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While politicians can usually be relied upon to spin anything into a positive message, there was all too little sugar on the pill that George Osbourne asked us all to swallow in the Government’s Autumn Statement last week. The catalogue of cuts and austerity measures that have become familiar was accompanied by some very dour warnings about the dark times ahead and how long they will last. There’s not much that any of us can do about any of that and we don’t need the Chancellor of the Exchequer to tell us that these are tough times for business – we knew that already! In tough times, however, it is the way that you respond that sets you apart and, the way I see it, there are only two options available: sit down and give up or think of a plan and come out fighting.
Assuming that anyone who’s not willing to choose the fight option will have stopped ready by now, let’s talk about what that fight entails. There is no point in fighting if you’re not willing to put your whole weight behind it – after all, a limp punch might as well be no punch at all because it won’t have enough impact to register. That’s not to say that only the biggest and the strongest will come out on top, as Mark Twain so succinctly put it, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog” that counts.
If you’re going to fight you first need to identify your strengths – and your competition’s weaknesses. You then need to figure out how best to exploit that dynamic both commercially from a business strategy point of view and publically from a marketing point of view. All too often in austere times the marketing budget is viewed as expendable while all effort and capital is invested in sales. But if your target customers don’t understand your points of difference, have not got you on their radar and cannot see how active you are in their marketplace because you don’t communicate with them, that sales drive will not be half as effective.
The battle between the ‘spend yourself out of recession’ and the ‘cut the deficit’ camps rumbles on in Westminster and I suspect only history will tell us which was the wiser route. In business, streamlining your cost base where possible is always a good idea as long as the savings you make don’t impact on your ability to deliver a quality product or service and don’t reduce your capacity to gain and retain customers. Failing to implement a targeted and sustained marketing programme does affect customer attraction and retention, so marketing is not an optional extra but a core business function. Getting it right so that it has maximum impact is the key coming out fighting.