During a recession, marketing is likely one of the last things on business owners’ minds. But even in an economic downturn, marketing your business should be a priority.
Simply put, you may jeopardize long-term growth if you stop marketing to reduce short-term costs.
Marketing is an essential business process for many things, like maintaining audience loyalty and a consistent brand. In a recession, these factors become even more important for business success during tricky times.
Economic slumps and declines are difficult enough to navigate as it is. I’ve created this list of strategies to help businesses like yours identify how to market during a recession to keep your business on top.
First, let’s discuss some of the information you should keep in mind when developing your recession marketing strategy.
Yes, You Can Market During a Recession
I’ve established that marketing during a recession is possible, but what should this look like? With the start of the downturn, you’ll have to pivot your initial marketing strategy (obviously) to reevaluate the situation. Business likely won’t be “as normal.”
Paying salaries, maintaining contracts, and running operations are the first priority for your business to survive. But marketing shouldn’t be totally forgotten. After that initial response, it’s time for a growth plan based on predictions and available data.
How can you account for customer spending and behavior changes? Start by looking at the related information. Most households pay closer attention to their spending habits during a looming or declared recession.
Look at consumer behaviors and examine immediate responses to the market to see how your brand can generate value for consumers.
Having this information will give you a huge advantage over competitors. By starting with high-priority items and ensuring your business remains operational, you can take more time to develop a plan and clarify consumer behaviors as the recession sets in.
As a business hoping to market successfully, this is absolutely essential.
Luckily for all of us, recessions don’t last forever. In fact, the average recession is about 17 months long. So, instead of cutting back, figure out how to ease the short-term pain and expand the usefulness of your marketing budget to plan for the recovery period.
How a Recession Impacts the Customer Mindset
Nervous. Apprehensive. Pessimistic. These are all words that describe the average consumer during a recession.
People get worried about how the economy will affect them personally, and they change their spending behaviors as a result. Customers make changes in spending due to inflation and high-interest rates, which commonly happen in a recession.
As a business owner, you must account for these changes and consider how the recession may impact sales and behaviors.
The Recession Mindset and B2B
It’s no secret that change is necessary during a recession to keep a business afloat. Business owners and leadership teams should adopt a new mindset of growth and opportunity to make these changes feasible.
And you know what? Some of these changes may become essential with or without a recession due to changing consumer behaviors and trends.
Working through a B2B lens? The same logic applies. B2B buyers want more control over buying processes in a recession, and this market won’t feel the effects of a recession as quickly as B2C businesses would. B2B customers still have to meet their needs to keep their own businesses operational.
With this being said, understanding the economy and how it impacts various businesses (particularly those you work with) is important to retain existing customers. A finger on the pulse of industry trends can be an awesome tool during a recession. This knowledge can help drive marketing efforts in the right direction by increasing:
- Brand awareness
- Business growth opportunities
- Potential leads
- Business health
For an example of trends you should concentrate on, let’s look at digital vs. in-person buying habits:
Long gone are the days when people buy most products in physical stores. These habits are ever-changing based on your customers’ preferences and needs (no matter if you’re B2B or B2C).
Focusing on the customer and how they can get value from your product will help these adjustments thrive even when the recession ends.
10 Strategy Tips for Recession Marketing
Recessions happen from time to time, and they often interrupt economic growth.
But businesses of all sizes can adjust to the abrupt downturn and change their spending habits or budgets for impending growth. Even though small businesses don’t have as much of a cushion as larger businesses, there are opportunities for all businesses to thrive (even when competitors start failing) with the use of strategic marketing plans.
1. Pinpoint Consumer Spending Trends
Review available data and look at the trends. You might notice people buying fewer of one thing and more of another thing. Depending on your industry, this may be a great opportunity to track industry trends and see where your business can solve a need in the market.
Some product marketing strategies perform much better than others, depending on your target audience and the perceived product value.
Understanding how psychology, demographics, and location all work together (and separately) during a recession to impact spending trends will help these market movements make more sense.
2. Adopt a Flexible Mindset
With consumer spending data in hand, you will have a clearer understanding of the path moving forward. This should give you clarity and help you adopt a more flexible attitude toward the upcoming changes in strategy.
There are no guarantees in marketing, especially in a recession, but learning from mistakes, adjusting strategies as necessary, and keeping an open mind will all serve you well during this transition period.
