Do More with Less

Jim Groff

October 2007

Feeling the pain? If not, you’re one of the lucky ones (or your work is primarily commercial). The housing slump has affected most players in the building materials and construction industry, and it’s no wonder. Through June 2007, housing starts were down more than 25 percent from a year ago, as the excess inventory of new homes begins to—very painfully— work its way through the market.

In our industry, many have reacted with dramatic cuts to their marketing programs. While that impulse is understandable, it’s not necessarily a wise long-term solution.

There’s a healthier approach—a middle ground that calls for budget adjustments, but also for rethinking strategies and wringing the most out of the marketing resources that remain. And for those of you not yet feeling the pinch of a tightening economy, there’s some good advice here for you, too.

Here are 20 practical tactics that will help your company achieve more with less:

1. Make arbitrary cuts. The easiest way to trim your marketing budget is to slice the same percentage from every line item across the board, but that doesn’t make it right. Think critically about what tactics work and what drives sales. You may want to get rid of certain tactics altogether in order to save the winners.

2. Re-evaluate your value proposition. Hone your message to fit the times. How, precisely, does your product or service make doing business easier or more cost-effective for your customer? Let the answer drive your marketing program.

3. Sharpen your sales tools. Make sure your sales team has the tools they need to close. A qualified lead is more precious now. Be certain your sales materials focus on differentiation and the most critical product benefits.

4. Analyze your customers. Take a hard look at your customer base, and focus your marketing efforts on those who deliver the greatest return on investment. It makes sense to direct your attention to your most profitable customers. Make them your highest priority.

5. Know your market. A small investment in market research enables you to learn what your customers and prospects want and what your competition does well—or poorly. A survey, focus group or series of interviews can actually save money, because it can prevent you from spending on tactics that don’t work or messages that don’t resonate with your audience.

6. Get creative. "Safe” graphics and messages won’t offend anyone—but they also won’t get you noticed. Be bold in your advertising and collateral, so the dollars you spend will be put to good use.

7. Sell programs, not products. Differentiate by looking at ways to make it easier for your customer to buy. Engage them as partners by considering promotions, buybacks or discounts on materials or labor if they’re bought in quantity.

8. Re-evaluate your prospects. Have an out-of-date prospect list? You may be wasting time and money trying to reach people who just aren’t interested. Review your list, research new potential customers, and take time to contact past customers—you may be able to reconnect.

9. Train your people. Education is cheaper than advertising. Take time to educate your staff—and the staff at partner organizations along the sales channel. Enhance their product knowledge, offer sales guidance and show them how to improve service.

10. Make the most of co-op. Review your co-op advertising program. Are you using all the funds available and maximizing their potential? Think about creative ways to use co-op dollars that focus on boosting sales and on measuring results.

11. Use the Web, but do it right. An up-to-date Web site sends the right message about your company. But be sure to think about Web site optimization—helping folks find you via natural and paid searches.

12. Connect via e-mail. Consider regular, well-designed communications with clients and prospects via e-mail—a cheap way to make a frequent "touch.” Be sure to follow email regulations and etiquette, and be sure to provide information of value. Don’t send out an e-mail just to get your name out there; you’re wasting everyone’s time, including your own, when you do that. Find some news (such as the hiring of a new employee, the offering of a new service or product) to talk about in your communications.

13. Boost your PR effort. Public relations can be a powerful yet inexpensive strategy—one that boosts your profile by reaching prospects and customers through the media. Make sure to focus your effort on outlets that reach your audience. And make sure all communications—columns, releases, story ideas—have some value to that audience.

14. Maximize your media budget. Many companies have been forced to trim their media buys, but there are tactics you can employ to get the most out of the dollars you can spend. You may be able to negotiate for better ad placement or a better schedule. You may also find a publication that reaches your intended audience better—and more inexpensively.

15. Explore media add-ons. Often, media outlets will offer value-added opportunities as an inducement to buy—a free direct-mail list of a subscriber group, for example, or an accompanying online ad. Inquire about these value-adds, or even suggest one of your own devising.

16. Consider remnant space. Media outlets occasionally have space because an issue has undersold or because ads have been pulled. These "remnants” are typically sold close to deadline at a steep discount. They can be great a money-saving tool, but be sure to buy because the ad will achieve results, not because it’s inexpensive.

17. Customer appreciation. The easiest customer to get is the one you already have. During tough times, it is imperative to keep your customers from migrating to a competitor. Fortunately, a customer appreciation effort need not be outlandishly expensive. For example, a well-conceived facility or jobsite tour employs an asset you already have, but at the same time, demonstrates your value and your difference from competitors.

18. Get active in your association. Are you a member in one or more trade associations? Leverage that opportunity through networking, event sponsorships, contributing to association publications and so on. This can be a low-cost approach that can boost recognition, create leads and yield valuable information.

19. Target influencers. Make a special effort to identify and foster relationships with customers and channel partners who are positioned to influence the buying decisions made by others. Turning a good customer into a champion of your product doesn’t cost anything, but it can bolster your bottom line.

20. Don’t stop! Don’t succumb to frustration, panic or defeat. No matter what your budget, continue to engage in these low- or no-cost approaches.

Many of these ideas require marketers to rethink how they plan and execute a program, and that’s just the point. In the current environment, budgets will be trimmed, but that’s only the first step. To make sure your marketing dollars are working their hardest, it pays to do something different. Even to those of us who have worked in the building materials and construction industry for years, the current trough feels particularly deep. But, as always, a recovery will arrive. When it does, those who have been savvy in engaging their prospects and customers will benefit from increased market share. The lessons they learn during the belt-tightening of today will make them more efficient for years to come.

About the Author
Jim Groff is CEO of Baublitz Advertising, York, Pa., a marketing firm that serves manufacturers, distributors and others in the industry. Groff has authored numerous columns and white papers on a broad range of issues relevant to the industry.