I had dinner this week with a senior marketing executive for a consumer goods company and of course the economy was a big part of our conversation. How can’t you but talk about what’s happening in the financial world these days. He was telling me how over the summer months their executive team had already made the decision to “protect and grow” the business for the balance of 2008 and expected the same strategic approach to continue throughout 2009. Their strategy was to focus more of their marketing spent on the two core groups of customers who can most directly influence revenue:

— High-value customers you want to retain.

— High-potential customers you want to grow.

For high-value, loyal customers that they wanted to retain, they would need to do a better job at tilting the hard-soft benefit equation toward the soft side with special benefits and access unavailable to the general population. For the high-potential customers that they wanted to grow, they planned to increase service/product quality and personal customer experiences instead. They also planned to shift marketing spend to initiatives that identify best customers, collect actionable intelligence on them and then leverage that data to influence profitable customer choices.

What was interesting was when we talked about “product price”. The option of slashing prices was not even an option for them due to their increases in energy costs and their higher component costs. They are absolutely focused on increasing service/product quality and personal customer experiences instead.

Thus, the reason for our dinner… he was interested in learning more about how an online community could be quickly added to his marketing mix, without turning the effort into a project. I recently read in Advertising Age, that an Epsilon CMO Survey revealed that nearly two-thirds of chief marketing officers said their interactive/digital marketing budgets have increased in the past year, while 60% have seen their traditional advertising budgets go south. Here was a first-hand statistical proof point to that survey.

The conversation was about how a social media online community could be leveraged to “target” high-value and high-potential customers. I’ll leave the details of that conversation for another day, but it was clear to each of us that during a slow growth economy, the traditional marketing mix could not continue without change. Creative marketers were looking for pragmatic ways to engage and influence, without having to spend large chucks of a reduced marketing budget.

So, what changes are you making to your marketing mix?