What, No Free Carnival and Cupcakes!: Managing Customers’ Expectations Amid Slashed Marketing Budgets

Marketing can be hit or miss, but it’s always fascinating when those well-conceived marketing events turn out to be slam dunks.  I mean those exceptional programs or events that make customers and prospects excitedly anticipate the same experience year after year.

But these days, most companies don’t have hefty marketing budgets, making grand events difficult - if not impossible to pull off. Those large, splashy community-based events for children, seniors and local residents are done with less frequency as companies cling ever-closer to their purse strings.

Hey, the heart wants what the heart wants! ...

And, while these fun programs do not serve as a core business offering, such as health insurance or medical supplies, your prospects still look for them. This anticipation is to your credit, demonstrating you are in touch with your target audience. But, it’s important to keep one eye on your budget and the other on your engagement tactics – large and small.  If your budget is cut and you’re unable to frost the cake, with those hot ticket events, as you did in previous years, you must let stakeholders know – and in a timely manner.

I’ve seen firsthand how disappointed customers, prospects and community members can be when an especially appealing event doesn’t survive the budget chopping block. But besides feeling let down, customers and community leaders might even feel annoyed. Again, the program is not part of your services, but that fact won’t stop people from having certain thoughts or feelings about the absence of an event. And, remember, you want to continually build a sense of trust, respect and loyalty with the public.

Say something (and say it soon) …

One way to manage expectations is to let people know well in advance that the event won’t happen as normally scheduled. For example, in much the same way you would promote a bells-and-whistle event, blast the neighborhood with notices advising that the summer block party won’t take place this year. You can always soften the message by adding a teaser concerning an upcoming affair. Start telling stakeholders in early April that the usual free Mother’s Day chair massages have been canceled.

In addition to the marketing plan, keep a list of routine events (this includes high profile events from the last few years) in a tickler file so you’re always aware of what will - or should - be coming up and any communication issues you may need to address.

And, be sure to post event notifications and messages through as many channels as possible.

Social media – Announce change of plans through your Twitter, Facebook, Google + and other social media accounts. Post the announcement several times.

Local community leaders – These are great people to connect with, as they can share your information and updates with their vast networks.

Member/Patient/Customer Services – You can always create inbound and outbound scripts about a change in your event calendar, while reminding people about your awesome services and benefits!

Company publications – Remember to pass on this information to the editors of your employee, patient/member and provider newsletters. It should also be published on your website.

On the “road” – Marketing managers, community relations representatives and others with a client-facing role should remember to mention calendar updates to customers, prospects and others who might be affected.  I know field staff have a lot on their mind when meeting with business and community contacts, but keeping this kind of information on their radar is also important.

Wondering if you should make up for canceled “freebies”? Sure, why not. That is, if you can swing it with minimal impact to your budget. One way is by slightly bulking up an essential program or event. For instance, you might offer a limited supply of premium giveaways or snacks at your annual health fair.

But, what’s more important than a make-up is making even stronger connections with customers and prospects through foresight and thoughtfulness.