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marketing post its - marketing during a recession


In this article you’ll learn:

  • Why you shouldn’t pull your marketing budget during a recession (the lesson of Moxie)
  • The kinds of marketing you should pour your efforts into
  • How to determine where your money is best spent


Marketing During a Recession, or a Bagel (if you know, you know)

By Oliver Brainerd


There’s this episode of The West Wing when they’re dealing with a potential recession. Do you know The West Wing? It’s a show about a fictional U.S. President and his staff. So in this one episode, they’re dealing with an impending recession. Only, even though they’re totally practical people, they’re just superstitious enough that they don’t want to say the word recession, just in case they summon the Spirit of Recessions Past upon them! When the economists come to call, they want to talk about the potential recession. The executive staff shushes them and says they don’t say the word recession. So the economists say, hey, what do we say instead?


The executive staff says, “I don’t know–bagel?”


Right. A bagel. Because Aaron Sorkin has no idea how to write SEO-appropriate content.


Over here at ARC, we know that we’re not in the middle of a recession. Not technically. We also know that The People of the Internet have their concerns about how to run marketing during a recession. Don’t ask us how we know. We have our sources.


We know that a lot of people out there want to know how to increase sales during a recession, or at least maintain them. You guys are out there being savvy business people, and doing the opposite of yielding to Leaky Roof Syndrome.


Leaky Roof Syndrome: that thing where there’s no reason to fix the roof when it’s sunny, and you certainly aren’t going on the roof while it’s raining, so the roof never gets fixed.


Technically, there’s no recession. There’s inflation, yes. Less buying power? Absolutely. There’s definitely more competition in the marketplace. So, it’s the perfect time to get your marketing under wraps. Here’s how you market during a recession…cough cough…inflation.


Why Advertise In A Recession Or, More Accurately, During Inflation? 


There are marketing cases in the last century that demonstrate how removing advertising during a recession can mean the death of a company. There have been some massive companies that have completely gone under while competitors who spent money on marketing rose to the top. An instance of this was Moxie. It was the top beverage company of the 1920s. When the depression hit, they cut advertising. On the other hand Coca Cola doubled down. Moxie was lost to history and we all know of Coca Cola today. Do we have your attention yet? Advertising during economic crises is not to be taken lightly.


But here’s the thing, there’s no reason why your business strategy during a recession shouldn’t anticipate growth. Within reason, of course and if you run your marketing right.


Marketing is the science of bringing customers the joy of experiencing the solutions to their problems. Nothing sells better during a recession than joy does.


So let’s get to it. Let’s talk about a few ways of optimizing your marketing efforts. Part of it’s improving the ratio of ad spending to profits. Which is never impossible, even if it’s a challenge.


We like a challenge.


So where do you start?


Where to Start with Recession-Style Marketing

Let’s start with what not to do. During a recession, you will be evaluating your business with an eye of identifying where you can save money.


The first thing to do is place your marketing budget squarely in the “Keep This!” column. Realities might mean you will have to be more conservative in some marketing purchases. Maybe don’t go springing for that Super Bowl TV spot just yet. But there is a vast gulf between reducing your ad spend and slashing your ad spend. In that gulf, savvy marketing strategy can populate your year with business opportunities. (HBR)


Your strategy should optimize your return on marketing budget.


Okay, so what are some savvy marketing choices?


Focus on Public Relations

pr - woman with camera at event

No matter what marketing budget you’re working with, it’s hard to beat the ROI of free marketing. And in the event that you have less budget to work with, you could do worse than replacing some of that budget with a little extra effort.


One of our founders, Jamie Barber, was a marketing director during the 2008 recession. During that time, she had quite a bit of success with grassroots marketing efforts that focused on public relations and events. She suggests that during economic downturns it’s a time to stick with tried and true advertising by following the data of what’s worked best for your company, while also focusing on grassroots marketing and PR.


Grassroots marketing focuses on the community already available to you. (HubSpot) When it’s done well, grassroots marketing grows your community, and therefore your potential customer base. But where more “commercial” marketing includes “increasing audience size” as a line item, grassroots marketing omits that as a goal. Instead, grassroots marketing is an effort that puts energy into people you can find without relying on spending a lot of money finessing algorithmically-driven machines.


Marketing based on grassroots methods is valuable. In lean times, grassroots marketing is especially effective when it focuses on PR.


The difference between PR and advertising is: who’s telling the story.


In advertising, you’re telling the story, which is great. It’s also more expensive. Advertising means budget allocated to designing ads and getting copy written. It also includes spending money on pay per click or print ads, etc.


With PR, you’re crafting a narrative that the media will, in turn, tell. You have less control over the end result. However, the benefit is you have wide reach without ad spend. Then you make laser-focused choices about bringing your business to the attention of people who command their own audience. Influencers, news outlets, celebrities if you know any, and local personalities.


As to the idea of business as unusual: during lean times, dramatic gestures can pay off big time. For example, get involved in your local community. Organize an event for a cause, or for some social infrastructure. Get your community involved.


Do that, and then tell the people who have their own audience. Send out a press release. Better yet, personalize your outreach to the media. Or, send direct messages to the influencers you know–you probably know more than you think.


Grassroots PR is powerful marketing during a recession.


Is there anything else?


Well, yes, there is.


Become a Data Ninja

Because marketing aims to affect what hasn’t happened yet, it can feel like speculation. That’s a simplistic way of viewing it. However, let’s say it’s true, just for the sake of argument.


The result: when times are good, and you’re making a lot of money, you might put a marketing budget into what may feel like a gamble. You may not have a clear idea that sponsoring a motocross team will yield a good ROI…but times are good, you have the money, and you like motocross.


However, marketing shouldn’t be gambling. It isn’t, strictly speaking, even guesswork. Marketing is strategically applying trend analysis to decision-making in order to achieve goals.


When times are good, and your company is making a lot of money, you might not have to be as careful about your analysis of those trends. So, when times are good, it might look as if marketing isn’t necessarily empowering precise business decisions. In this context, precise equates to saving you money since it can prepare you to make smarter choices. (SociallyBuzz)


That’s the key point. Marketing might look like an art. It has an artistic side, certainly. But it’s also a science. It’s data science.


With current tools, a good marketing team can collect and collate reams of powerful numbers. When they are analyzed well, these numbers highlight weaknesses and create opportunities. (PKFOD)


Maybe you’re running both Facebook ads and Google ads. Do you know which one has the better ROI? Your data does.


When was the last time you analyzed the targeting of your ad campaigns? That data changes constantly.


Do you know the interests of the people who spend the most time on your website? We can find numbers for that.


Becoming a ninja with your data will optimize what it means to bring your customers and your products together.


If that sounds like a headache to you, don’t worry: it’s not a headache to everyone. Some people thrive on that stuff.


ARC Creative Co. and Stretching Your Marketing Dollar

One of the things we love doing at ARC is fixing problems. We have done this quite a bit already. We take a dive into the current marketing strategies of a new client and figure out a lot of ways to improve their marketing. Then we look at the data in order to optimize the allocation of marketing resources. After that we get into the more creative stuff, like designing email campaigns or redesigning websites. It just depends on what you need.


We tend to save our clients money, mainly by stretching their marketing budget to accomplish more. Which is code for improving profits. Accomplished marketing is profitable marketing.


Check out our case studies to see how we’ve implemented effective marketing solutions to improve the ROI of clients in the past. And reach out if you have any glaring question marks in your current or upcoming marketing strategy.


You can request a free audit here.