Guest Column2/19/09

Don't stop marketing during the tough times

Feb. 19, 2009

By Liz Schlegel

The economic news gets worse every day, and people are starting to react to it by cutting spending — even if they have money. This is a tough situation, and it can cause a vicious cycle. Here’s some advice: Stop paying so much attention to the news, and don’t change your good habits because of it.

Good habits are the marketing things you do frequently and consistently, that keep your business visible and engaged in the community. It could be your advertising, or your customer mailings, or your store window displays. These are things you do well, and the message they send to your customers is a strong one: It says you are OK (and by extension, so is the community).

With cash getting tight, it’s a natural instinct to hold it close and not spend. There are places where that is wise, and there are places where that is a mistake. It’s wise to seek lower-cost alternatives and to be upfront with your vendors, lenders and investors. Ask for a better deal, or make more favorable payment arrangements, or be cautious around hiring.

But it’s short-sighted to cut way back on your marketing during a downturn. Instead, you should have a good understanding of all your marketing initiatives, and understand why you do them and what they cost you. Then, you can make good decisions about the ones to maintain — or even increase — during this time. Cutting back on everything will not only damage your short-term sales — it could get you into a spiral which will be hard to get out of.

For example, if you are a business that depends on local traffic — a retail shop or restaurant — then it would be risky to eliminate your newspaper or radio advertising. People in a small community such as Williston’s pay attention to advertising, and we all notice what’s happening with our local media outlets. Potential shoppers or diners might think your business was in trouble — and then they would stop coming to it!

Instead, this may be a time to think about new creative ads, or adding value to your ads by including educational information (rather than just promotional info). Make sure you’re getting good value for your media investment, and run ads that are well-produced and effective.

I’m not suggesting you just keep chugging along — this is not the time for complacency! What I am advocating is a thoughtful examination of the marketing activities you do for your business, and evaluating the short- and long-term effects of potential changes. You may be able to find new ways to communicate with customers and prospects — and isn’t that what social media is all about?! — but it doesn’t necessarily mean you should ditch all of the old ways of communicating.

One last word on social media: Jason Pelletier (a partner in Found Line) and I gave a presentation on social media last week; it was sponsored by the Vermont Small Business Development Center and Central Vermont Economic Development Corp. The slides can be viewed online at

Liz Schlegel and her family have lived in Waterbury since 1996. Liz is business director at Found Line in Burlington, helping organizations large and small solve marketing problems. E-mail her at

This column originally appeared in The Waterbury Record.