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My Rules for Making it in Tough Times

Thursday, September 18th, 2008 by admin

Though today’s markets rallied in response to good bottom feeding, rumors of a Resolution Trust Corp. and other factors. But the economic news has been bad and the is a general sense is that it will remain difficult for the forseeable future.

Such times lead us to ponder the future and what’s necessary to move on and up. Here’s my five rules for navigatng through these times.

Rule No. 1 – Stay Close to Your Customers
The first rule comes from Tom Garbett, one of the best and brightest when it came to corporate positioning. (I knew Tom in his final years at DDB Worldwide; he died in January 2007.) Tom’s advice in the recession of the early 1980s: “Stay close to your clients.”

Over time, I’ve come to lean on this advice. It’s not only how we can stay whole in our business-to-business relationship, but it naturally leads one’s ear to really understand our customer’s issues and creatively consider how they can better connect with their consumers.

Rule No. 2 – Access The Long Tail
Given the structural economic shifts in the last three decades and the uncertainties of any forward-looking prognostication, we may also need to figure out how to add new customers, as well as keep the existing ones.

Chris Anderson, editor in chief of Wired magazine, coined the phrase The Long Tail, as a demand-side model that shows the impact of selling specialty items to smaller clusters of customers. The tail can represent more of a market share than the spike. As with, the total volume of low-popularity items exceeds the total volume of high- popularity items.  In tough times, this long tail becomes appealing – and more achievable – when it is coupled with two other factors: (1) the Internet and (2) channels. Anderson emphasizes the value of the Internet as the vehicle making it possible to connect with so many individuals about specialty items.

Rule No. 3 – Use the New Laws of Web 2.0 Marketing
In a nutshell, the Web has become the “go-to” place for virtually everyone seeking information.

The Old Law would have us pushing information to your prospective customers – and a lot of others who are not prospects but happen to fall within target demographics.

The New Law tells us to make the data available for buyers to find. It has us using the Web site as a meeting ground which customers and prospects can visit to find useful information.

Beyond buying ads, placing publicity, or promoting at events, the New Law would have us publishing content and establishing relationships that our public helps to expand virally by pulling in friends and associates.

Rule No. 4 – Work the Channel
To drive success, especially when customers, clients and consumers aren’t beating a path to anyone’s door, I turn to the concepts in Michael Hammer’s Agenda. Here the author of Reengineering the Corporation points us to the “customer economy,” coaching us on how to succeed when customers have the upper hand.

Just the chapter headings give you a sense of what he’s about: “Run Your Business for Your Customers. Become ETDBW (easy to do business with).” Or “Give Your Customers what They Really Want. Deliver MVA.” Hammer writes, “MVA means that you give the customer more, perhaps far more, than you ever have before.”
But I think the most telling notion is his call to “turn distribution chains into distribution communities.”

In short, use the “New Laws of Web 2.0 marketing” to maintain close relationships with today’s customers and to efficiently attract a new ones.  Then, engage both current and prospective customers as part of your “community of interest.”  You can rely on enduring wisdom of public relations to creatively maintain these connections.

Whether it is a multi-billion, multi-million or even smaller business, the Web is a powerful vehicle for attracting and holding the attention of customers who are looking for answers, guidance, advice and options, even in – perhaps especially in – a tough economy.

Your relationship will not only become viral as it progresses, with current customers referring new ones, but your business reputation will endure long after the business cycle turns up again. We saw this in the Great Depression and again during the shortages and rationing during World War II. Consumers remembered the good guys — businesses that stood by customers when times were tough or supplies were short.

Rule No. 5 – Manage and Nurture the Spirit
This final rule is far more personal than institutional. It is important for you and your employees to remain committed and conduct yourselves with integrity.

Take a leaf from Seth Godin’s latest – and maybe best – book, The Dip. It’s about deciding when to power on or when to quit, change strategies and to move forward with a fresh approach. The most successful in business and life quit all the time – to enable themselves to reach their vision.

But how one moves ahead in difficult times is crucial.

Listen to my friend Tom Whittaker – the  first disabled person to climb Mount Everest – who, on his third expedition, after spending a total of six months on that mountain, finally reached the 29,035 ft. summit:
“Almost a year ago today I was standing in front of the dais in the Grand Ballroom in Buckingham Palace where I was being inducted into the Most Magnificent Order of the British Empire. After pinning the MBE to my lapel, Queen Elizabeth II stepped back and engaged me with keen blue eyes and said, ‘So, Mister Whittaker, you must have been jolly proud to have made it to the roof of the world!’
“ ‘The thing I was most proud of, your Majesty,’ I replied ‘is that I wasn’t guided up the mountain by able bodied guides. I was the expedition leader. I picked and trained my team and I climbed the mountain on exactly the same terms any serious mountaineer would climb it.’
“The 80 year old monarch reflected for a moment and replied, ‘Yes. Style is so important isn’t it?’ 
“The ’style’ she was referring to is of course how you achieve your goals. Your style is not only how you will be judged by your peers, but in the last analysis, is how you will judge yourself.

“I work with business leaders that have been shaving away thin layers of their integrity year after year until they stand in front of the mirror and see the wallpaper through their image. They have indeed gained the world but lost themselves and they are in crisis.

“To never, ever compromise on HOW you do business is not just what you have to do to survive, but to be relevant in my world and in yours. What you achieve, once you understand the unforgiving nature of the game, is all up to you. 

“The good news is that the tougher it gets the more you have the opportunity to stand apart!”