Friday, November 14, 2008

Four Ways to Help Clients Address their Fears

I was watching Bill O’Reilly last night on Jon Stewart and they were arguing about America. O’Reilly was talking about how we should be afraid of Barack Obama and Stewart was talking about how Americans are optimistic and want to believe, even in the worst of times, that good things are just around the corner. O’Reilly kept saying “But we don’t know anything about him and we don’t know what he will do.” And I wanted to scream “You are such an idiot.” But I didn’t have too anymore because they lost.

We are all still afraid – and it’s hard to shake it. We’re afraid that the stock market will never come back, that major American companies will continue to fail, that lay-offs are the end of job growth, that the mess can't be fixed. Our clients are afraid for their families, their jobs, their futures. They are under enormous pressure to rein in spending, to find ways to cut back on their advertising, marketing and communications budgets.

But Jon Stewart is right. Americans are a hopeful people. In this mess of a world we live in, we as marketers and communicators need to reassure our clients that better times will come – that we are there for them now and will be there when it improves. And we need to convince them that if they don’t keep investing in the future of their brands, they will be the losers.

So what can we do to keep our clients from giving into the fear?

1. Acknowledge it – This is the best piece of advice I ever got about parenting and it works with adults too. Your kid is afraid of spiders or the monster in the closet or a bad dream. Don’t dismiss it. Validate that the fear is real and let him talk about it. Then slowly talk about strategies for how he can deal with his fear and move forward in a positive way – one that is good for business.

2. Say thank you – Your clients have stuck with you for a long time because they know and trust you. Take them out to lunch, invite them to your home for a meal (how incredibly retro that is) or send a small gift that shows you know what they like and care about. It doesn’t have to be extravagant and spending a lot will send the wrong message. To quote my mother, it’s the thought that counts.

3. Keep those creative ideas coming – So your clients don’t have much of a budget these days and they cannot fund the new work or even some of the current work they want too. That doesn’t mean they don’t want their bosses to know they’re trying. Turn off the meter and ask them to tell you about some of their business challenges. Provide free advice or even a free service. It will be greatly appreciated.

4. Show you care – The best salesman I ever knew scoured his industry for new information and competitive intelligence. Then he’d share what he found with his clients every week or two. I’m not talking about creating an RSS feed – but picking through all the stuff on that feed and finding information that really matters to your client. Send what you find with a sentence or two about why it’s important. Read what industry experts are saying and cite information that may be valuable. Make sure you show you are thinking of them all the time.

And how should we as marketers maintain our optimism? Find something that makes you feel better and do it. I bake. I baked for the Virginia Obama volunteers and I'm still baking. Most of what I bake I give away, or feed to my kids, but the smell of cake, cookies and brownies - with real butter - reminds me of better times.

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