In the four years following the collapse of Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, there probably hasn't been a six-month stretch free of a real or perceived threat to the health of our economy for everyone to obsess about. Even during periods of positive growth, enthusiasm has been dampened by everything from rising healthcare costs and financial regulation to the fragility of Europe's banking system. Throw in natural disasters that might be caused by global warming, and you have an anxiety epidemic that impacts both personal and business decisions.
In fact, some of you nervous nellies are freaked out already and won't be able to finish this column.
But during this holiday season, my message is one of hope, and not fear. As the famous prayer from St. Francis of Assisi so eloquently points out, there are certain things over which we have no control and must learn to accept-like the election, the ultimate application of financial reform and of course, the fiscal cliff.
These external factors, which are covered to death by the mainstream media, certainly have real-life, bottom-line implications. But for too many marketers, executives and entire companies, they have become an excuse for indecision. The thought process goes like this: 'Since we don't know what's going to happen with ____ (insert worrisome external factor here), we just can't develop any new products, commit marketing dollars or take a risk.'
One group that seems to buck this risk-averse trend is private equity firms. Just last month, in fact, we were contacted by a new PE fund that wanted assistance on everything from their fundraising presentation to building their web site. Despite economic uncertainty, these guys are ready to take on the risk of entering an already crowded middle market with modest deal flow in their sweet spot. We politely told them that differentiation was paramount and they needed to find new, creative ways to connect with investors and M&A banks and keep them engaged.
Maybe it's the hubris of those 'private equity types.' Maybe it's because they have to accept economic cycles as part of a three to seven-year horizon. Whatever the case, this firm understood that market conditions and the inherent challenges they face aren't good reason to mute their message. (We'll save the debate about too many funds chasing too many deals for another day.)
More importantly, they understood that customers often want to tap you for information before they consider giving you their business. And that's where all of these macroeconomic concerns within a world of instant information could actually work to your advantage. If you, as a marketer, can provide content that helps customers understand how external factors like reform might impact their business, and do it in a timely fashion, you're now creating a true relationship with that customer that could become long term, assuming you keep providing that content.
Ultimately you can't make your customers buy your product or use your services, no matter how slick your marketing is. And there's a good chance many of them are delaying those decisions due to macro factors.
But when those customers are ready, you want to be in position to get their business. Staying in front of them during uncertain times by providing relevant, helpful content is a great way to find new leads and establish trust with existing contacts, and it's not that expensive. Putting some marketing dollars to work isn't the real risk in this type of market; rather, it's the danger of becoming irrelevant while your competitors take advantage of your perceived absence.