With the economic outlook for 2009 still decidedly uncertain, savvy VARs and other small business owners are thinking about undergoing a bit of budgetary belt-tightening. Although positive economic news could be coming around the bend before year's end, it's likely that some discretionary expenses such as employee perks and office extras will find their way on to the chopping block in more than a few small and medium enterprises this year.
While it may seem smart to add non-tangible expenses like marketing to the "temporary cuts" column, experts caution not to go overboard when trimming the fat on your brand identity budget. In times of economic crisis, brand loyalty can be a life-saving boon for small businesses, and often, the very best way to keep your firm's name fresh in your customers' minds is through targeted marketing campaigns.
However, one way you can reduce your marketing budget as a temporary cost-cutting measure is by taking steps to ensure that the funds you are able to allot can stretch as far as possible. Marketing gurus advise that a simple marketing plan is a great way to help your marketing budget do more for less. Use these simple tips to devise your own marketing plan, and ensure that you'll get the most benefit from each and every marketing dollar you spend in 2009.
Identify customers' new and emerging "pain points" and devise a campaign around them. What are the aggravations, roadblocks, and resource-intensive problems your clients are facing this year? How can your products and services alleviate these concerns? Answer these questions and use your findings as the basis for your entire marketing plan.
Make sure that your marketing plan is goal-focused. Each campaign you undertake is likely to have a different core message and desired result. Create steps for identifying and developing marketing goals, and then create consistent processes to ensure that each aspect of your marketing efforts tie in directly to your stated objectives.
Develop several budget scenarios. For many small businesses in the IT space, there's just no telling what 2009 is likely to bring. To be safe, develop marketing mini-plans that would fit with several different cash-flow scenarios. Most importantly, develop a workable "bare-bones" marketing budget that highlights the absolute minimum your firm needs to do to maintain its brand identity, customer recognition, and return-client loyalty.
When in doubt, stick with known quantities. It's always a great idea to branch out into new markets and media, but when times are tough, it may be smarter to limit your marketing methods to publications, events, and target customer groups that have paid off in the past. Take a clear-eyed look at your situation and gauge the level of marketing risk that you're willing to assume this year.
Build accountability into your marketing plan. In a period of economic uncertainty, most small business can't afford to invest money in unproven marketing strategies. Set time-bound, quantitative, highly specific goals for each of your marketing efforts – and then don't hesitate to change courses if a campaign fails to meet them.
With careful planning, you'll be able to stretch your marketing budget even farther. How do you plan to adjust your marketing strategy in 2009? Let us know in the comments.