3. Have a Plan to Evaluate ROI for Everything
Ask yourself these questions:
- What are your business goals?
- What do you want to get out of your marketing plan?
- How do you measure success?
- What are consumer needs (and how can you meet them)?
These should all have clear answers before you make any decisions when marketing in a recession. Instead of trying everything at once to see what sticks, create a plan to evaluate ROI for each decision.
Businesses with limited resources especially need to exercise caution and focus on one or two high-impact efforts aligning with overall business objectives.
4. Focus on Value-Based Content (It’s Essential)
Value-based content is crucial for so many reasons, but in a recession, it will help you show customers why they should still buy your products or services. Valuable content changes based on the target customer, but it should always be something the reader cares about. Whether that’s solving a problem, teaching important material, or connecting the dots between two topics, value-based content gives back to the reader to address their pain points.
When a brand provides value-based content, it provides an answer using reliable information. This helps consumers see the brand as dependable and worthy of their business.
You want to be flexible with your marketing strategy in a recession, but still concentrate on developing high-quality, value-based content at all times.
5. Know That Trust and Sensitivity in Marketing Are Key
Trust and credibility are critical to make sales, but recessions often reduce the trust consumers have in brands and companies.
How can you increase trust? By giving them a reason to trust you! Here are some easy ways to improve your brand’s trustworthiness:
- Make your purpose clear
- Don’t expect a lot from customers
- Be transparent and honest
- Own mistakes
- Research, improve, and learn whenever possible
- Personalize your customer approach
Price sensitivity becomes extremely important during a recession, especially if you sell luxury or high-end goods and services. Creating a strong brand, showing your offerings have value, and letting customers make their own decisions can help.
I recommend being sensitive not only to the economic climate, but also how your customers feel about it. Positive emotions can make a huge difference in deciding to make a purchase or not. Know what they need from you as a brand to make a stronger connection.
6. Reevaluate Your Tech Stack
A recession presents a great opportunity for businesses to look at what they need vs. what they don’t in terms of tech. Your tech stack should use technology that brings the highest level of return to the operation. Otherwise, it’s simply wasted money.
Even when the economy prospers, not spending money on tech you don’t need will make it easier to trim this fat. Pay close attention to:
- How your company uses tech
- Where you can consolidate into one source or provider
- How automation may play a factor in efficiency
Let’s consider a company that realizes during a recession they need to cut back on tech spending.
Eliminating inefficient tools, like tech not many people use or want, will save money fast. If there is marketing tech that doesn’t get used (or is underused), removing it from the tech stack altogether makes sense. But consolidating different marketing tech tools using just one provider, like those used for social media posting, email marketing, and analytics tracking, means giving up less tech overall and implementing it more efficiently instead.
This company may choose to consolidate to cuts inefficiencies and make marketing processes more seamless all at once. Plus, if the company wants to upgrade or enhance its tech later, it’ll be easier to make that change since it all falls under the same provider umbrella.
7. Don’t Neglect the Basics
Even if your business doesn’t feel the impact of the recession right away, preparing for what’s to come is the smart move. Expanding or rebranding during these times is likely not a great idea; instead, focus on strengthening your core business marketing practices and doing away with what doesn’t work.
Check out some of my blog posts on marketing essentials to get a better idea of how to do this:
- What Is Digital Marketing?
- The Beginner’s Guide to Content Marketing
- The 34 Marketing Principles I Live By
- How to Get Started in Online Marketing
By looking at methods that work on a fundamental level, you can better understand how to update your marketing strategy to concentrate on those basic elements. Some marketing basics to keep in mind include:
- Understanding customer needs.
- Conducting market research.
- Developing a consistent brand and message.
- Determining where to reach your customers (social media, email, etc.).
- Using visuals to grab the audience’s attention.
- Never underestimating the competition.
8. Be Realistic When It Comes to KPIs
It’s important to know what you want to achieve and how much time and money there is to do it. Then, you have to measure what you’re doing to see if it’s all going to plan.
For example, SEO for the long-term could be something that makes sense for your business’s marketing strategy outside of a recession. But is there enough money right now to properly implement SEO to get quicker results?
