.

(c) Copyright 2008, BusinessBurrito.com.  All rights reserved.

Donna Williams is the founder and creator of BusinessBurrito.com – a website dedicated to helping small businesses grow to their maximum potential. She is also a 25-year advertising / marketing executive, creative director, writer, and producer. Together, Donna and her husband currently own and co-own five small businesses. To read more of her articles, or to sign up for her free weekly e-newsletter, visit her website at www.businessburrito.com

About Emma G.

Working in the marketing industry since 2002. This blog is one of my hobbies.

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