Marketing successfully through recession (yes, it is possible!)

If you’re a marketing manager, then buckle up – 2023 is looking like it’s going to be a rough ride for the economy… and we all know that (unless you’re fortunate enough to be a recession-proof product or service) when belts tighten, marketing budgets are one of the first costs to be reduced.

Of course, any marketer worth their salt understands that maintaining a strong and relevant brand presence is vital when markets contract. If there is less being spent in your industry, you’ll need to fight hard for every last sale. But that can be hard to achieve when your CFO is asking you to reduce your spend!

So, what to do?

Been there, done that (and lived to tell the tale)

Here at Matter, all of our senior associates have held in-house marketing management positions prior to working agency-side. And most of us experienced the struggle of delivering effective marketing programmes through the GFC *shudder*.

That means we have a strong appreciation of the challenges that many marketers will face in the new year – and a few lessons learnt from our own experiences in the trenches, which we’re more than happy to share.

How to get the most out of the budget you have

As we head into 2023, many marketers will get stuck into preparing their plans for the new calendar and financial year. If this is you, here is our advice – based on what we’ve seen work – to consider as you start planning:

1. Rethink how you’re using advertising channels

Look at how you’re using various channels, and to consider whether adjusting how your activity is weighted could help you achieve the brand presence you need at a reduced budget level.

For many brands, traditional ATL activities are a significant part of their marketing programme, however digital channels can offer huge audience reach for significantly less money.

For example, when it comes to video format, ask yourself whether some of your TVC spots could be switched into YouTube or on demand pre-roll. Or you might even switch up your video game entirely and try Reels or TikToks as well.

2. Double-down on retention

Now’s the time to work hard on engaging with your existing customers and their networks.

That means focusing on offering a seamless experience for those who choose your product or service – and making the effort to build ongoing rapport and engagement with them after the sale.

This is where your social media channels come into their own. By building strong, positive communities, you can ensure your brand remains top of mind and positively positioned with customers. You’ll be first on the list if they decide to buy again – or if a friend is looking for a recommendation.

As a social media agency, we see the impact experienced by clients that invest in building their social media communities. A great example is Kings Plant Barn, which offers a mix of advice and inspiration on its channels and really goes the extra mile – not only to create highly user-centric content, but also to invite (and respond to!) input from its social community.

3. Consider how customer needs may change

Take stock of your product range or service lines and – at the same time – think about your typical customer, and how they might be affected by a recession.

By doing this early, you’ve got an opportunity to adjust your offering to be more attractive in lean times. For example, you might look to promote competitively priced essentials or small treat items, ahead of pricier luxury products in your range.

Before you embark on this exercise, take a few moments to read this fantastic article in the Harvard Business Review, which breaks down spending psychology in recession times (it was originally written in 2009, post-GFC but much of it is still relevant today). Read it here.

4. Look to widen the gap against competitors

One of the best ways to get a little more money out of your CFO is to point out that there’s an opportunity to grab market share from competitors.

Have a look at other players in your industry and take stock of those that are pulling back on their marketing – their lack of activity could be a golden opportunity for you to swoop in and get in front of their customers.

And bear in mind that, while this kind of spending can feel counterintuitive during a recession, the return on investment makes it a worthwhile tactic in the long run.

5. Use your agencies smartly

Feeling stressed about whether you’ll be able to afford to keep your agency? Get a handle on your marketing budget and then talk to your agency about what you can afford.

It may be worth working with your agency to create a fixed monthly fee arrangement, with an agreed scope of monthly deliverables. This will ensure you can continue to have professional support, but with the peace-of-mind that you know exactly what the bill will be at the end of the month.

6. Increase your focus on reporting

Recession or not, the trick to making every marketing dollar count is knowing where it goes and what it does.

If you haven’t got some solid marketing reporting processes in place already, make this a priority project. There are plenty of digital hubs that will take in data from various sources (get in touch if you’d like a recommendation) or, if you’re old school, a trusty spreadsheet is a good start. Look to measure what you’re spending (broken down by channel) and what impact your efforts are having on KPIs (website sales, lead enquiries, instore visits etc).

Attributing costs to results is the vital piece of the puzzle that will help you get maximum bang for buck. When it comes to digital marketing channels, to ensure your reporting is as insightful as possible, double check that your Google Analytics is set up with the correct conversions (and make sure it’s switched over to GA4 while you’re at it).

Perhaps the most important bit of advice of all… don’t be an ostrich. If you haven’t had to market through tough financial times before, it can feel overwhelming. But, trust us, front-footing your response to a downturn is a far more effective tactic than having to suddenly pull budget mid-year.

And the great news is that challenging times like these can actually benefit your marketing efforts in the long term – making you super-focussed on ROI and hyper-vigilant about ensuring your marketing is delivering the results your organisation needs.

Matter is a social media and content marketing agency, built to deliver results for its clients. Our team is made up of senior marketers, whose previous experience in marketing management means we understand what it’s like to be responsible for delivering successful marketing programmes – and how challenging that can be in a rough economy. If you’re looking for smarter ways to reach your target audiences via social media, check us out: