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How to Make the Most of Your Marketing Budget in a Recession Economy

A bear market is officially upon us, and whispers of a looming recession have businesses on edge. Wary managers often axe marketing budgets first, forcing marketing teams to get creative to make their message heard.

Illustration: Vector4stock/Freepik

While it’s a rule of thumb that cutting your marketing budget in a recession is not a good idea, the reality of your budget may make cuts inevitable.

You don’t have to sacrifice ROI during a recession if you learn a few recession-proof marketing tips. Below, you’ll learn how to market smarter—not harder—during a recession.

Know your Recession Target

People change their spending habits during a recession, which means your target may become unfamiliar in this economic landscape.

For example, a premium ice cream company may successfully target women with children in a normal economy. But in a recession, families strapped for cash may opt for a cheaper brand or no ice cream at all.

Put your existing target research on the back burner and get to know these recession market segments, as defined in Harvard Business Review:
  • Slam-on-the-breaks: This is the hardest hit consumer, who reduces all spending to focus on basic necessities.
  • Pained-but-patient: This represents most middle-class consumers. They reduce spending in all areas but still remain brand loyal and treat themselves from time to time. Important: Pained-but-patient consumers will become slam-on-the-breaks consumers over time!
  • Comfortably Well-off: These wealthy consumers don’t change their spending habits much during a recession.
  • Living-for-today: These consumers are typically younger and have fewer expenses. They live paycheck-to-paycheck and don’t think about savings. They continue to buy brands they like but take fewer risks.
How will a recession affect your target’s spending habits? Do the research to find out now and make a plan before it’s too late.

Allocate Spending to Top Brands

If your company sells a number of products or services, it’s time to line them all up and assess which are the strongest and weakest.

Your top, best-known brands should receive the most marketing cash during a recession.

Consumers find comfort in recognizable, trustworthy brands in hard times. Stabilizing these brands with a healthy marketing spend will maintain their relevance to your core market.

Your top brands have the largest and most loyal customer base. These brand-loyal customers are the most valuable during a recession. Cutting marketing for top brands alienates loyal consumers and risks a downward-spiral situation for your highest-performing products.

What about the products that don’t perform as well or aren’t as well-known? It might be time to put them on the chopping block, especially if they are non-necessities or non-budget-friendly products.

Cut Communications Costs

There are more opportunities than ever to optimize advertising and PR expenses. Cheaper production tech and innovative social media outreach allow you to create and diffuse content more efficiently.

However, established firms are slow to innovate.

During a recession, it’s time to reassess how you advertise and trim the fat. For example, internet advertising and social media marketing typically increase during a recession because they are more affordable and measurable. Broadcast media ads decline.

Savvy advertisers can also cut marketing costs by:
  • Outsourcing video production
  • Using stock footage for ads
  • Using a green screen video instead of shooting on location
  • Incorporating customer-generated content
  • Partnering with influencers
  • Advertising on YouTube channels and Podcasts

Send a Reassuring Message

What tone should your ads take during a recession? Most of your customers are looking for reassurance during tough times. Your brand can offer some stability in their lives—and even some hope.

Sending a reassuring message, or just recognizing that times are tough, is a way to empathize with your customers and build trust.

At this point, consumers are likely tired of hearing the “we’re going to get through this together” trope. But clever marketers can still harness this sentiment in their campaigns.

For example, Dell released a series of print ads during the 2008 recession with messages like “Depend on Dell for simple solutions in tough times” and “Weak economy, powerful you.”

These simple messages reminded consumers that Dell was still relevant and offered solutions for recession-stricken consumers.

Stabilize and Survive

Surviving a recession comes down to prioritizing your marketing expenses in a volatile marketplace. It can feel disorienting to throw money at brands even as sales decline, but one fact rings true in any recession: spending on core brands and catering to loyal customers is the key to survival. Remember this, and your company will come out the other side stronger than ever.

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