Ops Management

Economically Sound, Patient-First Marketing Strategies

The United States has experienced a turbulent economy over the past few years, with various retail sectors being faced with tremendous challenges. But to a smart marketer, challenge can equate to opportunity. Despite the fact that providers now may be operating with smaller marketing budgets than in years past, there are many effective marketing strategies and tactics that can be employed at little to no cost.

While your marketing budget may be smaller, you are at an advantage because the products you offer are truly need based and not frivolous consumer indulgences. Furthermore, those who market during economically challenging times can find themselves at an advantage as their competitors cut back in their marketing and advertising spending. It’s far easier to get your message heard when others are not talking. With today’s challenges, it is more important than ever for you to maintain an aggressive, consistent marketing message rather than retreat into silence. You may be surprised that you can actually increase your marketshare position on a small budget.

The Consumer Mindset Is Different

It’s important to understand the unique consumer mindset during economic turbulence. Consumers are much more likely to stay at home rather than go out and shop due to high gas costs. Online shopping increases by approximately 30 percent during times of economic uncertainty. Consumers become risk averse, are more pessimistic and under greater stress. They are more likely to try new products if they are on sale, or if consumer financing is offered. Consumers will do more homework to assess product value and quality prior to purchase. Most often, this research is conducted online.

Consistency Is Key

As marketers operating with smaller budgets, consistency is critical. You have fewer dollars to spend to reinforce your message. You must be consistent to communicate your company’s unique value proposition. Do not change your corporate logo, tagline or your brand proposition often, as your message will become diluted. Ensure your company name is easy to remember and descriptive. Increased consumer stress makes it harder to capture attention, so easy-to-remember branding is helpful to make an impression.

Offer Trusted Brands to Gain Consumer Confidence

Align yourself with top-quality manufacturers, as your reputation depends greatly on the products you offer. If you associate with reputable, wellknown quality brands, it is far easier to be perceived by consumers as a reputable, quality provider. Conversely, if you only offer products that are known as low-cost options with questionable quality, your company will inherit the same reputation. When budgets are tight, you need to recognize more than ever that your associations will be critical in establishing your reputation.

The Media Is Your Friend

Public relations is a relatively inexpensive way to advertise and market your company. If you have not built a rapport with your local media, work to do so. Most news media wish to balance the constant negative stories on the news with more positive, uplifting stories. As a provider, you do noble work helping people with mobility issues achieve greater independence. You can provide your local media positive, inspiring stories they want to cover. Also, ensure you are promoting any events to the media. Customer appreciation days, open houses, the opening of a new location and participation in community service are excellent examples of the type of events you should share with the media. Presence in the press is basically free advertising.

Make Your Showroom Inviting

If you have a showroom, recognize the importance of appearance and merchandising. Your showroom is often the first impression you make on a customer. There are a few simple, low- to no-cost things you can do to make a great impression and create a welcoming environment.

Implement a custom floor plan. Keep it clean and neat, use warm, inviting colors on the interior design and play music that appeals to the generation you are largely servicing. Change your showroom every few months or with the seasons, just as major retailers do. Use up-todate merchandising materials, and stock different colors of products. Be certain you have well-lit, well-branded window displays that allow people to envision themselves using the products. Employ a friendly, well-informed staff wearing uniforms and nametags. Run a loop tape on TV screens in the showroom so customers can view more about the products you offer. Display complementary products near each other, and have consumer financing program information prominently displayed throughout your showroom.

Partner with a manufacturer that offers the merchandising collateral to help you accomplish the above goals. A manufacturer should have a number of support services to help you meet your merchandising needs and can often offer advice on the most effective techniques to get people in your showroom.

Advertising Can Be Affordable

Advertising does not necessarily equate to great expense. For example, staff attitude in a showroom is a form of advertising, as it can reinforce your brand image. Think about Southwest Airlines. They have carved out a niche in the air travel industry as the “anti-airline,” meaning the airline that puts the fun and customer service back into flying. They have their fl ight attendants interact with the passengers in a friendly, fun way. For example, they sing (and even rap) the safety instructions and reinforce their “putting the fun back into flying” brand positioning via the persona they show the passengers. This is a very low cost thing to do, but extremely effective.

Advertising can also be as simple as e-mail blasts to existing customers about additional products you offer. QVC, for example, is a master at this. They really know how to capture data regarding customer purchases, and they regularly follow up with customers every few months on complementary purchases that may be of interest. So, if you have an oxygen patient, perhaps you should consider an e-mail blast to that customer letting them know you offer lift chairs. It is far easier and less costly to market to your existing customer base than it is to go out and find new customers.

Don’t worry, because there is no Medicare prohibition against marketing to beneficiaries via mail or e-mail. The only prohibition is for telemarketing, which is outlined in the Supplier Standards (number 11).

Advertising can consist of many different media, from print to TV, billboards, Web, direct mail, bag stuffers, etc. Often, people think “big bucks” when they consider TV, but that’s not necessarily so. Many markets have inexpensive cable buys and local news stations that allow you to run TV advertising rather inexpensively. And if you consider tagging a preproduced TV spot, the production costs to you are nominal. And as people during times of economic turbulence are much more apt to stay at home and shop online, consider development of an e-commerce site or, minimally, have an educational Web presence.

Again, partnering with a manufacturer who offers comprehensive marketing support goes a long way in helping you reduce cost.

As you see, there are many simple and low-cost things you can do to effectively market your brand, from employee/consumer interaction to developing an online presence. Remember, marketing is supposed to be fun, but it doesn’t always have to be expensive.

This article originally appeared in the September 2010 issue of Mobility Management.

About the Author

Ted Raquet is the VP of domestic sales for Pride Mobility Products Corporation, Exeter, Pa. Ted can be reached via e-mail at traquet@pridemobility.com or by calling (800) 800-8586.

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