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10 High-Impact, Low-Budget Ideas for Marketing in a Down Economy (Part 1)

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When the going gets tough, the tough get... cheap. Today, a good marketing idea has to be as inexpensive as it is clever. In part 1 of a two-part series, I offer five inexpensive suggestions that can lead to productive results.

1. Use all of the buffalo

The buffalo was more than a source of meat. Hides became clothing and shelter; bones became tools; sinews became bow strings.

Think like a Plains Indian and get the most use out of every marketing effort possible. One case study, for example, can serve as

  • Spider-food on your website that boosts SEO and provides meaningful content
  • A direct mail insert in lieu of the traditional product brochure
  • A tradeshow handout to jump start conversations
  • A leave-behind for sales calls


Exploit the public relations potential of a big project such as a whitepaper or e-book. If the content is genuinely valuable (not merely promotional swill), you may be able to pick up good press on the cheap.

One of my clients got a half-page article in the leading trade magazine for its industry—and scored a seat at the executive leadership table in the industry's dominant professional association as a result of the great press.

Target appropriate editors/bloggers/reporters with your content and include a quick note explaining its relevance to their audiences.

2. Choose your social-media weapons carefully

What's that background hum? Oh, it's the swarm of expert wannabes chattering endlessly about Web 2.0, social media, the death of print, etc. No matter what the technology or medium—whether blogs or mobile devices, Facebook or Twitter—the message is always the same: You gotta be there—or you're a dumb-dumb... or worse, a dodo.

Look, no doubt some of these may have real value for your business. But the hard truth is that you can't do ALL of them well. Nor should you. Concentrate your resources on the ones that

  • Are likely to be used or welcomed by your target markets
  • You can excel in
  • You can sustain on a regular basis
  • Don't impose unrealistic burdens on your resources or budgets


A client of mine leveraged social media to help a branch of the armed services meet its recruiting targets. But instead of chasing the latest social media fads, they focused their efforts by doing two key things: listening to the online conversations already in progress and creating open content that their target audiences could freely share. Result? They've hit their recruiting numbers every month.

3. Go organic

Place greater emphasis on your organic SEO rather than simply dumping money into Google AdWords. It's not only cheaper, it can be more productive; I've read various analyses on the Web suggesting that natural listings attract 60% or 70% of clicks as opposed to 40% or 30% for paid listings.

Successful organic SEO requires

  • Aggressive identification of keywords that should be optimized for each significant page on your site
  • Development of deep content that feeds search engine spiders and attracts incoming links
  • Constant monitoring of your site statistics to track trends and progress


Don't neglect your titles and meta descriptions. "Titles" are the words that appear at the top of the visitor's Web browser. Search engine spiders take titles seriously, so be sure yours include keywords. The "meta description" in your HTML is what the search engines use to describe your site when it appears as a response to search query; write yours to appeal to potential customers.

4. Play to your strengths

Many years ago, as I was starting my copywriting career, I met a businesswoman who shared what she described as the best advice she ever got at a motivational seminar: Don't try to improve your weaknesses; just concentrate on developing your strengths.

I think that's wise. For us, it means focusing our business operations on our most productive, profitable areas and focusing our marketing efforts on those strategies or tactics at which we most excel.

It's not a matter of what works, but what works for you. If, for example, cold-calling simply isn't effective, drop it. If you're good at networking, plan on investing more of your time and money on networking opportunities this year.


So many of my clients get hung up on this so-called "elevator speech" thing—that 30-second pitchoid that each of us is supposed to have at the ready. The problem with these things is that they sound every bit as contrived and unnatural as they really are. So forget about them. Instead, think about questions, things you can ask new prospects that can jump-start conversations and lead to a natural introduction of your products or services.

5. Profile your best customers

Consider this reverse-engineering for marketing. Think of your best customers. What do they have in common? Is it an industry or role? A similar problem or challenge? A quality of temperament, habit, or attitude? The answers form a profile of the kind of prospects you should pursue.

Then think about how you attracted your top customers. Did they come to your Web site first? Or respond to a direct mail campaign? Or meet you at a conference? Again, whatever worked, do more of. And consider trimming back the rest.


Be prepared for surprises. You may have started your business with the intent of serving one kind of customer with one kind of need, but in retrospect you may find that your best business comes from an entirely different kind of client with a different need.

I work with a company, for example, that started out in the business of providing inexpensive security for PDF documents. But, over time, it found that the real interest lay in offering PDF analytics—and they've shifted their efforts accordingly.

In Part 2...

I'll offer the remaining five tips. In the meantime, keep an eye on the Marketing Profs Daily Fix for topical posts from the trenches of contemporary marketing.

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Jonathan Kranz is the author of Writing Copy for Dummies and a copywriting veteran now in his 21st year of independent practice. A popular and provocative speaker, Jonathan offers in-house marketing writing training sessions to help organizations create more content, more effectively.

LinkedIn: Jonathan Kranz

Twitter: @jonkranz

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  • by George Waggoner Tue Mar 3, 2009 via web

    Powerful, practical stuff. Good insights.

  • by Bill Freedman Tue Mar 3, 2009 via web

    Jonathan...thanks for your contribution to this important and timely topic. Further writings and dialogs on marketing in a down economy can be found at:

    %3E%3E%3E Tippit/Marketo webcast titled "Buyer Behavior during a Recession." See the slide deck at:

    %3E%3E%3E Bill Freedman (that's me) blog titled "1 Strategic and 6 Tactical Marketing Practices for Recessionary Times" at

    %3E%3E%3E Harvard Business School/John Quelch research note "Marketing Your Way Through a Recession" at

    %3E%3E%3E Geoffrey Moore Blog titled "Focus—Sure—But How?" at

    %3E%3E%3E Seth Godin blog titled "Marketing in a recession" at

    ...clearly there is no shortage of good ideas.

  • by Neil Anuskiewicz Thu Mar 12, 2009 via web

    Great article. I hope that your series includes something about permission-based email marketing.

  • by Sameer Bhaduri Sat Mar 14, 2009 via web

    Hey Jonathan,
    Good stuff for tough times n' good times too!
    The underlining point to be made here is that the 'Corporate Communication Strategy' should be clear and effectively reflected in all media...

  • by Stanley WASSEO Tue Mar 17, 2009 via web

    I concur to your excellent metaphor of the plains indian. Check

  • by Liberty Tue Mar 31, 2009 via web

    You definitely offer some helpful advice for marketing in a down economy. I wrote a blog which gives tips on this too, here it is -

  • by Mel White Tue Apr 14, 2009 via web

    It seems obvious, but "Playing to Your Strengths" includes not overlooking your existing customers. Too often, we spend our time searching for the next big sales opportunity and that opportunity is right in front of us as an existing customer who just needs a little TLC. We found that if we give them the tools to succeed, such as web-based tools they can incorporate into their website, they are more likely to rely on the company that helped them succeed.

    For example, we provide our distributors with a Design Search tool, which can be re-branded for their site. We do the maintenance. They get the benefit and we get the sale. For an example, see

  • by brian Tue Dec 29, 2009 via web

    Great points here. I especially agree with the social media buzz/overkill.

    Don't try to do too many things at once, pick one or two sites and be engaged on them, having a profile that hasn't been updated in 10 months isn't doing anyone anything.


  • by Protea Digital Tue Dec 29, 2009 via web

    Excellent point about choosing your social media weapons. There is no real value to trying to get onto every network. Just chose three and put a lot of work into those.

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