Something Seth Godin said in a recent post jumped out at me.  It reminded me of the choices we make as marketers; choices that range from supporting customers to tricking them.

He was helping a friend set up a new computer.  You’ve been there; all the vendors that paid the computer manufacturer for a shot at pushing themselves in your face.  All the defaults you have to change.  All the opt outs.  All the garbage icons on the desktop.  All the pushing away you have to do.

Godin calls it a “race to the bottom” and that’s exactly what it is.  Especially now.  As things slow down marketers get nervous, then desperate and then, it’s anything goes because they lose all respect for the people they sell to.

Shame on them.  But that’s not the point of this post.  The point: this is an opportunity to differentiate yourself.  To shine.  To find new customers.  Jim Collins (Good to Great, How the Mighty Fail) documents the biggest market share shifts occur in down economies.  Part of the reason is of course because companies go out of business and others pick up their customers.  But I’ll bet you a dollar it’s also because marketers start getting desperate and begin a race to the bottom, chasing away as many customers as they trick attract.

Win the Race to the Top

You know what I mean here.  You work hard to better understand what your customers need (ask them!), improve service, make it easier to buy from you, add value and maybe even change your product.  Your biggest challenge is not another company getting there ahead of you — outdoing you.  In down times the race to the top has few competitors.  Your biggest challenge will be you.  Taking the time and money (yes, it will require some investment).  Fighting the temptation to follow the herd.  Hanging in there when if feels like it isn’t working.

How to Improve Your Marketing in a Down Market — the First Step

There are lots of ways to improve your marketing in a down market.  Stop for a moment and write down the first few things that come to mind.  You have a list in your head — those things you haven’t been happy with.  Those things you’ve been meaning to change when things get better.  Well, you can’t wait this one out, so, get busy.

Then, ask your customers how you can improve your marketing.  Email 10 relatively new customers (not your favorites) and set up telephone interviews.  If you can get five to seven to talk to you you’ll get three really good conversations.  That’s all you need.  Really.

Ask them open-ended questions and listen to their answers.  Ask:

What’s going on in your world right now?

How does that affect the purchase of what we sell you?

How can a vendor like us help you in your current situation?

What criteria were important to you when you were looking for a company like ours?

Why did you select us over the other alternatives?

If you were going to look for another vendor, like us, what would you do; where and how would you find one?

If you were director of marketing for a company like mine, how would you get the word out to more people like yourself?

Asking these questions will start a conversation.  But by themselves, you likely won’t get what you need.  You’ll get “the good stuff,” the answers to your real questions (What’s wrong and how can I fix it?) by listening and asking follow up questions (What do you mean by that?  Can you give me an example?).  For example, you receive this answer to the third question, “A vendor like you can help us best right now by helping us save money.”  That’s fine, but it doesn’t really tell you much.  So, you ask, “Can you give me an example of how we might do that, or how another vendor has helped you save money?”

Next, start brainstorming what you learned and implementing.

Related posts:

Marketing Choices: Truth vs. Manipulation

Transparency as a Marketing Strategy