Despite a strong labor market, economists are warning of tough times ahead: Some are predicting an upcoming recession in the next few months, and some even consider the U.S. currently in a recession.
What that means for marketers is a pending drought in the lead pipeline — cue sirens and red flashing lights.
We can anticipate that the number of in-market buyers will contract quite significantly. This will be partly triggered by customers cutting spending but mostly will be the result of a simple lack of confidence. After all, the knee-jerk reaction when businesses are faced with economic uncertainty is to freeze and wait it out.
If we know this, then we can react accordingly. We can start with a common-sense move away from lead generation and bottom-of-the-funnel tactics (because there are far fewer bottom-of-the-funnel opportunities in a recession). We can ramp up demand generation and create content that speaks to how our product or service can help customers make money, save money or compete more effectively in a tough climate.
If we can show customers that they have an urgent and important problem and that solving it will result in increased revenue, we can make a rock-solid case for change and investment.
There is, of course, one strategy that’s even more powerful than demand generation in a difficult economic climate, but it takes courage: Branding. In a recession, brand becomes far more important when companies are making decisions about what to buy. Because they do still buy — only less often, and sales take longer because customers are more risk-averse.
When they do buy, you might think they spend days researching and shortlisting all the possible options. In fact, they simply make a list of all the brands they can recall by memory, and then they might add a couple they’ve been recommended by people they trust and respect (or that are tacked on by procurement).
Our mental availability for brand recall is very limited. A whole team might only be able to list four or five names in any single category — and that’s a reasonably sized shortlist.
What this means is companies that have invested in creating a distinctive, customer-focused brand will outperform short-term competitors during a recession and as we come out the other side. Need proof? Research by CEB and Google found that companies that ignore the need to create an effective brand are 5X less likely to be considered, 12X less likely to be bought and, even if they do somehow swing the deal, are 30X less likely to be able to command a premium price.
In a recession, this is a very big deal.
In fact, weighting your marketing efforts towards brand should be a foundational strategy in or out of a recession. By investing in your brand, you’re laying the groundwork for when businesses come out of hiding and back into the market. The prize is to be the vendor that’s the automatic addition to any shortlist.
4 Marketing Money Savers
During a recession, it’s also more likely that your budget will be cut. Here are some areas you might look at to find cost savings:
- Look critically at your martech stack: What’s unused and what isn’t showing any returns? Most departments are suffering from stack bloat — work out what you cannot do without and cut the rest.
- If you are heavily investing in programmatic advertising, stop now. It’s a waste of money (unless you have shares in bot farms). Instead, research editorial opportunities. What are your customers reading? Go to the publishers of those sites and buy advertising directly from them. Individual ads cost more, but your overall costs will come down.
- If you’re spending loads of money with large marketing agencies, you’re probably wasting money. They have more mouths to feed, and holding companies force them to charge a minimum retainer (“We won’t get out of bed for less than $20K a month.”). Look for smaller firms with smaller overheads and you’ll probably enjoy a better level of service, too.
- In terms of content creation, there are ways to save money, but it comes down to granular techniques (e.g., a live video shot on location is generally more expensive than producing animated video), and the savings tend to be marginal. As a rule of thumb, don’t scrimp on creative. It’s better to be noticed by 10% than ignored by 100%. If you’re inoffensive or bland, you’ll risk two things happening. One: You’ll be instantly ignored and you’ll have wasted money producing content no one cares about. Two: People will often assume that what you’ve created comes from the market leader, so you’ll simply be propping up your main competitor’s activity.
Jason Ball is the founder of B2B marketing agency Considered Content, whose clients include Google, Oracle, AT&T, EY and Microsoft. Ball is also behind Prolific, a first-of-its-kind managed content service created for the B2B sector. He helps ambitious marketers differentiate their brands, generate demand and reduce friction from the buyer journey.