Marketing is crucial for surviving slump

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Marketing is like grilling a steak: It's one of those things that a few people do really well, but almost everyone seems to think they can handle. Anyone can slap meat on a hot grill. But the result often leaves something to be desired.

Let's take a few minutes to consider how your company markets itself.

* First, if you're doing any marketing, consider yourself ahead of some firms. The plastics industry is full of companies that want to fly under the radar, cultivating reputations for being mysterious. It's like a spy novel only plugged-in people know which firms are the really big players. Who are companies hiding from? Union organizers? Competitors? IRS agents? Try potential employees, customers, partners and investors; this is Marketing 101.

* Not far ahead are firms that have confusing or misleading marketing messages. How many companies claim to be ``global,'' but really aren't? Or use terms like ``full-service,'' ``customer solutions'' or ``total systems,'' but don't define which services, solutions or systems they offer. Don't make potential customers guess what you do!

* Just about every company has a Web site. But differences in quality are tremendous. One of my pet peeves is visiting a site that assumes visitors know where the company is located. Yes, most people will contact you by e-mail. But why not include a mailing address, telephone and fax number on your site?

* Another common mistake involves how companies handle significant announcements. Our reporters repeatedly receive news releases when the contact persons are traveling or unavailable and no one else at the firms are authorized to answer our questions. How frustrating!

BtoB, one of our sister magazines, had a good story in a recent issue about how the economy is taking a toll on business-to-business marketing. These days, many companies wrongly assume that marketing is a luxury, not a necessity.

Obviously, marketing budgets are going to be scrutinized in 2009. But Naylor Gray, global marketing director at research firm Frost & Sullivan Inc., stressed that they shouldn't vanish. ``Companies need to focus on opportunities for growth. There will be a recovery. What people do now will impact how quickly they recover and grow out of this recession,'' he said.

Mark Wilson, vice president for corporate marketing at Sybase Inc., said marketing becomes more important to companies during a recession. ``A lot of companies think they need to cut back expenses because we're in a recession, and they will put marketing in a discretionary spending area and cut back. As a result of that, they will go dark for their customer base. It is the worst thing you can do, particularly during a bad time,'' he said.

Good advice. For more thoughts on how to effectively market your company in tough times, check my post on the topic in The Plastics Blog (www.plasticsnews.com/blog/).