Editorial note: This is a guest post by Timo Jäppinen. He is the managing director of a marketing agency Drayton Bird Associates Finland.

You can’t do much about Europe – either it will fall apart or it won’t.

Here are three things you can bet money on, though.

First, the politicians won’t save you. They have no worries. And second, the only economy you should worry about is your own.

And there is one piece of good news. Those who start getting things right during a recession come out stronger than those who sit on their hands.

Here are a few firms started in the last great depression: Audi, Duracell, Fisher-Price, Westin Hotels, Clairol, Revlon, Lego, Nissan, Walt Disney – and many more.

What were they all good at? Marketing.

Yet good marketing doesn’t mean expensive marketing. It is means smart marketing. So here are 7 low-cost marketing tips for you.

1. Focus on collecting the names and emails of your prospects – anyone you think might be likely to buy from you – now or later
The great business thinker Peter Drucker once observed “There is only one profit centre in business. It is your customers.”

The question is, how do you locate likely customers? Here’s the best way.

Don’t settle for a website or an ad that simply lists a few benefits and tells how wonderful you are.

Offer something free – a report, a booklet or a special deal – so your prospect has to give you his or her contact information.

Then you can follow them up until they buy. Now you have more than one shot to sell to them. Most people don’t buy after visiting website or seeing an ad. This leads to my second point.

2. Don’t be shy. Go where the money is
In our marketing agency, Drayton Bird Associates Finland, we have learned that “the money is in the list.” That’s the list of prospects I was talking about – but also, and even more valuable, your list of customers

If you’re in business, you have customers. Talk to them. It is 2 to 8 times easier to sell to an existing customer than trying to convert a non-buyer into a buyer. They are your best source of profit.

And don’t just talk to them once a month or once a year. Talk to them as often as you can think of something helpful or interesting to say. The more you say, the more you sell. Most small and large firms are sitting on their greatest asset: the list of customers and prospects. That list is diamonds in your own backyard…

My partner once asked a big British client in the financial sector, how long do you follow up people? “Until they give in.” said the marketing director. Because he measured everything he knew it could be six months, a year, even five years before they make the sale.

3. Your customer buys when he wants to buy, not when you want to sell
Just because your prospect didn’t buy immediately or after a few sales calls or emails, it doesn’t mean they are not interested. McGraw-Hill research revealed that an average salesman makes the sale after the fifth call.

You can take a very complex, very expensive product and sell it directly with well-written letters and emails… working with good personal selling and intelligent work on the Web.

That’s because you can target the right people and write at length on what interests them. Contrary to ill-informed belief, good long copy almost invariably beats short copy. As any salesman will tell you, the more you tell, the more you sell.

Let me give you an example: one of our clients sells a product that starts at 85,000 €. The average spend though, is 170,000 €. Their sales process began with a one page letter. So we rewrote it. When we had finished it, it was four pages long.

The result? Response tripled and sales doubled.

4. Don’t use just the internet for marketing
Google Adwords expert Perry Marshall tells a story how he started his career in marketing as an sales manager in a small unknown software company in the U.S..

After months of struggle trying to sell the product, he had an idea to run events where they taught people how to use it to improve their business. They even charged money to people who attended.

If my memory serves me, and it occasionally does, the company’s yearly sales leaped from less than a million to three million dollars in three years using that process.

Imagine: the prospects pay to see you. Beats cold calling. And works better.

5. Your sales and profits matter more than getting funding
If you like me followed startups such as WebVan, Fruugo or Blyk, you may sometimes get an idea that the purpose of a new company is get at least a million euro, dollar or pound investment from venture capitalists before you have sold or done anything.

And many will tell you that that is the way to success. But what they don’t tell you is that easy money corrupts. It makes you lazy. If it was just cash that you need corporations like Bank of America and Microsoft would give birth to most new businesses.

IBM founder’s old maxim is still true today: “Nothing in business happens until something gets sold.”

If people are not buying your product, service or idea, maybe the solution is not to work harder on getting a fat check from investors, but to think how can we get by without one?

Isn’t that a much healthier birth for a new company? And having a profitable business makes you stronger when you decide to negotiate with the money sharks who eat innocent dolphins like you for living.

6. Why it’s smarter to copy your competitors than to be “an innovator” in your secret cave
My first business went belly up because of this arrogant mistake. Instead of copying what was already proven to be working, I wanted to be “original and innovate”. May God forgive me.

When it was time to act, I decided it was time to improve our “competitive advantage” – translation: to do more planning on paper. Competitors ran circles around us until we ran out of money. Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett’s long time partner, said “You don’t ever really get over your dumbest mistakes.” This is certainly is one of those for me.

Sam Walton, founder of Walmart, confessed that he didn’t really invent anything nor tried to, instead he went to the cheapest source of tested business ideas, to the competitor across the street and copied shamelessly. It may not to be the sexiest thing to do, but Walmart is doing pretty well, don’t you think?

7. The real answer to almost any marketing problem
Testing. It’s far easier, cheaper and faster to do a simple split test than to argue in endless meetings; should you lower or raise prices? A free trial or money back guarantee? Webinars or live seminars? Let your customers decide – by buying. Research can tell you what people think and have done but not what they are going to.

Did you know that consumer research suggested Marlboro Man ad campaign would bomb?

But Leo Burnett, father of the agency that created it, knew better: “To hell with the research. Run it.” And Marlboro became the best selling cigarette brand in the world.

I hope you found this helpful. Please give a comment or share this post with a friend or colleague.

Author bio
This is a guest post by Timo Jäppinen who is managing director of marketing agency Drayton Bird Associates Finland. He also writes a marketing blog in Finnish at www.markkinointikatsaus.com where you can get his 51 free marketing ideas.

Image by caribb

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