8 tactics for marketing through a recession

July 23, 2021


John Thomas

Discover proven marketing tactics and strategies to navigate and succeed in promoting your business during challenging economic times.

Economists predict a recession in 2023, and marketing teams are already planning for the impacts. But when no two recessions look the same, the dusty playbooks from 2008 won’t meet tomorrow’s demands. Here are eight tactics for building a recession-proof marketing plan.

1. Plan Ahead

The brands that will survive the drought are having tough conversations today. Marketing leaders need to have cross-functional support and buy-in for the plans they’ll implement during the recession.

These questions and conversations should center around topics like:

  • Reasonable opportunities for cost savings

  • Hyperfocused OKRs and KPIs that tell a clear value story

  • Restructuring or re-allocating teams and resources around those objectives

  • A cascaded plan for which strategies happen at what times or thresholds

These questions won’t be easy to answer and will likely have iterations and variations based on your specific market, product, or service. But answering them now and continuing conversations into 2023 will ensure surprises are fewer and farther between.

2. Explore Contextual Advertising

Contextual marketing positions content based on the page rather than on the user—or their cookies. With contextual, you can position your content, products, and services around the content of the webpage.

For example, if you’re a fashion brand, you might place contextual ads across fashion trend articles and style listicles.  Paired with the death of third-party cookies on the horizon, contextual will become an increasingly appealing opportunity.

The benefit of contextual advertising during an economic downturn is that you can build relationships directly with publishers, big or small, and negotiate a cost, terms, etc. that suit your budget and needs. Some publishers will even guarantee a set number of leads over time. 

3. Find and Communicate Value Internally

The question of ROI becomes that much more important during a recession. Strong marketers and marketing teams already have well-defined success metrics. But revisiting those, their alignment to top-level business objectives, and internal storytelling about your value will be paramount to maintaining an agile, productive marketing function and executive support for your continued investments.

Take a hard look at all of your marketing efforts and ensure there’s clear value that resonates with senior leadership and your board of directors if you have one. Lack of clarity on ROI isn’t the end of the world though. It may just mean temporarily reducing your spending in that space. 

For example, if you run a social media strategy that’s tied more to brand awareness than direct responses, consider shifting that spend to an affordable content partner like Draft. This way, you only pay for the content you need and can easily scale content production down or up as tides change.

4. Revisit Your Messaging

Marketing messages come under greater scrutiny during a recession because consumers are more selective about how and where they spend their money and because of the social and cultural strife that follows a recession.

Value Propositions

Marketers may find that messaging about problem-solution statements and clear value propositions resonates more as their clients become price sensitive and look to cut costs of their own. Be crystal clear about what value you’re driving for your customers, especially if you can express this in dollars and cents.

Tone of Voice

Members of your audience may be struggling financially and emotionally through a recession. Although some brands typically have strict style guides, make sure you’re flexing your voice to account for the reality of the world around you. Be cognizant of the backdrop when communicating with your audiences, especially if and when you engage in community discussions or heritage month conversations.

5. Understand your Audience (and their Spending)

No two recessions look exactly alike. Marketers learned a lot from the Great Recession of 2007–2009 but we also know that consumer thinking and behavior will look different this time around. 

Spend Priority

Consumers’ spending will change in different ways. Some may reduce spending across particular categories or delay bigger purchases. Others will choose not to make certain purchases at all.

Subscribe to financial news outlets specific to your industry so you can make informed decisions about your audience. Better yet, do your own market or user research to understand where your specific products and services fit on the proverbial chopping block. However you do it, it’s critical to understand how your audience prioritizes their spending against secondary factors like brand loyalty and perceived value.

Price Sensitivity

Revisit your pricing and promotion strategies to account for new and evolving price sensitivities. For example, you might start having cross-functional conversations now to better understand if and when deeper promotional discounts become an option.

You might also decide to  monitor your competitors’ pricing and discounting strategies more closely to understand shifts in the market which are likely to happen faster during a recession as businesses react to changing consumer behavior and data. 

Be More Targeted 

This might sound like a no-brainer but it’s all about finding the right prospects and not wasting your time, energy, or money on the rest. If there’s research you can do now to better understand your target audience, prioritize it. The answer to that question will make leaner efforts down the line that much more successful.

Re-engage Customers

This tactic is two-fold. First, engaging with your current audience prevents churn and gives you the opportunity to reiterate your value. Secondly, most studies show that selling (or up-selling) to existing customers is significantly easier than converting new customers.

Try to find ways to increase the lifetime value (LTV) of your existing customers and compare those efforts to those used to find net new customers. If there’s some low-hanging fruit or a high ceiling for upselling and cross-selling, shift resources accordingly.

6. Adjust Your Channel Mix

Reduce Ad Spend (or Don’t)

The jury’s out on this one. Typically, you’ll see reduced ad spend during a recession that reflects lower revenue. But some companies who continue their ad spending do see success during and, particularly, after a recession. The key is understanding your category’s lifecycle. For example, industries with longer marketing or sales lifecycles, such as some travel categories, may find that coming out of the recession top of mind justifies continued advertising spend.

Invest in Organic Yesterday

Organic marketing strategies such as content marketing and search engine optimization (SEO) are long games but ones that help win cost-effective leads. Investments in SEO, for example, can take 6–12 months to see a measurable impact. Build a strong, focused organic content strategy today so that you’re set up to win affordable traffic next year.

Draft’s writer marketplace is full of talented, vetted freelance writers who specialize in web pages, blogs, white papers, and more. Get started on a recession-proof content strategy in days, not weeks.

7. Create a Lean Staffing Plan

Hire and Develop Compound Skillsets

Great economies allow businesses to hire deeply specialized talent. But when staff and budget plans get cut, businesses find themselves favoring generalists and problem-solvers over niche skillsets. 

If you’re hiring, look for people with broad skillsets and interests. For example, you might hire an email specialist with lifecycle marketing experience, or a community marketer who’s interested in learning social media marketing. Think about overlapping qualities and characteristics to strike a balance that suits your team and business.

Backfill with Third Parties

Having a dedicated in-house person or team can be great. But the creator economy has ushered in a new generation of highly skilled freelancers, agencies, and marketplaces who can provide stellar marketing services at a much more affordable cost and with a much more flexible relationship.

These are ideal partners during a recession because they can scale up or down to meet whatever need you have at the time. This model also helps the agency or freelancer stay afloat during a recession because they work with a diverse portfolio of clients and customers.

Draft creates marketing copy for every use case, from blogs and web pages to emails and social copy

8. Build and Cherish Communities

Behind every successful marketer is a village of other marketers sharing expertise, challenges, solutions, and resources. You see it every day on social media like LinkedIn. Marketers are a unique lot of trend-spotters, community builders, and problem solvers but they’re also empaths, educators, and connection builders. 

Find marketing groups on LinkedIn, Facebook, or wherever you engage, and be an active member—not only when you have questions but when others have needs too. When the inevitable happens, you won’t have to navigate it alone. 

The Bottom Line

If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that a deep empathy for and understanding of your audience is the key to marketing through a crisis. There’s no one-size-fits-all way to market your products and services during a recession. But the brands who get it right—by being customer obsessed and striking the right balance of in-house and third-party talent—can come out stronger than before.

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