The Secret To (Marketing) Success In A Recession

We are officially in an economic downturn (and an unofficial recession, or close to it).  In a downturn, we all know that marketing is the first thing to get cut.  If your budgets are getting cut, what should you be doing to survive the next 12 to 18 months?

First things first.  You need to be digital. You need to be measurable, and nimble.  I read a recent report from Gartner that quoted several CMOs about what they would be doing to weather the storm. Universally, the responses were to reallocate to digital and navigate from branding to demand gen. 

In times of economic pressure, marketing needs to be a business driver and not a cost center.  I’m a firm believer in the scientific approach to marketing, so forecasting tied to weekly performance reviews help you to be seen as a business driver. 

Rigorous testing tied to lead volume and cost per lead are crucial.  If you are doing something that can’t be measured, you should probably stop doing that something.  “Gut instinct” does not bode well in a downturn or recession.

You also need to be nimble.  It’s vital to examine and use data to make swift decisions about what to do next.  Process cannot get in the way of progress during difficult times.  Patience can wear thin when things are not going well.

Secondly, growth-hacking becomes an even more important area of focus.  You need to think of non-traditional ways to get in front of your audience, engage them, and stand out from the clutter.

Growth-hacking includes things like product-led growth, more content, reciprocal feedback, and engagement with your customers -- truly anything you can come up with to help you do more with less.   

Many marketers are not familiar with growth-hacking as a concept because it can be difficult to do in a larger organization.  I argue that larger entities are great places  to do growth-hacking, because it gets everyone out of their comfort zone and pushes them to a place where they make new discoveries and come up with new ideas.

Thirdly, explore new channels.  Partner marketing is extremely valuable in times like these. Partnership can be explored in many ways, some non-traditional. Partners can be channels, they can be product partnerships, they can be new media channels.  Partnerships are often overlooked because they can be more difficult to measure, but there are platforms and technologies that can be harnessed to help increase the accountability of those channels.  Some require investment, while some simply require an innovative approach. 

Lastly, communication is key. You need all your colleagues on the same page, looking at the same insights and focused on the same goals.  You should strive to over-communicate during a recession.  Communicate among your team, out to your stakeholders, and more broadly into the organization.   The triumvirate of marketing, sales and product must be strongly aligned during a recession to make sure your company is poised to be nimble, agile, and flexible. 

A recession can end a poorly aligned and under-performing company, but it can also bolster a company that has planned accordingly.  I have personally been involved in a three different growth stories during economic slowdowns and/or recessions, and the formula is clear: Go digital.  Be accountable.  Be flexible.  Growth-hack your way to success in innovative ways.  Over-communicate and align with sales and product.  If you do these things well, you will be poised to come out stronger at the other end of the turbulence.

5 comments about "The Secret To (Marketing) Success In A Recession".
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  1. Dan Manella from Stephens Media Group Tri-Cities, September 28, 2022 at 2:49 p.m.

    You can't be serious.  

    Ditch the Reach and Frequency of traditional media because its "can't be measured"? Better not tell that to the folks who have sold out the next Super Bowl!

    If you follow this advice where will you advertise the Going Out of Business Sale?,for%20the%20NFL%20regular%20season%2C%20which%20begins%20Thursday.

  2. Sean Tracey from Sean Tracey Associates, September 28, 2022 at 4:04 p.m.

    Cory.  Great thought starter.  As usual, I agree with much of what you say.  Except for the 1st mandate, "Go digital."  I have also been involved with many marketing success stories during economic downturns (I've been doing this for over 35 years), and not one of them won the day by emphasizing digital.  Too transactional.  Hardly ever emotional or compelling.  And in a downturn, sometimes no one's even buyin'.   I believe more in building the brand during the downturn when even traditional media can be cheaper and not in such demand.  And, the brand's message can stand out with less competition for eyes if the competitors pulled back on ad spending.  Then, when it's over, and everybody's buying again, your brand is top of mind and reap the benefits.  I did a speaking tour on the subject and amassed much historical research that supports my opinion.

  3. Jack Wakshlag from Media Strategy, Research & Analytics, September 29, 2022 at 9:16 p.m.

    Growth hacking and thinking is not going to make it. The laws of marketing hold because the hold under conditions of growth and shrinkage. Dan has got you pegged. Nobody wants fewer customers in a recession. Reach remains the fundamental requirement. 

  4. Sean Fay from Envision Response Inc, September 30, 2022 at 2:58 p.m.

    I started my career as an infomercial producer and direct response tv marketer during the recession of the early 90s and the prescription was the same. Accountable advertising with a complete focus on creating products that delivered tons of value, (Sonicare, Foreman Grill, Quick N Brite), an advertising strategy that educated and informed while it sold (todays online content) and a clear cut CTA call to action - with an efficient process to deliver the product or service efficiently. Video still works whether it's on tv in our latest Medicare AEP spots or used to generate leads or online. Good article. This strategy never gets old. It is these companies that also helped lead us out of the recession. 

  5. STEVE CLIMONS from Crosssover Creative, March 31, 2023 at 3:18 p.m.

    Good reality check Cory!

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