There’s been a lot of noise lately about a possible recession heading our way. I just attended a discussion with Richmond Federal Reserve President, Thomas Barkin, at the local Chamber offices. Much of the discussion centered around recession signals and rates.
And while Mr. Barkin stopped short of saying that a recession was coming, he did seem to suggest that we’re overdue for some type of downturn or at least a correction. We are in the longest growth period in our history and only one country has had a longer growth period, Australia. They probably don’t have grasshoppers there (this will make sense in a minute).
Combine this with the recent interest rate cuts (while unemployment is low and consumer spedning is on the rise) and you can see the writing is on the wall.
Now, I’m not trying to scare you with “sky is falling” doomsday warnings, but it is never a bad idea to be ready for any type of downturn, recession or otherwise.
There’s good news, you still have time to prepare. According to an article in the Washington Post, 3 out of 4 economists are predicting a U.S. recession by 2021. So you have about 1 1/2 to 2 years before the stuff hits the fan. (this statement is not a guarantee as crazy things can sometimes happen)
Are You Taking Growth for Granted?
Are You A Grasshopper or Ant?
It’s easy to become complacent when things are good. We lose a little of that hustle we developed in the leaner times. We just expect that the phone will keep ringing and that those leads will show up in our inbox every day. But, deep down, we know that these economic booms are bound to bust at some point.
What happens then? Do you panic? Are you suddenly forced to do layoffs or cutbacks? It’s possible but not inevitable. Now is a good time to do an audit of your marketing efforts and the leads they generate. How can you keep those leads consistent in a downturn?
We all remember the Aesop’s Fable of the ant and the grasshopper. During the spring and summer, the ant spent his days stocking away food and resources for the upcoming winter while the grasshopper lived it up, putting off his chores and not worrying about the future.
What? You don’t know any guitar playing grasshoppers???
This is a strong life lesson and can be applied to most of life’s situations, even marketing, and business development. No, I’m not suggesting you go on a shopping spree at Staples loading up on printer ink and pretzel sticks. No, now is the time to stock up on marketing assets. Let me explain.
What Marketing Assets Do You Have?
Now is a good time to audit your current marketing efforts. This can include but is not limited to…
- Print materials
- Sales and marketing team members
Specifically, what is working and what is not? What can you continue in lean times? What might need to be improved or increased if business declined? Remember, a downturn is the best time to increase your proven marketing efforts.
Let’s look at each of these a bit more. Specifically, how it relates to surviving a downturn.
If you haven’t heard by now, you have to create good content if you want to build organic and qualified traffic to your website. You also need quality content to help feed your social media machines.
Content is what your clients are looking for from you, first and foremost. They want to know as much as they possibly can before making any sort of purchase decision.
You think it’s bad now? Just wait until Generation Z starts filling more of the decision-maker roles. They do lots of pre-purchase research and only want to engage with companies who are transparent and authentic with their marketing.
What’s my point? The age of sizzle is over. Your clients want to know more about the steak, a lot more.
So, with that in mind, how are your content efforts working so far? Are you connecting with your customers with real thought-provoking content, honest case studies, and real, not glitzy, video tutorials, etc? Are you being real? Is that working?
Take a look at all of your content efforts. Have an all-hands meeting to discuss every bit of content that goes out the door. This could be…
- Email correspondence with clients
- Email newsletters
- Blog and article content on your website
- Blog and article content on other websites
- Social media content
- Long-form content – past performance case studies, white papers, eBooks
- Video content – reviews, demos, tutorials and training, interviews
- Podcast content
Take a look at what content gets the most reaction from clients. What content gets you “thanks,” both online and in person. How can you create more of that? Are you staffed enough to increase your content creation efforts? Do you have the resources you need? Can you get them if not?
If you barely have a smattering of blog content and not much else, it’s time to get serious about content! You can’t outsource thought leadership. You can’t outsource authenticity. It’s time to roll up your sleeves and create a viable, long-term content strategy.
Of course, the best content posted on a crap website is going to struggle. Your website is still a crucial piece of your marketing arsenal.
Remember when social media was going to replace the website? Remember when Google was going to make websites obsolete? No? I remember all of these “websites are dead” predictions and not one has come true.
Your website is your marketing hub, content container and promoter, lead qualifier, lead generator, and buzz builder.
In your all-hands meeting, take some time to have an honest discussion about your website. How’s it doing?
- Do the design and UX still hold up?
- How does it look/function on various browsers, devices, and monitors?
- Does the messaging still make sense based on your current and future goals?
- Do the calls to action still work?
- What do your stats (Google Analytics or otherwise) say?
You need to identify what works and resonates. What can you improve upon or replicate for future success? What has to go? Is it time for a redesign? Better to plan now and have the best website possible in place when the sky falls.
Print and Collateral Audit
Print still matters. People like tangible as long as tangible isn’t just another throw-away item. What are you currently handing out to clients? How does it look? Is it on brand?
One of the most common sins we see companies make is to produce print materials that, in no way, are on-brand. You want anything seen by a potential client to be on-brand and of value.
Again, in that all-day all-hands meeting (see what I did there), take every piece of printed material you’ve given to clients or potential clients and lay it all out on a table. It should be obvious which pieces need to be trashed and never spoken of again.
Once you’ve cleared out the crap, take a look at what’s left. What purpose does it serve? Would a client hold onto it? Why or why not? And what action does it promote?
Being honest about your print materials (no matter whose feelings it might hurt) will save you money and help your sales and marketing teams achieve their goals.
Sales and Marketing Team Assessment
Yeah, we’re no longer in that all-hands meeting. Now it’s time to have the difficult discussion. Remember, this is about planning for lean times. I’m not recommending that you start firing people right now. I’m suggesting you take a hard look at your team and look for ways to improve their output, if possible.
You might even get through this review and realize that you need to hire someone additional, perhaps a social media marketing manager or a content producer. The point of this exercise is to look at each member of your sales and marketing team and ask the following question…
- Are they doing a good job?
- How can you help them do a better job?
- Is it clear to them and you what their role and responsibilities are?
- Is it clear to them what you expect from them in terms of output?
- If sales leads dried up, how could this person help?
Throughout this process, it’s likely that you might discover one or more of the following realities…
- You might have to let someone go
- You might be expecting too much of one person and need to hire someone additional
- You’re not giving your team what it needs to succeed
- The people you count on to build your pipeline and bottom line do not know what you expect from them
- You need to get more involved in marketing and sales
- It’s time to pull away from marketing and sales
If you are a marketing director or sales manager, these questions might be helpful when having a meeting with the powers that be. Progress only happens when we are honest about our current situation and the way forward.
Remember, this is about preparing for the future so you don’t find yourself on the ant’s doorstep asking for handouts. I hope you didn’t skip ahead because that last sentence would seem really strange.
Budget <insert ominous music here> Assessment
The best time to make money plans is when you have some. If the bottom falls out tomorrow, will you be able to keep moving forward? Through all of the discussions had above, it should be clear that you’re going to need to spend some money to keep things going in a downturn.
The worst mistake you can make in a recession is to abandon your marketing efforts. And yet, so many companies look at their bottom line and think marketing is the smart cut to make. I don’t get this. Marketing and sales efforts are what brings in leads and sales.
I think Forrest Gump helps make this point better than anyone. Forrest and Lt. Dan decide to take a big storm on instead of wait it out at the docks. In doing so, their ship is the only one that survived. Now, Bubba Gump shrimp is a household name.
Marketing is your Jenny…
Are you ready?