When the going gets tough, reach out and touch

By Salima Benchoukroun, freelance public relations and marketing professional

Much has been written about the importance of not reducing marketing efforts in a downturn. In fact, study after study has shown that companies that maintain (or increase) marketing budgets when the economy softens emerge more quickly and gain market share at the expense of less-farsighted competitors that persist in viewing marketing as discretionary spending instead of it actually is: an investment in future sales.

The truth of the matter is that downturn or not, you simply cannot afford being out of sight. The difference is that in a downturn, it’s even more important to keep your business and brand(s) in front of customers and prospects for two reasons. First, a downturn means that there are less buyers – not none whatsoever – so you have to work harder and – dare I say, smarter – to attract those few and far between elusive consumers. Second, boats are discretionary income items often associated with a long-term buying process. In addition to providing relevant information, you need to develop a sustained relationship with customers and prospects, consistently reminding them why you should be the brand and/or dealership of choice when they’re finally ready to buy.

One way to keep your company name in front of customers and prospects without breaking the bank is to send out a monthly electronic newsletter. You may consider a bi-monthly distribution at first in order for your team to adjust to this new commitment.

The electronic newsletter is a soft-sell tool that enables you to keep your audience informed, tell your story and sell the dream of owning a boat and the many pleasures associated with it. After all, you are not selling boats as much you are selling a lifestyle.

First, make it a team effort and enlist the help of people whose skills and day-to-day responsibilities can directly contribute to the content. For example, get feedback from your service department on quick and helpful tips on how to maintain your boat. The newsletter should include no more than five to seven sections. Each column should be well-written, short and to the point. Combine how-to articles to position your dealership as a helpful partner, spotlight on local boating events to help sell the dream, dealership news to tell your story and specials to help boost your sales efforts. In a nutshell, make it informative and entertaining, gently calling readers to action on promotions.

When it comes to format and distribution, send it to existing customers and prospects but also make it available in a PDF format on your Web site to expand your target audience and enable readers to skim through the new and archived issues online or print and read them at their convenience. In other words, make it easily accessible.

Unless you have the resources and skills in place to produce the newsletter internally, you should consider hiring a professional to help you develop and execute it. Your time might be better spent focusing on what you do best – run your business, rather than writing and/or editing several columns based on your team’s feedback. It’s easy to become a jack of all trades and a master of none.

From a management perspective, one of the many advantages of the e-newsletter is that you can quantifiably measure results and evaluate your return on investment. Open and click-through rates, the most commonly used and benchmarked email marketing metrics, provide you with a quick and reasonably accurate snapshot of how an e-newsletter performed. You can take it a step further and keep track of the click-to-open rate (CTOR) which measures how effective your email message was in motivating recipients who opened it, to then click a link. By removing unopened messages from the picture, the CTOR then becomes a better measure of the value and effectiveness of the content, messaging and layout.

Slashing marketing budgets is a common knee-jerk reaction when sales slow down. Unfortunately, crisis-mode financial analysis actually induces a myopia that focuses on lowering short-term expenses and misses the longer-term impact of lowering sales. Look at the market through the lens of your experience rather than the green eye-shades of your accounting department. This is the time not to cut but rather stretch your marketing dollars further, in the right direction and with greater return on investment. Remember that slow times never last forever so keep your head held high, roll up your sleeves further and regularly reach out and touch customers and prospects in the most compelling way possible. They’ll remember you when the timing is right.

This contribution is one in a series of solutions to the industry’s challenges as offered by female boating business professionals for the March 2008 issue of Boating Industry magazine. To view the article, Leading the way, including links to the entire list of solutions, click here.

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