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Five Tips for Marketing in a Recession

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Are we in a recession? Maybe, maybe not. However, let's assume that the US economy will be in a recession and that as marketers we need to work within that reality. Here are some tips for what you should do.

1. Spend smarter

You may have to spend less on marketing. Not because marketing should be cut first or most (it most certainly should not), but because your company may cut budgets across the board. In fact, by showing how you intend to spend smarter, you will make it easier to fight for your resources (see below).

By "spend smarter" I mean create a clear-cut justification for the investment. While you won't always be able to measure the ROI (this is marketing, after all), you can have your people create a compelling business case for each investment. Then, when it comes time to justify the investment, you will have established sound business reasoning behind it. And that's what the CEO and CFO need to see in a recession.

2. Double-down on your current customers


Sure it's more fun to get new customers, but it's more practical in a downturn to provide more value (and get more in return) from your current customers.

When customers make decisions in a downturn, they're more likely to go with a more trusted source. If they're more likely to go with you, then you want to make it easier and more obvious to them to go with you. Market to them. Enable your sales teams to be more effective with them. Ask current customers what they need from you.

Care for them, and they will be even more likely to stick with you if the going gets tough.

3. Outsmart your competitors

You have an opportunity in a downturn to win market share from your competitors.

If you pay close attention to what's happening in your target markets and how customers are reacting to a recession, you can act early and often with changes in product (if you can change it quickly), price, and positioning (especially as perceived needs change).

For example, in the last technology downturn, software companies became very creative in their pricing schema, creating many variations of software as a service (SaaS) that enabled them to sell when their competitors were stuck in an old paradigm.

4. Invest in growing market segments

In every downturn there are market segments that grow faster than others. It's your job as a marketer to help your company see and understand these market segments, and determine whether you can quickly win business in those fast-growing market segments.

These may be segments you're already selling to, but not particularly focused on; or they may represent new segments—and new opportunities for your company. At the same time, you will want to reduce your investments in the segments that will get hit the most in the downturn.

5. Fight for your resources

I've argued that it's marketing's responsibility to drive strategic issues (see CMOs as True Leaders). In a recession, this becomes even more important.

Knee-jerk reactions of companies where the CMO is not deeply involved in strategy are often to cut budgets and people in marketing disproportionately. This results in marketing's playing a less important role, and an extremely inefficient pendulum-swing of dollars and people that result in being caught flat-footed and losing out to competitors very shortly after the cuts are made.

It's marketing's responsibility to fight for its resources, and doing the four items above will help you win that battle.


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Glenn Gow is an expert in marketing technology, an advisory board member, author, speaker, podcast host, and the CEO of Crimson Marketing. Follow his insights on marketing technology at the Crimson Marketing Technology Blog and read his book, Moneyball for Marketing: How Brilliant Marketers Use Big Data and Marketing Technology to Win.

LinkedIn: Glenn Gow

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  • by anuja Tue Dec 30, 2008 via web

    It's quite helpfull , but i need to understand very properly

  • by Asad Wed Jan 21, 2009 via web

    Article gave good asnweres to issues of concern in recesion times, however I believe these 5 steps should still be followed even after getting out of recesion, is that right? or would you recommend change in course of action.

  • by Liberty Fri Mar 13, 2009 via web

    Neat! I just wrote a blog about how to market in a down economy too! Here is the url - http://www.libertyinteractivemarketing.com/blog/recession-tips-marketing-to...

  • by John Shenton Sat Mar 28, 2009 via web

    Marketing in a recession – KEY OR LOCK?

    Every company spends money on marketing in one form or another.

    Smaller companies tend to spend more as a percentage of their turnover than larger companies, often without a marketing budget to fall back on.

    The larger the company, the more clearly defined the marketing spend.

    The big question that always arises during a recession is how much marketing funds actually return in profit to the bottom line. This question arises simply because the amount of data collected that can be directly attributable to spend and return is limited.

    Marketing comes in many forms from direct expenditure via the sales force to brand marketing over time.

    Marketing departments work hard to ensure that information gathered from product marketing expenditure is tracked such that the business knows how many people are directly influenced as a result of this expenditure, and herein lies the rub.

    Influence is not the same as decision. The reality is we all accept that without influencing people our products and service sales can fall to competitors who continue to market themselves. The timescales can vary between cause and effect, this can also cause managers to believe that reduced marketing activity is not having a major effect on sales.

    The real difference in a recession is not so much about whether to continue to spend, but how we market our businesses.

    In a recession, buyers are the key, and finance are the locksmiths.

    Need rather than want is the answer.

    Marketing influence can have a positive effect on a wider audience during the good times, but during a recession the opposite occurs.

    Market information becomes critical, and time frames are drastically reduced.

    In a recession, our marketing requires much greater focus, with information available by return to ensure it is having the desired effect on the buyer. It also needs to be clearly focussed on ROI for the buyer’s business, so for the short term – no more nice to have statements.

    The management reporting within your business also needs to reach the board room with at least one Key Performance Indicator being reported at this level.
    The information that is held across departments to enable this information to be delivered as a KPI should be brought together so that marketing no longer works in isolation.

    Gathering this information has historically been a challenge where unrelated databases contain information that can be extracted locally, but cannot be used to confirm or deny success or failure of a set of unrelated activities.

    If for example marketing release a product campaign to a new target audience based upon market research and linked to internal data held in the finance departments database relating to historical sales of a given value, and the sales department begin to see a higher volume of sales in their database some weeks later – the time between this information translating into future action to secure even more business can be as long as it takes the company to process orders and for the client to pay, when the information finally hits the finance department database once more.

    What would be really valuable would be to extract information and link it in real time so that the board and the marketing team can see the immediate effect and simply increase activity in successful areas.

    This can be achieved using eXant eXporter.

    Management Information in a recession is simply a must have.

    Getting the information you need to be able to take positive decisions that will effect your bottom line is now another key to your business success.

    Why not call us today to find out how we can unlock your business profits of tomorrow.

  • by saurabh Tue Jul 7, 2009 via web

    i think this article is just crap. It tells us everything we already know.

  • by manish Mon Dec 7, 2009 via web

    it good ieda to follow this steps in the recession ,company can come out of the recession effects if it approaches all points in the proper manner

  • by Jay Mon Dec 7, 2009 via web

    by saurabh Tue Jul 7, 2009i think this article is just crap. It tells us everything we already know

    Sarah - this kind if comment is not really useful for the readers. Not everyone knows as much as you - perhaps you could spend some of your time helping out with the things we don't know and then we can tell you what we think?

  • by Olawale Tue Aug 30, 2016 via mobile

    It's quiet helpful and friendly with these strategies at this particular time in the economy of My country.

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