The Scots have a word for the mood I’ve been in lately — heck the mood the entire world has been in the past couple months — and that is “dour” – which I’ve heard pronounced “dow-er” but think is more accurately spoken as “dew-ar” which is appropriate since a Dewars on the rocks with a twist is about the best recourse I can recommend for someone feeling battered these days by the dour news coming from the world’s markets.
With those markets off 40% from their highs in the fall of 2007, marketers are also feeling very dour right now, and despite feeble exhortations that now is the time to double down and crush the competition, all signs are in place for a major flattening and decline in global marketing programs from advertising to PR. It is an article of faith that one of the first expense items to get whacked in a downturn is marketing and other corporate services perceived as “soft” and nice-to-have versus essential to make payroll and keep the lights on.
Some marketing activities will survive and continue through these hard times, and I believe it will be the newest techniques and tactics which endure thanks to the simple fact that they can be measured so well. These are the days when every dollar or Euro spent on marketing has to defend itself from that king tyrant Le ROI.
I was talking to my friend John Bell yesterday. We were talking about how far the world has shifted since August when his firm, OgilvyPR’s Digital Influence Project helped my team run the Olympic athlete blogging program. That was the high water mark for Lenovo’s online brand efforts in 2008, and now, a mere three months later, I listened to myself declare to John that the next 12 months are going to be a dour test for this new wave of conversational/social/engaged/word-of-mouth/collaborative marketing that me and a gazillion other optimistic theorists have been blogging and tweeting and opining at one conference or council meeting for the past three years.
Fast forward to February 2009 and imagine yourself telling a CFO or someone in finance that you need cash to improve “brand reputation” through a “conversational marketing program” involving blogs, wikis, vlogs, photo sharing, tagging, twittering, and crowdsourcing. I guarantee the response will be something on the lines of “how many buggy whips will it sell?” I don’t think Social Media Marketing is ever going to go away – I am a huge fan – indeed I think it could be the tactic that actually thrives through this shitty economy, but only if practiced at extremely low cost and with some evidence that it can drive revenue.
So, henceforth, let me commit to a mini-series here on Churbuck.com on how to market online through a downturn. There are three groups who will be pissed off by what I have to say. I will say “sorry in advance:
- Agencies: Sorry, but these are the times when you better learn how to do-it-yourself. It’s like when I was 28 and bought my first house. I did the sheet rock, not Ned the Nailbanger.
- Vendors: Sorry. That $150,000 a year “reputation monitoring” system you want me to buy? Nevermind, time for DIY. That social media technical platform that offer single-sign on seamless interoperability between the company’s forums, blogs, and wiki? No license fees for me, it’s all got to be open sourced, in the cloud, and as close to free as possible.
- Consultants: Sorry. Consultants won’t be hosed – CFOs prefer contractors to full time employees during hard times – but theorists and strategists are a dime-a-dozen right now and these are the days when actions and direct revenue improvement are going to speak louder than the torrent of theory and drivel that has been skipping like a broken record or a scratched CD for the past year or more.
I will go out on a limb here and say this: any organization can extend its marketing reach for an initial investment of $0 by doing two basic things. The only cost will be time. The only risk will be reputation. I’ve complained about “101” level marketing advice being parroted over and over again by the analysts and consultants, well, here’s my contribution in the form of a simple action plan to do two essential things in the new marketing environment that won’t require a visit to your finance department.
- Open a blog. WordPress.com. Stop. Go no further. Go there. Open a blog. Go battle with your PR and legal teams and before you visit them do a quick Google search for “corporate blog policy” and print out one of the many policies held up as classics by the experts. Do a search and replace and put your organization’s name in the appropriate places. Get permission. Start blogging. Cost: zero.
- Monitor what other blogs say about your organization. Google Blog Search. Technorati. An RSS reader. Google Reader. Bloglines. Whatever. Learn them. Set up RSS search feeds on your brand names and start reading. “Engaging” with bloggers? Google search on the topic. There’s more advice out there than a herd of consultants could impart for a fee in a year. Cost: zero.
That’s enough dourness for the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Next post – how to turn this stuff into sales and look really smart.