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Marketing Through Economic Shifts: Eight Areas To Focus On for Stability and Growth

These last few years have been some of the most challenging for many of my customers but surprisingly quite good for others. This is purely anecdotal, but I believe the effort to stimulate the economy by the government has pumped quite a bit of money into industries and corporations that work directly or indirectly with the government or the financial institutions they serve… but inflation and high interest rates have hurt the sales and marketing responses of consumers or small businesses that aren’t downstream of those funds. Additionally, the downturn has dried up much of the cash investors put toward innovative startups and entrepreneurial ventures.

For marketing agencies and consultants, that’s never good news. While their expenses may increase, the results they’re getting for clients may be declining despite their best efforts. It’s difficult for any sales professional or marketing agency to come to the table and blame the economy… even though it may be true.

Before discussing the actions that you can take, let’s provide some general rules of thumb on how good and bad economic times impact marketing. The economy plays a pivotal role, affecting strategies and outcomes whether it’s booming or in a downturn.

When the Economy is Good:

  • Budgets: A thriving economy often means bigger marketing budgets. Businesses invest in new campaigns and initiatives, expanding their marketing efforts.
  • Willingness to Spend: Consumers in good economic times are more willing to spend. They have disposable income and are more inclined to make non-essential purchases.
  • Strategic Flexibility: With a strong economy, businesses can focus on building brand awareness, launching new products, or expanding into new markets, giving them more strategic flexibility.

When the Economy is Bad:

  • Budgets: In tough times, marketing is often one of the first areas businesses cut costs. Because it is often perceived as a discretionary expense, it can be challenging for marketing departments to achieve their objectives.
  • Price Sensitivity: During economic downturns, consumers become more price-sensitive. Financial concerns lead them to hunt for deals and compare prices, making it harder for businesses to sell their products and services at a premium.
  • Strategy Adjustments: Companies may need to adapt their marketing strategies. To maintain sales, they might focus on value-oriented messaging or explore new customer segments.

Generally speaking, we’re talking about risk on the side of the business and price sensitivity on the side of the customer. While I hate seeing businessees and people hurting in a difficult economy, it is an appropriate time for companies to reset their overall marketing department and strategy. I’m definitely not an advocate of cutting all marketing expenditures, I’m talking about taking the time to become lean and mean with every marketing dollar.

Areas To Focus On With Economic Swings

The impact of economic fluctuations is undeniable. It’s a rollercoaster ride, with peaks of prosperity and valleys of adversity. When economies take a downturn, the knee-jerk reaction for many businesses is to cut costs, and marketing budgets are often among the first casualties. However, what’s crucial to understand is that maintaining marketing efforts during economic hardships is not just a matter of survival; it’s about positioning your business for a resurgence when the economic tides turn.

