Consumers are reacting to the economic downturn by holding back on spending, and these cutbacks are driven by any number of situations, from a job loss to the simple desire to save more. To grow your practice, you must engage these financially challenged consumers in an increasingly cluttered and competitive media environment.

There are several things you can do today, however, that will help solidify and enhance relationships at a time when your customers are your best endorsers. The following is a list of quick and easy suggestions you can immediately put into practice that will better engage and empower clients to become loyal brand champions for your business. After all, it generally costs less to keep a client than acquire a new one.

#1: Understand your customers
Don’t assume you still have an accurate picture of your client and their situation. Economic challenges can dramatically change consumer opinions and situations. Take time to understand what is going on in your clients’ lives, what they expect from you and their coverage, and what is important to them. Create and disseminate engaging and relevant messages based on a solid understanding of each client’s preferences, needs, and behaviors.

#2: Concentrate on retaining and growing your current book of business
During an economic slowdown, consider generating more value from current clients rather than pursuing new ones. In tough economic conditions, consumers feel vulnerable and are more likely to stay with what they know than make a switch. Helping your clients through their own difficult situations will build stronger relationships. Capitalize on the trust and goodwill that you’ve created, and find ways to help them navigate the slowdown to build business and loyalty.

#3: Re-engage lost clients
Reactivating old clients is relatively easy and inexpensive. Profile your former clients to see whose attributes most align with your best current clients, and then approach them with a tailored, high-value offer. Personalize your campaigns to ensure you connect.

#4: Analyze and segment your database
This will help you see where new behaviors emerge. Relying on customer intelligence and analytics for insight and targeting will lead to successful marketing programs. Focus on improving client segmentation and sending effective one-to-one communications through creative and well-planned efforts.

#5: Invest in targeted and relevant email marketing
Emails should be relevant or recipients won’t open them – and they certainly won’t act on them. Create interactive, highly personalized emails that deliver value beyond a simple marketing message. Develop something that will be most likely to spur action from your client.

#6: Integrate your channels
Clients expect to be contacted through a variety of media. Weave together both online and offline messages that build compelling, engaging, and personal experiences into your communications and drive more consistent and persistent messaging through several channels at different stages of the customer buying cycle. Use these marketing efforts to create new fields in your database that add relevant information, and use this information to your advantage. Follow-up emails can serve as reminders for non-responders or satisfaction surveys after an event.

#7: Become more personalized, relevant, and precise
Embrace the use of one-to-one marketing; it is increasingly important to drive more personalized, relevant, and targeted communications. Sending the right offer to the right customer, through the right channel, at the right time is the key to delivering a successful cross-channel marketing offer.

#8: Use social networking techniques to inspire brand ambassadors
Blogs, social networking tools, and closed communities are changing the pace and the face of client engagement. Today, online content can strongly influence purchasing decisions. Starting a blog takes only a day or two, especially if you’re using a predesigned template or open-source blogging software. Invite clients and prospects to visit your blog and join the conversation. Choosing topics that are related to current events and that cross over to your business will make the conversation relevant to your clients and visitors.

(Editor’s Note: For more information on social networking, read Heather Trese’s recent guide to Facebook and also our comprehensive LinkedIn primer.)

#9: Measure, test, and adjust your programs for greater return
Measuring marketing value is a good practice. While you obviously need to measure basic statistics like client satisfaction and loyalty as well as specific campaign results, you can more directly improve marketing performance by testing creative, message, and offer combinations to determine which are the most effective for different audiences. In today’s economic environment where you’re communicating with your clients through multiple channels, it is even more important to understand which tactics lead to meaningful interactions — and better return.

#10: Adapt your products and services
Assess the environment and tailor your offerings to the current economic environment. Start by asking your customers what they need from you. Companies who fail to engage with and respond to customers during a slowdown will lose business to the competition. Plan ahead and, if warranted, revise your customer interaction strategies.

Engaging your clients with messages and solutions that are relevant to their situation makes sense in any economy, and it becomes even more important when managing through a recession. Implementing these strategies will help you not only survive, but thrive in today’s current environment — and lay the foundation for future success.

Denise Hopkins is vice president of marketing and product development for Experian Marketing Services. She can be reached at denise2@experian.com.