How to beat the downturn with direct marketing

In these turbulent times, what marketing steps can small businesses take to protect themselves against an economic downturn?

When times get tough, it’s common for small businesses to cut back on many areas of expenditure. Marketing budgets often come under the spotlight, especially as many small business owners are never quite sure whether their outlay on intangible or above the line promotional activities like PR and advertising really pay dividends or not.

However there’s one form of marketing which is far more measurable, can be used to target existing and new customers, and which can demonstrate a much more favourable return on investment. Direct marketing, in the form of direct mail and telemarketing, is the ideal marketing activity to help you trade out of a downturn. Here’s a number of ideas of how you can retain your clients and generate more business, which use direct marketing techniques either directly or indirectly:

1. Develop closer relationships with your top customers.

In general just 20% of your customers will generate an incredible 80% of your turnover, so you need to identify who they are and make sure you keep them. If you lose one through poor service, you’ll know about it. Analyse your database of customers to find the top spenders, then put in place a programme to keep them including regular newsletter mailings, field sales calls, or regular customer care phone calls. If your largest clients look like they may defect to the competition, consider implementing a rebate scheme whereby they receive retrospective discounts if they achieve agreed purchasing targets.

2. Build greater customer loyalty.

In tough times you need to at least hold onto what you have already got. You also need to look at your customer turnover, to see if you start losing smaller customers who might be going out of business. Start being more proactive with your customers, through regular mailings and out bound telemarketing.

3. Communicate more with the market.

Prevent an opportunity arising for the competition to step into your shoes. If you cutback and stop speaking to existing and potential customers, someone else may jump into the void you have left. You mustn’t withdraw into your shell and hope for the best, because by the time the situation improves you may have been forgotten. Agree a common message you want to communicate, whether it’s a product related offer or one of your most important USP’s, and then co-ordinate getting this message to the marketplace over a period of time using a range of different methods, and plenty of repetition. If the market sees the same message over and over, it will realise you are here to stay.

4. Broaden your markets.

Try and identify new avenues for your existing products and services so that you can make the most of what you have already got. New markets could be geographical areas or new industry verticals that you haven’t tapped into previously. You can get some clues of potential markets by profiling your existing customer database to see if there any types of customer you were not expecting.

Then decide which new customer types to target and source mailing lists and databases of them, which you can follow up using inexpensive direct marketing. Make sure our mailings include a call to action, and also promote your website which will need to be updated as well.

5. Focus your activities on your core objectives.

Now is the time to reacquaint yourself with your business plan to help remind you of what you are trying to achieve and prevent wasting energy in secondary activities. Bear in mind you may need to update your plans to adapt to changing conditions.

If you haven’t got a business or marketing plan, then you need one, to help you prioritise your precious time, money and resources.

Don’t attempt to experiment with completely new product ideas unless these innovations can be thoroughly tested and proven on a small scale first.


Direct marketing techniques provide a range of benefits to the business which is looking to keep marketing, but needs to keep a careful eye on its expenditure now more than ever. For example mailing campaigns can be easily planned and scaled to meet your budget, and the results are completely measurable to help you measure your return on investment.

But don’t forget that if you are using direct marketing to either existing or potential customers, the quality and accuracy of your data needs to be spot on to avoid wastage and get the best possible results, so make sure you invest in data cleansing and quality lists from only the most reputable of sources. Never be tempted to cut corners by using out of date lists or buying in low cost poorly targeted databases.

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