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A smart new strategy for “RECESSION ‘09”

January 19, 2009

Note: My agency will be hosting a free webinar called “Redefining the Buying Cycle” at 10:30 a.m. EST on January 29, 2009. Register here.

My boss will the one giving the webinar. In my career, I’ve never heard anyone talk about marketing like he does. It’s mind bending the way he talks about the buying cycle. He’s awesome, and yes, I’m biased (in case he’s reading) . Here’s the release:

No doubt you’ve heard this before. As Harvard Business School professor John Quelch advises: “Increasing marketing during a recession when others are cutting back enables you to improve market share and ROI at lower cost than during boom times.”

Additionally, we’ve seen research that suggests out-marketing your competitors during a downturn also gives you a continuing momentum-like advantage. Not only do you gain share from your competitors during the tough times, you keep it when business turns back up, thus leveraging the improved conditions.

But to many marketing people these days, this is a lot easier said than done. No matter how attractive the idea of gaining ground on competitors may be to managements, marketing budgets still get slashed during tough times. And in 2009, the torrent of overwrought doomsday scenarios spilling out of Washington, London and Wall Street (and being hyped by the near-hysterical news media) are pressuring marketing budgets to a degree not seen in many years.

So how do you “increase your marketing” during the current shortage of budget dollars?

“Recession 2009 is actually a huge opportunity,” according to Dave Bulger, Eric Mower and Associates’ Partner, Digital and Integration Strategies, “because I’m convinced it’s possible to increase marketing effectiveness without increasing marketing spending in a way we’ve never seen before.”

“2008 was a critical tipping point – when the web finally became the center of marketing conversation for nearly every business,” Bulger explains. “Smart marketers recognize the changed situation, and the only logical conclusion is recognizing it’s time to rethink their marketing budget mix.”

Bulger describes the new opportunity scenario in this way:

Before the web became the primary information resource for buyers, leads were for all practical purposes defined as “someone who was ready to buy”. How they got that way didn’t matter. Leads self-selected themselves, and were primarily obtained by casting the widest net the ad budget allowed. In short, the prevailing strategy was “Want more leads? Buy more ads.”

“What’s really different now – and this is important – the web gives us the power to recognize a lead much earlier in the buying cycle,” Bulger observes. “In the old days, someone who was not yet ready to buy was not really considered a good lead.”

But today, the web has created a whole new pool of shoppers, as Bulger terms them. “Shoppers are not yet buyers. They are information seekers, price comparers, performance searchers, problem-solvers, resource evaluators, you name it. The breakthrough is that we now have web capabilities that give us the ability to conduct lead nurturing.”

In other words, shoppers can be transformed into people ready to buy in ways never before possible. The most fertile territory lies in market segments where customers are making considered purchases rather than impulse ones. Smart companies that recognize shoppers first, and become the first to nurture them into leads, can effectively freeze their competitors out of the buying process.

Why is this so relevant to today’s conditions?

“The big money has already been spent on building websites. Most companies today have a fairly well-developed web infrastructure. And since it’s already built, it’s a very attractive proposition, in a time of budget pressures, to use what’s already built and paid for in a more productive way.”

Today, the “’aha’ moment” as Bulger calls it – the moment when a shopper becomes ready to buy – invariably occurs online.

Lead nurturing takes a lot more than an online order form. Bulger and his team at EMA deploy dynamic content libraries that enable marketers to engage shoppers earlier in their buying process, providing them with more alternatives that forge a deeper buying commitment earlier.

Along the way, the team identified and observed another intriguing group they call “learners”. Since EMA has so many clients operating in the Business-to-Business space, learners came to their attention because so many B-to-B lead generation offers consist of information-rich white papers.

Learners, it turns out, have not even advanced to shopping mode. Instead of knowing they’re in the market for a specific thing, learners are still just trying to figure out the solution landscape (as opposed to shoppers, who already know the territory well and are comparing alternative solutions to their needs).

At first, sales-obsessed clients, still wedded to the old definition of qualified leads (i.e. people ready to buy right now) were greatly discouraged when swarms of learners raised their hands to obtain information… and turned out to be nowhere near ready to buy (or even shop!).

The big surprise? Those “crappy leads” proved to not be so crappy after all. In fact, learners properly nurtured eventually became the best leads of all, as the company became a trusted resource early in the learners’ consideration process, before they became shoppers.

“To both shoppers and learners, meaningful follow-up is enormously powerful. It sounds counter-intuitive, but we just stop selling and instead help shoppers buy. We’ve learned that aggressive salesmanship backfires at this stage, and thus our online content has to be carefully and sensitively created. It’s not something that every run-of-the-mill website builder understands.”

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Dave Bulger will explore this fascinating topic in detail during a free webinar “Redefining the Buying Cycle” at 10:30 a.m. EST on January 29, 2009. Register for the webinar for free.

This is the fourth webinar in a series presented by Eric Mower and Associates, an integrated marketing communications agency with specialized expertise in consumer brand promotion and business-to-business marketing.

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