This past holiday season I was reminded of my childhood. But not for the reasons you might think. About a month before the holidays, I remember my mother would take my brother and sister and me to the local Robert Hall store. There we would pick out our winter coat and our Christmas outfits. After we made our selections, we’d make our way over to … the layaway desk.

For those of you too young to remember layaway, that’s how people paid for things before credit cards were around. Mom and dad would make payments to the store. When they were paid in full we got to bring our purchases home.

That memory was buried until this past holiday season. That’s when I heard Kmart actively promoting their layaway program. My, how we’ve come full circle! But it is a sign of these economic times. For people who have maxed out their credit cards, have poor credit, or just want to keep their charges in check, layaway is a great option.

This is just one sign that buyers’ purchasing drivers, behaviors, and attitudes have changed. And if we’re not changing with them, we may be losing business to our competition.

In a tough economy, consider this. Buyers may be short on cash, reluctant to incur more debt, or shift into a necessities-only mindset. Our marketing messages and value proposition, which may have worked beautifully during a thriving economy, should be revisited. Here are two things to do:

1 – Assess buyers’ behavior. Examine what’s going on in YOUR industry, in YOUR serving geography, and in YOUR sales channels. Buyer behaviors vary from city to city, and from industry to industry. So although you may see averages and studies showing sales trends, use your own observations, as well, to determine what’s really going on. In a recession, some high-end products are viewed as luxury items, whereas others are perceived as small indulgences, so their sales may actually go up. Ask yourself:

– How has the recession affected my industry’s sales? Up, down?

– Which products seem to be faring better?

– How have perceptions of my product/service been changed by the recession?

– What are customers and prospects saying when they DO purchase? Has that changed?

– Which product/service attributes appeal more to customers during this time? Why?

2 – Reshape your message to fit new buying behaviors (if appropriate).  In light of what you discovered in step 1 above, you may find it necessary to adjust your message.  There are certain messaging themes that are pervasive in this type of economy.  That’s not to say that you have to use one of the following.  But it’s a good place to start as you carefully examine whether your current messaging is still hitting the mark with prospects.   Common appeals include:

–          Value: For many, there needs to be a sense of getting more for their money.  That doesn’t mean you have to lower your price!  For example, if I was selling high-end cars, now might be the time to promote how well they keep their resale value.  Custom jewelry can be positioned as heirloom pieces worth handing down to the next generation.  And artwork can be positioned as an investment. Even these purchases can be positioned as somewhat practical, not frivolous. (By the way, if you’re thinking that high-income purchasers haven’t been affected by this recession, they have.)

–          Safe bet: Adding credibility or some form of guarantee can go a long way during a rough economy.  When dollars are scarce, buyers aren’t willing to take chances.  That’s all the more reason to offer programs that give prospects an opportunity to sample, demo, or trial your service.  Of course, offering some form of guarantee is even better.  If you offer the type of service that makes these impossible, add to your credibility. Now is the time to solicit and add testimonials and case studies to your arsenal of sales material.

–         Feeling of control:  Because it’s difficult for most people to feel in control during trying economic times, offering a product or service that allows people to regain that feeling can go a long way.  It’s a known fact that certain services, such as insurance, financial planning and education actually go up during a recession.  People are looking for ways to create some control and stability over their futures. Can your product or service help prospects regain control?

If your business has been affected by this economy, marketing dollars may be difficult to come by.  So remember, the next two issues will review 10 ways to market on a tight budget!