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The best way to spread holiday cheer is singing loud for all to hear. *

Kevin Flavin, Web Content Volunteer

It seems like every day brings more depressing news from the papers, television, radio, blogs, and other outlets. Coupled with the recent ice storm here in northern New England, things appear pretty dire. Since my power is back on for now, I’m enjoying my third cup of hot cocoa, thinking about the things that make us happy in difficult weather, seasons, and this economy. The first thing that comes to mind is shopping, followed closely by getting a good value, and finally, getting a great value!

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal highlighted the message from marketers and advertisers that we are going to see more “feel-good” ads. The ads are effective during poor economic times for suspending the malaise of the customer, at least for the brief moment that the products and services are being introduced. Combining the thought of shopping, which feels good with all these “feel-good” ads and we have a confluence of imagery and sound that begs for action. So, imagine how grateful and pleased customers would be if they got a great value for very little or no cost to them.

A typical approach is to offer significant discounts on products, but this can backfire as it may appear that the firm is in financial difficulty and needs the cash flow. Lowering prices gives the appearance of desperation and can lead to backpedaling, or worse. Also, another risk is that current customers may resent both the firm and the new customers, and ultimately the product or service itself as it reminds them of their perceived bad decision. Only significant market strength and flawless execution in other areas can offset this type of mistake. A good example of this was Apple’s reduction of the cost of the iPhone after their most die-hard fans rushed to purchase it first.  Media outlets covered this extensively in the fall of 2007, here is an article from the Huffington Post discussing one reaction.

There are hundreds of little ways that a customer can feel great about their purchase, and more than a few are in the control of the vendor firm, to wit:

  1. Price – decreasing prices is very risky in a difficult economic environment
  2. Assumed or associated risks – including risk of adoption of a solution, risk of replacement, and a myriad of financial risks could be mitigated by vendor firms
  3. Additional or unexpected costs – costs of implementation, cost of carry or ownership, and cost of use are just a few, but each industry is unique and has its own nuances that can be researched and potentially reduced or removed entirely.

Of course, there are other stakeholders in business besides customers; employees are marketing channels “on the ground floor” as they talk to customers, potential customers, and even suppliers. Doing something special for employees pays dividends that multiply throughout the season but also into the New Year.

I mentioned suppliers in the previous paragraph and they should not be overlooked. If a supplier offers a discount for early payment, firms should take advantage of it, its good for the firm and its great for the supplier. In these tough economic times, giving suppliers liquidity can bank some goodwill for later if better payment terms are needed.

You never know, if enough firms actively give during this holiday season, maybe the economic environment will improve, and that will spread the holiday cheer for everyone.

*Apologies to the movie Elf. Copyright New Line Cinema (2003)

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Kevin Flavin has almost 20 years experience in the financial services industry. Balancing the first half of his career as a buyer, he has spent the last ten years as a vendor in a range of roles from sales, product management, but always marketing. He is based in the Boston area. He is also a monthly contributor for the AMA Boston blog.

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The views and opinions on this blog are solely those of the contributors and do NOT necessarily reflect the official opinions of the Boston Chapter of the American Marketing Association.