  1. Building and Sustaining Brand Presence: A strong brand presence is not built overnight. Even during economic downturns, consistent marketing efforts help reinforce brand recognition and trust among consumers. When the economy recovers, your business will be top of mind for potential customers who have seen your messaging throughout the challenging times. This head start can be a game-changer as consumers gravitate toward familiar, trusted brands.
  2. Auditing the Marketing Budget for Efficiency: During economic downturns, an essential aspect of maintaining marketing efforts is conducting a thorough audit of your marketing budget. This audit serves as a strategic exercise to ensure that every dollar spent is optimized for maximum impact. Here’s why this step is crucial:
    • Identifying Cost-Saving Opportunities: An in-depth budget analysis can reveal areas where cost savings are possible without compromising your marketing goals. This might include reviewing and reducing unnecessary expenses, eliminating underperforming campaigns, and renegotiating contracts with vendors for better terms.
    • Exploring Automation and AI: As part of the audit, consider opportunities to replace manual efforts with automation and AI. Automation can streamline repetitive tasks, reducing the need for additional staff or resources. AI can enhance marketing efficiency by providing data-driven insights and predictive analytics, helping you make informed decisions.
    • Optimizing SaaS and Vendor Expenses: Evaluate your software-as-a-service (SaaS) subscriptions and vendor relationships. Determine if you can reduce the number of seats, find more cost-effective alternatives, or renegotiate contracts for better rates. This can result in significant cost savings without compromising productivity.
    • Streamlining Manual Processes: Manual processes can be time-consuming and costly. Look for opportunities to automate these processes using technology. For instance, marketing automation tools can handle email marketing, lead nurturing, and customer segmentation, reducing the need for manual intervention.
    • Resource Reallocation: As you audit your budget, consider reallocating resources to areas with higher potential returns. By identifying which marketing channels and campaigns are most effective, you can shift your budget towards those efforts, ensuring you get the best results from your available funds.
  3. Analyzing Marketing Channels: A robust economy allows businesses to use various marketing channels, including traditional and digital platforms. Conversely, cost-effective channels like digital and social media marketing take center stage during economic challenges. While community-building and having a social media presence was great for some brands, it was a luxury that wasn’t having a demonstrable impact on sales (for some clients)… so they’ve reduced staff or dropped social media marketing altogether.
  4. Leveraging Cost-Effective Advertising: Economic downturns often lead to changes in advertising costs. With less competition in advertising, businesses can secure ad placements at more affordable rates. This cost-efficiency allows you to stretch your marketing budget further and maintain a visible presence without breaking the bank.
  5. Nurturing Customer Relationships: Marketing isn’t just about acquiring new customers; it’s equally essential for retaining existing ones. Staying engaged with your customer base through consistent marketing efforts showcases your commitment to their needs and concerns. It also provides an opportunity to offer special promotions, loyalty incentives, or a reassuring message that fosters customer loyalty, which is crucial for long-term success.
  6. Swift Response to Economic Recovery: When the economic tide turns and begins to rise, businesses that have maintained their marketing efforts are in a prime position to capitalize on the resurgence. They can quickly roll out campaigns, introduce new products or services, and take advantage of renewed consumer confidence. This swift response can be a significant advantage in a competitive market.
  7. Adapting to Changing Consumer Behavior: Economic downturns can lead to shifts in consumer behavior. People become more discerning, seeking value and stability. By adjusting your marketing strategies to align with these shifting preferences, you can remain relevant and continue meeting the evolving needs of your audience.
  8. Rebuilding Your Marketing Team: This is difficult, but just as a new sports season requires new talent, so does a new economy. During challenging economic times, reevaluating your marketing team and structure is vital to maintain marketing efforts. By rebuilding your marketing team with an eye on efficiency and effectiveness, you can maintain marketing efforts, adapt to changing economic conditions, and position your business for success. This approach allows you to leverage a mix of in-house expertise, outsourcing, automation, and flexible staffing to maximize your marketing impact while managing costs effectively. Here are key strategies to rebuild your team for efficiency and effectiveness:
    • Replacing People with Services and Automation: Consider where manual efforts can be replaced with services or automation. This could involve using marketing software and tools to streamline tasks like data analysis, content scheduling, or lead nurturing. By automating repetitive processes, your team can focus on high-impact strategic activities. As well, automation can reduce downstream issues associated with human intervention.
    • Outsourcing Specialized Tasks: In situations where in-house expertise is lacking or expensive, outsourcing specialized tasks can be a cost-effective solution. This might include content creation, graphic design, SEO, or social media management. Outsourced professionals bring specific skills and knowledge to complement your team.
    • Hiring a Fractional CMO (Chief Marketing Officer): Hiring a fractional CMO is an excellent option for businesses that need senior-level marketing leadership but can’t afford a full-time CMO. These experienced professionals can provide strategic direction, oversee marketing efforts, and ensure your team operates efficiently without the full-time commitment and cost.
    • Cross-Training and Upskilling: Encourage cross-training and upskilling within your marketing team. This ensures that team members can handle a broader range of tasks, making your team more flexible and adaptable. Training can also help employees stay updated on the latest marketing trends and technologies.
    • Flexible Staffing: In uncertain economic climates, having a flexible staffing approach can be advantageous. This may involve using freelancers or temporary hires during peak periods, scaling back during slower times, and providing staff flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances.
    • Strategic Team Composition: Analyze your team’s composition to ensure it aligns with your marketing goals. This may involve shifting roles or responsibilities, consolidating functions, or creating specialized teams for specific campaigns.

Marketing efforts during an economic downturn is not just a cost-saving measure; it’s a strategic investment in the future. It’s about building and maintaining brand recognition, leveraging cost-effective opportunities, nurturing customer relationships, adapting to changing consumer behavior, and positioning your business to capitalize on the economic recovery.

Marketing Message Examples In A Challenging Economy

In prosperous times, marketing messages tend to be aspirational, focusing on emotional benefits. In a bad economy, messages become value-oriented, highlighting practical benefits. Here are ten examples of marketing messaging in a challenging economy for various industries:

  • Roofing Company: Protect Your Home, Save Your Wallet: Fix Your Roof Now and Avoid Future Costly Repairs.
  • Car Company: Drive Smart, Save Big: Discover Our Fuel-Efficient Cars for Cost-Conscious Drivers.
  • Financial Advisory Firm: Secure Your Future: Let Us Help You Build a Stable Financial Portfolio.
  • Insurance Company: Don’t Risk Tomorrow’s Uncertainties: Insure Your Peace of Mind Today.
  • Real Estate Agency: Invest Wisely, Secure Your Future: Find Stable Properties for Long-term Gains.
  • Energy: Cut Costs, Conserve Energy: Our Solutions for a Sustainable and Cost-Effective Future.
  • Grocery Store: Save More, Spend Less: Stock Up on Essentials at Unbeatable Prices.
  • Healthcare Provider: Preventive Care, Financial Peace: Take Control of Your Health and Finances.
  • Legal Services: Protect Your Assets, Secure Your Legacy: Our Legal Experts for Your Financial Safety.
  • Home Security Company: Guard What Matters Most: Invest in Home Security for Long-term Peace of Mind.

The economy wields substantial influence over marketing departments and their efforts. To thrive, marketing teams must be adaptable and responsive to changes in the economic climate, tailoring their strategies accordingly. Need assistance?

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Douglas Karr

Douglas Karr is the founder of the Martech Zone and CEO of DK New Media. Douglas has helped dozens of successful MarTech startups, has assisted in the due diligence of over $5 bil in Martech acquisitions and investments, and continues to assist companies in implementing and automating their sales and marketing strategies. Douglas is an internationally recognized digital transformation and MarTech expert and speaker. Douglas is also a published author of a Dummie's guide and a business leadership book.

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