Online Marketers Can Weather the Financial Crisis

The financial crisis is here. It’s not a matter of if it will affect you and your company, only a matter of when and how much. Clients and friends are checking in with varying reports, some are watching their growth plateau, others are watching sales trend downward.

Overall, conversion rates are starting to trend downward.

Almost everyone I speak with is looking for areas to cut expenses in and approaching spending from a more frugal mindset. Some are beginning to make drastic cuts, including personnel. While I’m not a financial expert, I can safely predict that this financial mess will likely get worse before it turns around. This isn’t another bust but a larger crisis that will leave few untouched.

So what does this mean to you, your company, and your conversion rate? Can you come out of the other end of this with little to no damage? Anyone who has been in business through a recession knows it’s absolutely possible to survive and, sometimes, even grow a bit (or a lot as competitors fold under pressure).

They will also tell you that it’s never easy.

For online marketers wishing to thrive, a down economy brings two big-picture lessons. First, now is the not the time to stop being innovative. Second, efficiencies are not an option.

Innovate Your Way Through

In a good economy, the rising tide lifts all boats. In a down economy, you’ll quickly know how good you really are. And let’s face it, we could all get a little better, right?

Conversion optimization basics may no longer be working or working less well. You must innovate your way through.

For example, I was recently asked in an interview about creative use of personas. The interviewer and I were talking about a retailer who was worrying about cutting inventory on hand. I was asked if the retailer could use marketing personas to help people buy more effectively or target more profitable buyers. The answer is absolutely yes.

Creative merchandising, creative buying, creative offers, creative marketing, creative cost-cutting, and creative customer-relationship-building will make a difference between who thrives and who dives.

When I say “create” or “innovate,” I’m not talking about a crazy sock puppet ad or simply redesigning a logo. Instead, I’m talking about offering customers more perceived value at less cost to them and you. I’m talking about finding innovative ways to cut through the clutter of our media-crazy environment and the pain people are feeling from this crisis by increasing message relevance and spending less. True innovation always stretches those limits. And that involves much more than screaming louder, telling a funnier joke, or changing the color of the “buy now” button.

Work harder and more creatively at answering the question: what can we do for our customers today? There are only two things riskier than being innovative: being gimmicky and doing nothing. Neither is acceptable.

Offer your customers something better — or your competitor will.

Bow to the Throne of Efficiencies

The more you master the craft of doing more for less, the more secure you’ll be in the coming months. Don’t try to do three jobs with one person until that person begs for mercy. Instead, make marketing dollars go much, much further. That includes cutting fat from marketing budgets and creating a culture of marketing optimization that leaves no penny unturned. It takes work, but it will bulletproof you internally with the bosses and externally with the customers.

Your customers are already acting more efficiently. You should, too. Recently I noticed a pattern in the top 10 retailers by conversion rate. Last month three big florists made the list, but fell off the list. More important, The Children’s Place made the list in September, but not in August during the back-to-school shopping season. That raises the question: is this a sign of early holiday shopping? Could this be a sign that people are looking for a better value by shopping earlier and earlier?

You must start optimizing now.

Need help? Refer to my latest book, “Always Be Testing.” There are reasons why I chose to write a book about Google Website Optimizer, even though there are other, more sophisticated tools. And for many looking for efficiency in marketing, Google Website Optimizer is the right price — free to get started with. This is a first step your company can take to get focused on continuous improvement.

A Few Tips for Rocky Times

Finally, a few tips as we head into the storm:

  • People will still buy what the need and want; they’ll just buy slower and more methodically. Expect longer sales and lead-generation cycles. Customers won’t ask you for more value, they’ll just search for it elsewhere.
  • Don’t be shocked by changing patterns in your metrics. Your customers may behave differently based on newfound attitudes. Ask why they are doing what they are doing. Use personas to find ways to persuade them and calm their fears. Test to find the answers.
  • Don’t cut back on optimization.
  • Consider visiting or revisiting price-point- and shipping-cost-related offers. They are at least worth a test or two.
  • Stay focused on your customer first, not on the market.
  • Even though you can, don’t blame the economy. It likely won’t hear you, and if it does, it won’t do anything about it.
  • Don’t think you’re immune. I don’t want to see you in the ash heap.

Is the economy affecting you yet? How? Let me know.

Join us for a ClickZ Webinar: Transparent CPL Advertising: The Biggest Missed Opportunity in Your Online Strategy on October 15.

Related reading

Flat business devices communication with cloud services isolated on the light blue background.