The pandemic, supply chain disruption, the labor market undergoing a seismic shift, skyrocketing fuel prices, and now a recession. What a time to be a business owner! Sometimes it feels like the hammer blows to your business won’t end. We have advice that we hope gives you some optimism for growing your business in a turbulent economy. 

As you look at your budgeting, it may be tempting to back off on marketing to trim down operation costs. But this will hurt more than help—your marketing is what provides new business. 

And while marketing is often seen as negotiable, it’s crucial to remember that in a world that’s drowning in consumer advertising and massive amounts of information, cutting through the noise is more important than ever before. Just think: How will your potential customer know to come to you for what they need in their time of uncertainty?

“We can reduce marketing—we have our sales team.”

Is this you?! 

Image Description: General Ackbar yells “It’s a trap!”

Don’t fall into this trap. 

Marketing is ultimately what builds brand awareness and loyalty. 

Marketing will help current customers learn about previously unseen products or services you provide.

Marketing is what powers your sales team’s success. 

Keep reading to learn how to position your brand to survive and thrive over the long haul. 

TLDR; Times may be challenging, but that doesn’t mean your business has to suffer. In fact, now may be the perfect time to market your brand more aggressively than ever before. A smart growth strategy can help businesses defy grim predictions.

How Can Brands Build Resilience, Survive a Downturn, and Thrive in the Next Cycle? 

The key to business marketing during a recession is to fuel your long-term growth. Companies that rely on short-term gains are the first to go when consumers tighten their belts. Businesses that focus on long-term growth weather the storm and come out on top. So, how can you achieve sustainable growth in uncertain times? By implementing these proven marketing strategies. 

Don’t Cut the Budget 

While it may seem tempting to cut down your marketing budget during a recession, industry trends have shown that when brands stop advertising, they continue to see a decline in sales year over year. According to a study by Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, on average, sales fell 16% after one year and 25% after two years when budgets were slashed. 

Companies that did not cut their marketing spend, and in many cases, actually increased it, have been the ones to recover most strongly from previous recessions. In other words, whatever you do, don’t stop marketing during a recession! 

 If you do need to reduce spend, make sure to keep the lights on campaigns you know are providing results.

Look to the Past for Marketing Lessons

When considering your marketing strategy in tumultuous times, it’s essential to look to lessons from the past. How did other similar brands survive and grow? 

When the world was in recession in 2008 and 2009, Amazon increased its sales by 28% by diversifying its products, launching the Kindle, and ultimately growing its market share. In fact, on Christmas Day 2009, Amazon sold more Kindles than printed books.

Image Description: Graph ranging from 1998 – 2019, steadily increasing from zero to nearly one trillion market value in US dollars. Image source: https://www.bloomberg.com/

During the 1990-1991 recession, McDonald’s slashed its marketing budget, causing Pizza Hut and Taco Bell to take advantage of their reduced market presence and persist with their marketing efforts. 

As a result, both companies experienced higher sales, with Pizza Hut seeing a 61% increase, Taco Bell coming in at a 40% increase, while McDonald’s sales declined by 28%.

(On a quick tangent, can we talk about how awesome this commercial is? Absolute epic 90s perfection.)

Let’s go back to the early days of the pandemic, mid-March of 2020 when brands everywhere scrambled to alter their marketing strategies. 

According to industry research on branding amid COVID-19, half of brand professionals said that adjusting messaging and content in response to the developing pandemic was their top priority in April 2020. The same survey revealed that 94% of companies were changing their brand strategy in an effort not only to increase sales but also to uplift and inspire.

Some brands pulled their ads and went silent. 

Others used email to let customers know that they were “here” for their customers. 

Then there were the endless cliche “we’re all in this together” ads coming at us from every direction. 

Still, some brands dug deeper in the early times of COVID-19. 

In other words: 

They made creative pandemic ads that showed not just that they were “here” for their customers (whatever that means), but that they were right there with them in this new way of life.   

Like Uber’s Stop Moving Campaign, which had filmmakers sheltering in place worldwide to create a video reminder to stay home. 

There’s also West Elm, who helped remote workers hide messy corners and unmade beds with chic Zoom backgrounds.

And this writer’s personal favorite Aviation Gin: Homeschool Edition. 

“It’s back-to-school time, which this year has a whole new meaning. That’s why today, I’m introducing Aviation American Gin: Homeschool Edition. It’s just like the classic, delicious Aviation Gin that you love, but with more ounces. It can help with a variety of subjects: fourth-grade geography, whatever the f*ck new math is, and revisiting your own long-forgotten middle school traumas.”

