Survival of the Fittest?

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I read the news today; oh, boy.

It’s getting hard to be optimistic in the face of so much bad news: For the first time in 35 years, Social Security won’t extend a cost-of-living increase in 2010, while Medicare premiums will be higher. Reduced business revenue has caused controllers to slash marketing budgets in an attempt to sustain operating income. Almost everyone’s stock portfolio and 401k are down at least 40 percent. Warren Buffett and others are now warning of impending inflation. When things cost more, consumers tighten their belts even more.

To survive the low economic tide and position your company for future growth, consider the following trends:

Use the Internet to create and reinforce brands, educate the market about your business, and spend less energy defending your price point. Smart customers will understand the value of your offer and simply pay up. Some simple ways to send information include a corporate e-newsletter, a daily or weekly industry report, or periodic blogs. These low-cost marketing techniques often create top-of-mind-awareness in customers and prospects.
If you want more business, make your company stand out. Differentiation is almost always a rewarding adventure. Getting the word out about why your company is special can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be.

One rapid yet inexpensive way to stand out is to use information and value-added content to establish expertise. If you’re good at something — and most people are — your expertise will no doubt be useful to others. There are two ways to conduct information marketing: Become a recognized speaker in your area of expertise or become a recognized author in your area of expertise.

But there’s a caveat: You must teach people something they don’t know; don’t recycle common knowledge like “You get what you pay for.” Recognized experts usually become “rainmakers” for their businesses. Everyone wants to be employed by, do business with, or partner with experts. And the media, of course, want to interview experts.

For these reasons and more, the systematic distribution of original, practical tips can quickly generate new business.

Public speaking, however, doesn’t enjoy the same economy of scale as does writing. But the power of the microphone is a fantastic way to leverage the concept of celebrity worship, even if it’s only within your industry.

Consider these helpful tips: Never attend a trade show without offering to speak. Most trade shows have a keynote speaker and experts to deliver breakout sessions. Of course, people who attend your session will be impressed, but so will the thousands of people who see your company’s name on the trade show’s Web site and mailings.

Hold local informational seminars for potential clients and existing customers. Craft a message that’s 80 percent informational and 20 percent sales, and at every presentation, be sure to issue a call to action. Speak to local service clubs and chambers of commerce; these people are the pillars of the community. Invite customers, prospects, and the media to these talks.

Always collect e-mail addresses at your speeches. Remember that prospects almost never say “no.” They often say, “No, for now.” Use e-mail auto-responders to follow up and keep them in the information loop. Digital information products, such as e-books, audio programs, and video, cost almost nothing to create. You can give this information away, but know that people will pay a reasonable markup if it offers value.

Create a 10-page e-book in your area of expertise. Again, your company can distribute the information at no cost, give it away as a premium, or sell it. Write a few 600-word articles and submit them to sites such as EzineArticles.com. Use this popular site to drive traffic to your company’s Web page.
Social-media marketing is another way to set your company apart. The most popular social media platforms are Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. If you haven’t already found ways to monetize these sites, get in the game.

Smart companies are creating social-media footprints because they know that Facebook (or some incarnation of it) is becoming the new White Pages. Facebook has more than 200 million members and is rapidly growing. Start a company page on this site, and ask your employees to post mini-articles to their FB Notes.

Meanwhile, Twitter is growing at a stunning 40 percent per month. Use its microblog feature — 140 characters per “tweet” — to send interesting links about your products, services, or employees. Use LinkedIn’s recommendations feature to have satisfied customers post testimonials about you and your company. Robert Cialdini, author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, refers to such information as “social proof” that your company is way above average.

Metaphorically speaking, recessions serve to “thin the herd.” This economic downturn will soon be over, and surviving businesses will have abundant opportunities.

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