Marketing is still possible in tough times

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There are no dealers who have escaped the turmoil of the current economic downturn. As a result, it’s pretty safe to assume most dealers have made substantial, if not total, cuts in their marketing budgets. It seems there must be some law that says when cash flow is tight, budgets for marketing are the first to get the squeeze.

But chopped budgets should not mean giving up on marketing. Attitudes like: “We don’t have any budget for this” are feeble excuses for not finding ways to continue to market. I well remember previous tough times when, as president of our trade association, I urged our staff on with my slogan: “Think big. . . cheap!” And we did.

When we couldn’t buy ads, we’d increase our efforts to get free publicity. When we couldn’t print our fancy member newsletters, we created cheap audio tapes in the office to send out. But today, dealers have a power like never before. It’s e-mail, and it offers the greatest vehicle ever to “think big cheap!” That is, of course, if it’s used right.

As I see it, most dealers don’t recognize the need to leverage their customer knowledge to make relevant offers that will get a response. Information technology gurus are calling it “e-mail analytics” -- the detailed breakdown of, in this case, your customer database. In layman’s terms, it’s simply knowing as much as possible about the customers and/or prospects in your email database. Then, tailoring offers and incentives that could resonate specifically with them.

The first thing to recognize is that all customers are not the same. Your customer base is definitely segmented. Knowing as much as possible about those customers helps you identify their segment. Therefore, one size will not fit all when it comes to e-mail marketing. No dealer can speak effectively to all his customers with only one offer. In that case, he’s just filling the customers’ mailbox with untargeted messages and offers that don’t stand a chance of drawing a response. Done right, however, and the opposite can be true.

Almost everyone agrees that knowing our customers is the only way to succeed in tough times. And, they should thoughtfully be segmented into, say: anglers, skiers, cruisers, dock-sitters, with youngsters, with teens, empty nesters or other categories as may fit. An offer to test your newest ski model isn’t likely to appeal to your angler customers, so you don’t bother them with such an e-mail. In not doing so, you will also establish credibility that when they do receive an e-mail from you it’s something they know will interest them.

In these economic times, even our best customers are slower and need more reasons to make the purchase. But, we know without a doubt that they continue to want our boats and are emotionally connected to them. The purchase may be delayed for the moment, but at any time a well designed and targeted offer sent by e-mail could easily open a checkbook. The best thing is the cost of good e-mail marketing strategies couldn’t be cheaper!

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