In a recession, there is generally not as many resources to do everything you’d like with a marketing strategy, so focusing on achievable goals and realistic KPIs will make it more likely that you’ll meet objectives.
My tool Ubersuggest makes this process super easy. You can look at metrics and KPIs, do keyword research to develop objectives, or gain insight into the strategies that aren’t working so well and adopt changes.
Here’s a couple examples of this in action using the term “marketing tips”:
You can see in this image Ubersuggest providing information about using “marketing tips” as a keyword, including the search volume, paid difficulty, and cost per click (CPC).
Here, Ubersuggest gives more information about the search volume for this term (even breaking it out by desktop and mobile) to show users exactly how the term performs. Other information, like keyword or content ideas, also pop up with a simple keyword search to make the entire research process simple. As a bonus, there’s a free version as well so anyone can start using this tool to their benefit.
9. Find Efforts to Build Brand Awareness
In a recession, brand awareness is everything. You might not have a lot of money to spend on marketing, but if people know about your brand and trust what you do or offer, they’re more likely to buy from you. It’s as simple as that.
Branding during a recession, even with limited funds, is totally possible. Take advantage of areas that cost less but may still produce results to create and portray a distinct identity to target customers.
For instance, social media is a great place to gain exposure and reach new customers. A well-placed post on Twitter or TikTok can lead thousands of people straight to your website.
10. Focus on the Long-Term
Recession marketing means practicing patience. You have to plan ahead as much as you can to survive the economic downturn, but don’t forget about what’s going to happen once the economy bounces back.
Some tips for surviving in the short-term but keeping the long-term in mind are:
- Prepare early by tracking the economy and obtain adequate insurance coverage (especially for small businesses).
- Diversify income streams (like offering online sales) to promote cash flow.
- Use all of your employees’ talents rather than hiring new staff or working with contractors.
- Find partners to grow the business in marketing, tech, and business management.
- Ensure customers are happy with your products or services (instead of offering heavy discounts or sales to keep them around).
- Concentrate on employee happiness and developing a strong company culture.
Short-term survival is essential, but long-term growth is also very important (and should be a huge part of strategy and decision making). Keep an open mind about opportunities and ideas while remaining cautiously optimistic during these times.
Frequently Asked Questions
A good strategy for marketing during a recession revolves around understanding consumer trends, being flexible, and honing in on the basics. Keep costs low by evaluating tech and creating reasonable goals for KPIs and ROIs to make objectives achievable. Also, don’t forget that maintaining brand awareness and creating connections with customers will help in both the short-term and long-term during a recession.
A recession impacts marketing because people change how and what they buy, but businesses still need to maintain sales to stay afloat. So, using the same marketing strategies in all economic environments doesn’t make sense when these strategies should be geared toward the customer and their needs. Buyers are more cautious in a recession about purchases. For instance, they may start to look for different brands based on pricing or availability due to price sensitivity. Marketing efforts must adapt during this time to account for the new way in which people spend money.
An easy answer here is anything that people deem “essential,” like soap, pet care products, and toilet paper, will always sell well in a recession. While people know they must buy things they need, they still spend money on non-necessities, like entertainment and cosmetics. The reasons for this may vary, from people making impulse purchases to buying based on social media or influencers to simply wanting to treat themselves. Think about your own products and services and how you can market them to seem valuable to those who don’t want to overspend to increase sales in a recession.
So, what’s the best way to approach marketing during a recession? With a flexible mindset.
Start with your basic marketing strategies and build upon those efforts. Focus on delivering quality, value-based content to keep your customers interested and engaged. From there, present yourself as a trustworthy brand that is aware of and sensitive to the issues people face as a result of the recession.
As your competitors cut costs, you should remain steadfast in successful marketing efforts.
You’ll enjoy better performance and results as fewer competitors invest in sound marketing strategies, helping you grow and prosper in the long-term.
For example, if you show improved Google rankings in a recession, this can help drive more organic conversions, especially if competitors are pulling back on SEO.
These benefits last beyond recession times as well. Knowing Google ranking factors inside and out makes content development easier in the long run.
Don’t forget that marketing today requires brand connection and a personal touch.
Keeping up with trends and data, as well as interacting with your customers on social media, will help you better understand your target audience and how you can market to them even in the most trying of times.
Have you tried any new marketing tactics during previous economic downturns? What happened?
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