Guest Post

Keeping Your Head — And Your Marketing Budget

by David Humphrey

Rudyard Kipling has fallen out of fashion - partly because we no longer identify with his Victorian era racial and gender stereotypes or his colonial imperialism, and partly because we no longer seem to have time for poetry. But "keeping your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you" is just as important today as when Kipling's famous poem "If" was written in 1910. In an economic slowdown, or at any time when demand for your products or services seems to slacken, many people will urge you to slash your marketing spending. Keep your head — and keep your marketing program.

The discussion can get emotional. Most companies still classify marketing as "discretionary" spending, and if profits are slipping, conversations about cost-cutting too often focus on marketing as the first cost to cut. "In this economy, there's no demand for our products right now," the reasoning goes, "so why waste money trying to stimulate it?" Almost always, the reality is more complex. There is still some demand for your offerings, though there may be less of it. It's a buyer's market. That's exactly the time you need to stand out from the crowd. Your marketing program is the set of tools you use to differentiate yourself from competition, and to make yourself "top of mind" for those users who are still buying what you sell. It takes nerve to keep investing in your future when the present seems at risk, but you've got to find your nerve and keep moving forward.

At Massage Envy, America's leading franchisor of professional therapeutic massage clinics, we have kept our foot on the marketing gas pedal throughout the current recession — and we're still moving full speed ahead. We opened 190 new locations last year, and we've used the recession to widen our lead over our imitators. Why? There are many reasons, and our franchisees and regional developers deserve much of the credit. But while some competitors were pulling back ad spending and becoming less visible in the market, we've accelerated our marketing efforts, increasing our brand awareness, encouraging trial, and soon launching a loyalty program to boost customer retention. And we've used our advertising to make sure customers see massage as an important part of their wellness lifestyle, not as a discretionary luxury.

"Finding your nerve" should not be misunderstood as "taking extreme risks." Of course, you should spend marketing money wisely. The recession may be an opportune time to review your marketing mix, shifting more spending to those media channels and marketing programs that most cost-effectively deliver your objectives. And be sure your objectives are clear: is this the time for a breakthrough in customer acquisition, or would renewed emphasis on customer retention and maximizing customers' share-of-spend make more sense right now? But whatever your business objectives, it's unlikely you can meet them if you stop telling your customers and prospects who you are and why you're the best available option for their business. Find your nerve, and keep moving your marketing plans forward. "If you can keep your head," you might just use the economic slowdown to speed up your business.

David Humphrey is President of Veria and CEO of Massage Envy.

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