DARWINIAN MARKETING IN A SOFT ECONOMY

The economy is soft. Capital budgets are shrinking. Projections for growth remain conservative. Even the cheerleaders on "The Street" are not able to boost optimism as they once could.Instead of adapting to change and seizing opportunities to strengthen market position, many businesses are committing one critical error -- slashing marketing budgets.Sure, marketing is an easy target. Quick savings

The economy is soft. Capital budgets are shrinking. Projections for growth remain conservative. Even the cheerleaders on "The Street" are not able to boost optimism as they once could.

Instead of adapting to change and seizing opportunities to strengthen market position, many businesses are committing one critical error -- slashing marketing budgets.

Sure, marketing is an easy target. Quick savings can be achieved by cutting programs. But in the haste to achieve these savings, businesses are missing big opportunities. To capitalize on these time-sensitive opportunities, companies need to quickly adopt a Darwinian approach to marketing.

What is Darwinian Marketing? Darwinian Marketing capitalizes on economic cycles and the impact that soft economies have on weaker competitors. During this period of vulnerability, many companies lose focus.

But smart, focused companies seize this golden opportunity and develop aggressive marketing programs. And without an aggressive marketing campaign, companies will not fully realize the opportunity to boost profits and grow market share at the expense of key competitors.

Plan and Prioritize

Attacking large, horizontal markets is not the most practical strategy. Begin by identifying three market segments that present the most significant growth prospects.

Once these segments are identified and prioritized, budgets must be allocated. Do not simply pour money into additional advertising. An integrated mix of tactics -- including public relations, advertising, direct marketing, Web marketing and trade shows -- must be strategically utilized to promote key innovations and distinct, value-added services.

A slowing economy accelerates the search for products and services that will make businesses more efficient and productive. Companies are not seeking solutions that will "re-engineer the way they do business." This is too disruptive. Instead, focus your message on solutions to support key prospect needs such as cost-effectively increasing output, streamlining supply channels or creating greater brand appeal on retail shelves.

In addition, reassemble strong sales personnel struggling in underperforming markets into focused task forces that target priority market segments. This is an effective way to maximize talent within your organization. Don't let sales personnel become undermotivated. Utilize talent to champion important sales initiatives and give them the tools to succeed.

'The 4-C's of Branding'

Every day, consumers are bombarded with thousands of marketing messages. This is no different for businesses, and in many ways, the problem is even more acute.

Too often, companies market myriad features of their products. These efforts tend to create more static and confusion among buyers. Instead, effective marketing programs will adopt the "4-C's of Branding" to ensure the sales and marketing objectives are achieved.

The 4-C's -- clarity, consistency, communication and customer value -- should guide marketing decisions at all levels.

Clarity: Have you recently seen an advertisement and not understood what was being sold? Don't worry -- you're not alone. Businesses spend so much time with fancy verbiage and creativity in their quest to be different that they confuse target customers. Clearly spotlight product benefits as solutions to specific audience needs.

Consistency: It takes time for customers to develop top-of-mind recognition of your product's benefits. Don't change marketing messages frequently. Develop creative ways to reinforce the same value proposition. Without consistency, brand awareness cycles will significantly lengthen.

Communication: Don't rely on word of mouth to spread your message. Develop focused, integrated programs that provide highly effective channels to buyers and specifiers. These programs can be well executed, even without multimillion-dollar budgets.

Customer value: The key to marketing success is to showcase the tangible benefits that your products and services deliver to customers. Don't preach product features. If a new widget rotates at 16,000 cycles per minute, tell buyers that they can "significantly increase productivity and minimize downtime with the new widget."

The time to act is now. Hesitation gives aggressive competitors the edge. Executing a Darwinian approach to marketing assures survival. Plus, it gives your business a unique, time-sensitive opportunity to capture new levels of growth while your competitors struggle to regain their footing.

Kelly Howard is senior vice president, A.B. Isacson Associates, a marketing public relations firm.