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Weathering the Storm

January 24, 2009

Suffolk professor stresses importance of knowing customer, and customer knowing you

Professor of Marketing Michael L. Barretti, Suffolk University's director for the Institute of Executive Education, was a longtime businessman before moving into academia in 1997.

He began his career after serving in the U.S. military with Polaroid company, then moved into the medical device industry.

Barretti has experience with difficult economies, having been through downturns in the early 1980s, the early 1990s and the dot-com bust.

"In each occasion I was responsible for running a small to medium sized business," he says. "So I've learned some lessons."

Q: What are some of the things you have learned over the course of your career that can benefit business owners today?

A: One lesson I learned very early on is that in periods of down economic times, you've got to increase your customer's awareness of your business. What is going on right now is a change in consumer behavior. People are reacting to news reports, and we all know consumer confidence has dropped. That is having a direct effect on how people approach decisions.

With respect to big ticket items, for example, people are making lifestyle decisions. Do I invest in a new car, or an appliance, or do I hang onto that money in the event I lose my job? Or maybe I have lost my job and I really need to preserve my resources until times get better.

When you are faced with a situation like this you have to be different than your competitor... because there are other businesses out there that do the same things you do.

Q: What are specific ways to accomplish this?

A: One way is through more promotion. Promotional activities draw traffic and if customers like the activities, they will keep coming back. Another way is to advertise more heavily to demonstrate that you are different from your competitors. A third way is to be more proactive and maybe adapt your message to customers.

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