-Ryan Reynolds

Invest in SEO

Search engine optimization (SEO) is one of the most critical yet often overlooked marketing strategies. Not only does it help you understand customers’ behavior and needs and shines a spotlight on how much they’re willing (and able) to spend and where. Bolstering your SEO is a way to help safeguard your business during an economic slump. Why? When used effectively, it puts you in a solid position to maximize organic clicks and maintain (or increase) conversions. 

SEO is the process of improving your rankings in unpaid – organic – search engine results. Tactics range from keyword research and link building to quality content creation. When you implement an effective SEO strategy and put it at the heart of your business, you raise your brand’s online visibility and ranking, making it easier for potential customers to find you.

SEO also allows you to target potential customers locally or internationally – particularly useful during a recession. For instance, if you’re a local business, it’s all about long-tail keywords that appeal to consumers closest to you – Local SEO. A regular local customer base may well become the lifeline of many small businesses. 

Conversely, if you’re a big brand, hone in on keywords that will help you reach new markets that may not be feasible in more competitive boom periods.

Multiple parties share the benefits of optimizing your website: your business, your customers, and the search engines. Of course, an alternative strategy during an economic decline is to slash prices and offer bargain deals, but is that sustainable?

Promote Your Business Locally

Did you know that 90% of consumers used the Internet to find a local business in the last year?

Promoting your business locally can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Top strategies for promoting your business locally include advertising with local audience targeting, posting locally appealing content to social media, using locally-targeted ads, and creating a blog strategy catering to a local audience so that you can rank for local keywords and raise brand awareness (remember: the more content you have that ranks, the better.) 

Adding testimonials to your website, including reviews on platforms like Google, Facebook, and Yelp, can go a long way to building trust. You can also ensure your website is optimized for local search by claiming your Google Business Profile and including your location. 

Traditional methods (print ads, direct mailers, local radio spots, etc.) can also be used to market your local business. Additionally, you can network with other local companies and get involved with local events. 

Get Social

Social media is a powerful marketing tool that allows you to connect passively with potential and current customers. Post engaging content, run social media ads, and interact with users regularly to build relationships with potential and existing customers. 

Humanize Your Brand

When times are tough, it’s essential to remain sensitive to customers’ fears, worries, and needs and build an emotional connection with your audience. According to a 2021 collaborative report from EACA, Effie Awards Europe, and the Effectiveness Partnership, 44% of successful campaigns in a recession use an emotional approach. How can you go about doing this in your marketing campaigns? 

  • Build your marketing campaigns around messaging that amplifies solidarity, perseverance, and overcoming difficult times.
  • Engage audiences with emotional storytelling. Bring the faces behind your brand marketing campaigns into the spotlight, highlighting their hard work and commitment to delivering the best quality products to your target audience.
  • Spend your advertising investment on emphasizing your products’ durability, longevity, and environmental friendliness (if applicable.)
  • Give back to the community: Share how your brand is helping out through social media campaigns, blog posts, and email campaigns to show that you’re not only cognizant of what is happening in your community but that you’re actively trying to help. 

Assess Opportunities

During economic downturns, assess your brands, products, and services to see how to develop your marketing strategy. Start by analyzing products/services with poor survival rates, figure out what can be salvaged, and determine which are likely to thrive during the recession and the recovery afterward.  

Quick Tips:

  • For brands typically more insulated against economic downturns, such as grocery and consumer goods, leverage your position to gain market share. 
  • For brands that might not be so insulated against recessions, such as retail and hospitality, make sure to innovate! 64% of successful brand campaigns support new product launches in a downturn.

Increase Your Market Share

With competitors potentially cutting down budgets, leverage your position to gain market share through aggressive advertising. You can accomplish this through more significant expenditures without reducing short-term profitability. On the flip side, as demonstrated by the McDonald’s example earlier in this blog post, businesses that cut down their sales budgets suffer a loss of market share. 

How EX Media Can Help Your Business During a Recession

The EX Media marketing team understands that these are volatile times during the economic downturn. We will help you efficiently allocate advertising spending, gather marketing data, gauge market conditions, and develop the best strategy to get the most out of your brand messaging during a recession. Connect with us here

Published by Merilyn Ritchie

Merilyn Ritchie is the Director of Media Services and Content Strategy at EX Media. She has crafted content for small businesses, large non-profits, tech startups, and everything in between. Writer by day and reader by night, she loathes to talk about herself in the third person but can be persuaded to do so from time to time. So it goes. Find her on Instagram: @MerilynMcg