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What is the best way to market in a down economy?

The best way to market in a down economy is not to stop marketing. Study after study has been conducted comparing what happens to businesses that market through a recession with what happens to those who significantly slow down or stop. Those who continue to reach out to their target audiences always come out ahead after the recovery, and in nearly all cases, they gain market share as well.

A writer for The New Yorker, James Surowiecki, cites an example of how well the Post and Kellogg companies reacted to the Depression. Post did the intuitive thing: They cut expenses, including advertising. But Kellogg doubled its marketing budget, moved aggressively into radio ads, and heavily pushed its new cereal, Rice Krispies. This strategy paid off. By 1933, even as the economy tanked, Kellogg's profits had risen almost 30 percent, and it became what remains today the industry's dominant player. Surowiecki goes on to say: "Recession makes the strong stronger and the weak weaker. The strong can afford to keep investing while the weak have to devote all their energies to staying afloat. When the weak scale back on marketing, the campaigns of strong companies have a greater impact."

"How" to market during these economically challenging times is the question. The first line of defense is to improve customer service. Every practice complains that there is never enough time to train, so when times are slow, take advantage of the extra time and boost the skills of your staff. Training should emphasize value. Now more than ever, your clients need to understand what they are paying for (and why) in order to choose health care services for their pets. Focus on a few things you do well that are easy to communicate, are easy for the pet owner to understand, and generate profit. By providing continuing education in tough economic times, when you have little opportunity to make mistakes, you will have a better chance of getting it right the first time.

Double down on your current clients. Use the time to solidify your relationships with your client base, delivering an exceptional experience and potentially generating referrals.

Invest in growing market segments to get out ahead. If the competition has stopped performing a service for which you know there is a market, pick up the slack. Better yet, launch something new that you know is needed or underserved.

Finally, tidy up. Now is the time to refresh the practicenew paint, signage, artwork, whatever you can do to make the clinic experience more comfortable.

Are welcome postcards the best way to reach new move-ins in the vicinity of our hospital?

Welcome postcards are one way to reach new move-ins, but there are other ways to increase your reach as well. Consider working with other service businesses in the area to offer those new to the area a special introductory service. For instance, at the local doggy day care, groomer, dry cleaner, or strip mall, ask whether you can leave information on their counter or bulletin board welcoming new residents with a special. If those businesses happen to be clients of yours, you may even create a barter system whereby for every referred new client, they get something in exchange. Work with those in the community who may serve a similar clientele and thus might be interested in your practice or who would be looking for common services near their new home.

If you are in a more urban setting, consider contacting property management companies for pet-friendly apartments and condos to see whether you can either advertise in their newsletter or provide an incentive offering to new tenants.

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