Marketing During an Economic Downturn
Two months ago, businesses were plugging along, business-as-usual: executing on marketing strategies, nurturing customer relationships, driving sales and… well, you get it. None of us could have predicted the events that have since unfolded that have profoundly affected our global economy. Sadly, many businesses are failing; there’s no way to sugar coat it. But many are also rising to the challenge and persevering using a brand awareness strategy. The game has changed—this much we know. We’ve gone from playing checkers to chess seemingly overnight. But a new game presents new opportunities to succeed amid the crisis.
Is it wise to be marketing during a downturn? The short answer is a resounding, yes! In fact, now is a perfect time to focus on brand awareness marketing.
What is brand awareness?
Let’s start with the basics: what is brand awareness, and why is it important? I like to use the analogy of an auditorium. Let’s say you’re standing on a stage with a microphone in hand and something important to say—but the seats are empty. No matter how valuable your message, it is worthless if no one is there to hear it. Think of those seats as your marketing funnel. When you invest the time, effort and money into brand awareness marketing, you’ll fill your funnel with qualified leads who are more likely to convert.
Now is an ideal time to reevaluate your brand awareness strategy.
While eliminating brand-building in favor of short-term sales-stimulating activities may seem like a logical move, the opposite is true. Business success is a long game: if you want your customers to stick around, you’ll need to stay relevant to them throughout the ebbs and flows of the economic whirlwind. Brand awareness marketing is not a luxury; what you do today will set the stage for where you will be when we reach, as they say, the “new normal.”
Ask yourself this: during uncertain times in your life, where do you go? Who do you turn to? Where do you derive the greatest comfort? More than likely, from those you trust—those who understand you and are with you over the long haul.
Be that brand for your customers. Use this time to differentiate your business by establishing trust, displaying empathy and reminding customers of the value you offer. Accompany them through the crisis and on the other side. Even if they’re not in a position to purchase from you today, when their budget allows for it and their needs once again become critical, you will be the brand that’s top of mind; you will be their first stop. This is your chance to get noticed by consumers who perhaps were not previously paying attention.
What strategies can a company use in an economic downturn?
The question remains: how do you increase brand awareness during a recession? Here are four things you can be doing right now:
- Get into your customers’ headspace
Think about where your customers are on their journey. According to Harvard professors John Quelch and Katherine E. Jocz, consumers will prioritize their consumption in four key buckets:
- Essentials: Products or services that are necessary for survival or perceived to be central to one’s wellbeing
- Treats: Indulgences that are deemed justifiable to the consumer
- Postponables: Less critical purchases that can be put off
- Expendables: Purchases perceived as unnecessary or unjustifiable altogether
With an assessment of where their heads are in terms of their purchasing behaviors, you’ll have a clearer sense of how to communicate with them, marketing during a downturn, and stay relevant throughout the crisis.
With a better sense of your customers’ headspace, start thinking about how you might be able to innovate during this time. Are there ways your business can offer new value in the current digital landscape? Experiment with new service options or delivery methods—or take your brick-and-mortar operation online.
I recently saw this approach successfully play out with a local retail dress shop. Forced to close their storefront doors to countless anxious brides-to-be, this business began offering a virtual shopping experience with personal shoppers and a dress delivery service that provides an at-home try-on experience. Not only did this business expand their geo-market, but they are differentiating themselves from competitors by offering a package of services not typically seen in the industry.
Think outside the box; be the first to market with something innovative and new. This can make marketing during a downturn seem effortless.
- Build your brand assets
While you may not want to allocate significant dollars to full-scale campaign advertising in a recession, you might want to turn your attention to a much smaller brand awareness strategy: building your brand assets. Start by creating a content library that offers added value and speaks to your customers’ pain during these difficult times. Remember, you’re not selling, here—you’re informing and educating.
While you’re at it, reevaluate your brand awareness strategy for social media. The world has gone digital—completely digital—which means you’ve got a captive audience on social media. Use it to share your new content, convey thought leadership and establish trust during this time of hardship.
- Look for new opportunities
Use this lull to identify new opportunities for your brand. Launch a new offering to a different segment, explore that venture you’ve been kicking around or pursue a project that’s been sitting on the back burner. The current economic downturn means less overall competition. Take advantage of the quiet and gain competitive ground.
While some businesses are settling into complacency as they hope for a swift economic turnaround, many are using this as an opportunity to forge ahead in new and exciting ways and increase their brand awareness. Examples of companies that are doing this are endless—which is good news, considering the barrage of negativity that seems to surround us these days.
As you reevaluate where to take your business strategy during the recession, your success will depend on your ability to adapt and innovate. Yes, you’ll need to make budgetary cuts during these economically challenging times—but your brand awareness strategy shouldn’t be one of them. Marketing during a downturn is one of the most effective ways to not just stay afloat but to get ahead.