How to Market Your Way Through a Recession

by | Mar 26, 2020 | Blog

There’s no way around it, we’re probably heading for a recession. And while there is genuine cause to remain positive, we also need to remain realistic. Here are our top tips to market your way through a recession. 

What’s the best form of marketing to invest in during a downturn?

Right now, long term strategies are going to play out very well. Your customers may not be ready to spend right now so long term strategies like SEO or brand marketing may be the best option for you. SEO is a long game that can take up to 6 months to deliver brilliant results, which may make it the best thing to invest in right now. Botton line: make yourself easy to find for people who are ready to buy. 

We even created a free SEO audit tool to check your site’s SEO.

As for brand marketing, this is any communication you can make that demonstrates your values. Are you in a position to help the community right now? Any investment in this area is going to increase the value of your brand. Can you set-up a food delivery service to vulnerable people? This is not about ROI, it’s a signal to your audience that you care, and will increase the positive perception of your brand. Plus, it’s a great thing to do.

This isn’t an exercise in promotion, it’s about making sure that you are adjusting your brand to the changing times and making sure that you’re delivering to your customers the most value you can. 

It’s also worth mentioning that a recession technically comes into effect when there’s two consecutive quarters of negative economic growth as measured by a country’s gross domestic product (GDP). Now, just because the GDP is down, doesn’t mean that every industry is going to suffer. Some industries actually perform much better in a downturn.

Don’t cut budgets without a strategy

It goes without saying that if cash in is down, then cash out has to go down, too. But don’t make the mistake of slashing all budgets everywhere.  Of course we’d say that, we’re a marketing agency. But it’s also something that HBR tells us. 

For example, if you’ve had to pivot to online sales then you’ll need to invest in promoting and optimising that channel. Yes, the resources will need to be pulled from somewhere, but it’s important not to keep your working capital in discipline-specific silos. Now is the time to break down the barriers in your business and keep the right projects resourced well enough to deliver life-saving results. 

Can some jobs come in-house, and are others better served with strong agency partnerships? If you do cut ad spend, should you focus the remaining spend on one or two channels? 

So before you slash your marketing budget in half, make sure your game plan is strong.

Also, this is not the time to skimp on good market research. Every recession has a different effect on consumer behaviour, so continue to gather good data and insights. While the best market research can be done for free through your social media channels, make sure you’re resourcing the analysis. 

Do what you’ve been putting off

Need a new website? Probably should update that deck? Right now is the best possible time to do all of the marketing projects that you said you’d finish ‘one day’.

That day is today and, when the market turns back on, you’ll wish you had everything ready go. Testing and developing new products in a recession is also a great way forward.

After the 2008 financial crisis, we saw the birth of dozens and dozens of brand new multi-billion dollar businesses (Instagram, WhatsApp, Uber, Airbnb, Dropbox, Slack, etc.). We will see this sort of activity again in the 2020s, because recessions can also lead to reinventions.

Focus on retaining your current customers

Send. That. Email. Now. Remind them why they love you. Be as personal and as relevant as you can manage. Ok, you’ve done it. Now stay aware of their needs. Do you need to make product adjustments so they can continue to buy?

Do you need to work harder to prove the value of your product?

As American Express points out, it’s not the case that your customers will respond best to a price drop. It’s more likely that they need to be convinced your brand still provides them with something they value. Because people won’t spend less on everything, they’ll spend on less things. You can still be the business that they want to spend on.

This is a great time to review your customer journey and make sure you’re not leaking leads along the path to purchase.

If you don’t have a CRM strategy written down, chances are you’re doing it instinctively. But it’s a good idea to get it written down and implement processes and systems. If you already have great CRM, make sure compliance is good and there aren’t any missed opportunities.

Keep positive and keep consistent

Now is the time to make sure your digital, PR, print, and internal comms are singing from the same songbook. Pause everything, have a crisis meeting, reset the message and then refresh things as needed. 

It may seem like you don’t have time to do this right now, but keeping consistent messages builds trust and loyalty. These are two things that are vital to your survival in the best of times and in short supply in the worst of times.

When we say ‘be positive’ we don’t mean be this guy.


You should be honest, but there’s a difference between ‘things are tough but here’s how you can support us’ and ‘we’ll go out of business unless you buy 65 doughnuts immediately, Karen!’

Focus on outdoing your competitors

If you can manage it, now is the time to beat your competitors. I hear you saying, ‘that’s how business is done, dummy.’

Except many of us prefer to stay in our lane and simply keep up with competitors. But in a depressed market investing in new products or nabbing market share from your rivals can be the key to rebounding fast. 

It’s also imperative to be the best at what you do at the price you do it for the customers you serve. In a depressed market, competition is even more fierce, so your products and services must deliver the value that they promise. 

Get creative

Ok, look, you might not be the next Isaac Newton (he developed calculus during a plague lockdown), but you can make this tough time a little easier with good old fashioned creativity.

Every recession is different, and it will put enormous pressure on your staff and processes unless you can learn to think differently. And fast.

Again, this is something that there’s never enough time for, but you really should make the time.

Make a Slack channel called brainstorm and fire away, spend 15 mins every day to spitball ideas with your team, do something totally unrelated that breaks down internal barriers to giving honest and fresh insights to each other. Whatever it is, bake creativity into your days and weeks.

You’ll need that intellectual capital to navigate your way through this period. It’s also great for morale.

Have anything to add? We’d love to hear from you. Send us a message!

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