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Lessons learned from marketing in a recession

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B-to-b marketers, forced to slash budgets during the worst economic period in decades, said they have learned valuable lessons about marketing in a recession that they will use even as the recovery gets under way. This year, nearly 60% of marketers cut their marketing budgets in response to the recession, according to BtoB's “2010 Outlook: Marketing Priorities and Plans” survey. However, being challenged to work with smaller budgets has taught marketers how to do more with less, and many say they will continue these practices in better times. “We've been very prudent and disciplined in our marketing spend and our financials,” said Bob Meldrum, VP-marketing and communications at TW Telecom (formerly Time Warner Telecom and now an independent telecommunications provider). “We have been able to survive very well in a recession and are well-positioned for when a recovery comes around. We've had to go back to the basics—it's all about being laser-focused on your business plan and meeting the needs of your customers and prospects.” TW Telecom this year cut back its mass media advertising, including TV, print, radio, outdoor and events. It increased more targeted marketing programs, including online and direct mail. “We've gone back to some old-school types of tactics—a plant in a pot or a clock—to get through the gatekeepers and reach IT decision-makers,” Meldrum said. TW Telecom also boosted its online marketing programs, including targeted e-mails, webinars, podcasts and online videos. “We are getting better results using online tactics,” Meldrum said, pointing to an average time of four minutes on a landing page that was part of an integrated campaign. Other b-to-b marketers say they are increasing direct programs, both online and offline, in combination with more sophisticated database marketing. “We did a lot more variable data marketing, using e-mail and direct mail, and we ramped up our telemarketing efforts,” said Melissa Banning, marketing manager at ProForma, a franchise business that provides promotional products and professional business services. “I'm trying to recruit new owners to be part of the franchise system. So I will do more targeted lists, calling hot prospects instead of mass marketing, and do a lot more direct mail and multidimensional marketing pieces.” ProForma is now spending a “couple of million” dollars to create a custom software system for its database marketing efforts, Banning said. It is also increasing its online marketing, including search engine marketing, microsites and social media. “We've gotten big into social media, including Twitter and LinkedIn, and we're starting to get into Facebook,” she said. B-to-b marketers that have increased their use of social media for marketing agree that it is an effective way to communicate with customers and prospects, as well as keep up with industry trends. “Spending time on Twitter poring through articles on trends was my personal secret weapon in 2009,” said Marcy Shinder, VP-brand management at American Express OPEN, who was named BtoB's top marketer of the year at a ceremony in New York last week. “In the old economy, marketers had time to rely on agencies and partners to package thinking and present points of view on the latest trends,” she said. “The new economy is moving so quickly, marketers need to spend time themselves, almost every day, reading about trends and talking to partners, Gen Y employees, customers and anyone else who can shed light on what's taking place with the marketing landscape.” Shinder became an avid user of social media this year, using networks such as Twitter and Facebook; she posted articles, tweeted about small businesses and shared resources on marketing in a down economy. She also oversaw the relaunch of OPEN-Forum.com, an online community of small-business owners that provides social networking tools for them to connect with each other and provide feedback to American Express. “Be close to your customer,” Shinder said, pointing to one of the most valuable lessons she learned from marketing in a recession. “It's about listening with both the left and right sides of your marketing brain—what do they need, and what's going on with them emotionally? My greatest asset this past year was the time I spent with customers.” M
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