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This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the March 5, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

In Uncertain Times, Shake Off the Funk

We’re in a collective funk. "There is a certain

malaise," says Katherine Kish, founder of Cranbury-based

marketing firm Market Entry. "There is so much uncertainty. Our

security is gone." The result for businesses large and small is

paralysis. Hiring, purchasing, and marketing are on hold. There is

a sense that everyone is holing up.

"It started before 9/11," Kish observes on a day when the

alert level is orange and most of central New Jersey is obscured by

mounds of white. There was the stock market slide, and then the unprecedented

terrorist attacks, and then a rash of outrageous corporate scandals.

Now there is the specter of a divisive war.

Feeding the uncertainty, says Kish, is rapid communication across

a shrinking world. "Ideas move so fast," she says. "There’s

no chance to refine thinking." What happens two continents away

matters, and we know about it in seconds. As an example, she speaks

about a recent front page Wall Street Journal article about a youngster

who chose to measure the reach of an E-mail chain letter. Within days,

the paper reported, the girl’s in-box was clogged with thousands of

messages from every continent. After she and her parents discarded

7,000 missives in just one day, she pulled the plug on her project.

With relentlessly bad news, economic and otherwise, rocketing around

the globe, it is little wonder that so many businesses are in ostrich

mode. Kish urges a more proactive approach when she speaks on "Marketing

for Today’s Uncertain Times" on Thursday, March 6, at 7:30 a.m.

at a meeting of the East Windsor Township Economic Development Committee.

Cost: $5. Call 609-443-4000.

Kish, a graduate of Allegheny College who holds a master’s degree

in education from Antioch University, founded her marketing firm in

1982. A Renaissance woman, she travels widely and is involved in any

number of civic activities. "You only go around once," she

says as she prepares for a Leadership New Jersey seminar devoted to

education and speaks about rounding up support for the printing and

dissemination of a plan for Princeton’s future.

Out and about, and constantly getting involved with new projects,

Kish urges businesses to try a similar approach. Yes, times are uncertain,

but hiding out is counterproductive. Here are some ways in which businesses

can get moving again:

Create relationships. "People should be out networking

like mad," says Kish. "They should be doing good works in

the community, going to PTA meetings, going to the soccer games."

In uncertain times, it’s all about safety. People feel safe giving

business to those they really know. This is the time to get out and

get known.

Go the extra mile. "Donate something," says Kish.

"Use your assets to give something to the community." Those

who do so, she says, will be remembered "for a good long time."

Provide samples. This is what the car companies are doing

with their zero percent financing, Kish points out. They are letting

customers try the cars "for nothing." The pitch has been extraordinarily

successful. On a local level, a car dealership that volunteers to

ferry speakers or to drive hospital personnel in to work in bad weather

provides an up-close experience with its automobiles. A graphic artist

who chips in to create posters for a charity event creates good will

while, at the same time, letting others see the quality of his work.

Letting prospective customers sample goods or services may give them

the feeling of security they need to make a purchase.

Give a strong guarantee. Likewise, businesses and consumers

alike hesitate less over making purchases when some of the danger

is removed. Kish recommends telling customers "`If something happens,

don’t hesitate to come back to us.’"

Consider providing compensation even when the problem has nothing

to do with you. Kish offers the Blizzard of 2003 as an example. "Stores

spent a lot of money advertising Presidents Day sales," she says.

While radio stations and newspapers had nothing to do with the storm

that made shopping impossible, an offer to run the ads for an extra

day could make the stores feel more confident in spending money to

advertise next year.

Don’t give away so much that you go out of business, says Kish, but

"if you know your customers are hurting, let them know `we’re

in this together.’"

Be flexible and innovative. "Define niches where you

can do something no one has done before," says Kish. As an example,

she says Chrysler is offering to deliver its PT Cruisers with flames

adorning their bodies. The company realizes that its customers are

spending money in the auto aftermarket to add the decorations and

sees an opportunity to get in on those sales. She knows this, she

confides, because her husband, "a car nut," is urging her

to get a flaming PT Cruiser. While she has no plans to do so, she

admires Chrysler’s marketing acumen.

Keep on marketing. "It’s better to take out a quarter-page

ad every week than to take out a full-page ad once a year," says

Kish. "You need continuity and repetition," she says, "the

sense that `I’m always here.’"

Those who keep on staying visible in the community, looking for unique

sales angles, offering value and backing it up, and keeping up with

their marketing campaigns — will be in great shape when the economy

returns to firmer ground.

Kish, who says she has bought no plastic sheeting, but who is

quite sure "there’s a lot of duct tape around here somewhere,"

is not panicking. Not over the geopolitical landscape and not over

the business climate. She’s too busy.

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