IN AN uncertain economy, many businesses make the grave mistake of cutting back on marketing and waiting till the economy improves.

In a slowing economy, a cutback on marketing is suicidal. Instead, you should increase your marketing, which need not necessarily increase your expenditure.

Not only does this protect you from declining sales, but also strengthens your business against the threat of deep-pocketed competitors, who may see this as an opportunity to outmanoeuvre you and steal valuable customers away from you.

Here are five tried-and-tested marketing measures to use in difficult times:

1. Get back in touch with old customers

Your old customers are often the best source for new business. Sometimes, sending a personal note, making a phone call or inviting an old customer to lunch is all it takes to rekindle a business relationship.

If you want to do this through mail or e-mail, you can give old customers a special "welcome back" offer - a freebie, a discount, or a bonus when they resume doing business with you.

2. Offer prospective customers a free sample

This is an obvious but frequently overlooked strategy that can improve your business.

Everyone can use this strategy effectively. For example, grocery stores can offer bite-sized treats to shoppers.

A consultant I know clinched a $10,000 personal coaching client by offering the first hour of his services for free.

3. Focus your advertising

Make sure your ads are in publications that reach your most prospective customers. Most importantly, make a specific offer and a call to action to get readers of the ad to call you.

One of my clients used this strategy, and his 10 lukewarm leads turned into signed contracts with 35 customers. This amounted to business that is worth millions of dollars.

4. Let your customers help you out

Business is a two-way street. Some of your customers whom you have helped in the past will be glad to return the favour.

Request testimonials and case studies from your clients. These can be used in your sales presentations and advertising.

Customers can also help by giving you referrals. For instance, if you have an influential customer who is appreciative of what you have done, ask him to write and send an endorsed letter to others, recommending your business.

You can offer to pay for the printing and postage and help with the writing if necessary.

5. Give extra attention to high-integrity behaviour

If you think you are the only one who is a little nervous about a lot of things right now, you are not alone.

To set yourself apart in the marketplace, go out of your way to conduct business in an especially trustworthy manner. Bend over backwards to be fair about refunds and exchanges.

Do all you can to act in the best interest of your customers, even if it means referring them to a competitor. Do this only if you do not think you are the best choice for what they want.

High-integrity actions can hurt a little in the short-term, but the payback is remarkably quick, making the sacrifice worthwhile. Building a reputation for being trustworthy may be the most precious marketing asset of yours in the future.

Finally, in good times or bad, investing in sales training to increase your sales effectiveness is always practical.