Should you invest in marketing during an economic downturn?

Marketing in an economic crisis? It’s a must!

With the upheaval in government, cost of living crisis, growing interest rates and rising inflation, the chances of a ‘R word’ appears to be looming over us. I’m certainly not a doomsayer, and, while I hope the economy remains steadfast, all this talk about the economic downturn has got me looking forwards and backwards. 

You see, if we do enter another economic emergency in the UK, it will be the third one I’ve experienced as employee and employer. When I was 17, working in a large advertising agency, the UK economy had been out of recession for three years but was still having a major impact businesses like the agency I worked for. With a team of circa 50 working on defence and telco clients, I remember vividly how challenging a period it was for the agency, as their own clients were experiencing liquidation and take-overs. This is where I first realised the impact of the proverbial saying “don’t put all your eggs inti one basket”.

For the agency they had not acted quickly enough to future-proof their business or plan for new markets that were either recession proof or that were growing and this is one of the biggest mistakes an organisation can make.

Marketing is more than ‘bells’ and ‘whistles’. It’s a plan for the future of the business. 

Flash-forward to the second economic recession in 2008, when I was working as a director of an architecture practice. This time it was my responsibility to drive business growth and propel our company forwards. Of course, when the second recession hit, it was quite different. Our business turnover was circa 80% residential with one client that made up most of that revenue. So we had to act fast. As the marketer, the first thing I did was to explore new markets based on the strength and track record we had gained. Thankfully, we did, converting the majority of revenue to education and health. 

Marketing is like networking. If you stop, you’ll soon be forgotten. 

I empathise with the fact that, when budgets are tight and stakeholders are stressed, the pressure is on for marketers to demonstrate their value or risk losing precious funding.

The first thing to understand is the undeniable value of marketing and everything it encompasses. Marketing, as a discipline, is multifaceted. It encompasses sales, business development, marketing communications, brand profiling and brand awareness.  

In the attention economy, when your brand is out of sight, it’s also very much out of mind. It’s kind of like networking as a business professional. You must keep your face on the scene and regularly check in with your contacts. Otherwise, you’ll soon become a stranger. 

The risk, then, of failing to market during challenging times connects to the longevity of your business. By forgoing marketing, you’re also forgoing your market share, customer relationships and all the money you’ve already invested in building a brand profile. 

As many business owners can relate to post-covid, post-recession, you’d have to start again from scratch – if your company even manages to survive. While this might sound doom and gloom, I simply cannot stress enough the value of marketing when times are tough.

How to continue marketing during challenging periods

For many organisations, challenging economic times may mean less marketing budget than usual – and that’s OK, as long as the budget is spent wisely. There are ways to maximise your marketing and BD so you can have the most impact.

So, here are some of my top marketing tips when times are tough. 

1. Adaption and agility are crucial – “YOU CAN’T SELL WHAT YOU DON’T HAVE!”

If you haven’t thought about some form of innovation for your business, now may be the time to start. Yesterday on radio 4, I heard that ‘innovation can be a sideway step’ and this is absolutely the case. Take something that works well and make it better.

It might sound obvious, but you cannot sell what you don’t have. If you’re in a sector that could be hit hard by a recession, start thinking now about how you could adapt your service offering to give your customers what they will need. 

2. Harness outsourced talent

All SME business leaders always need more time, more talented employees and more resources! They don’t have time to push their brands and hiring internal marketing teams is never a priority during challenging economic times. This is where outsourcing becomes vital.  Companies like ours essentially become your virtual marketing team, with all the expertise you need for brand building – from business development expertise, bid writing to marketing campaigns – all at a fraction of the cost and stress of hiring employees full-time. 

3. Recycle your content

There’s no doubt that your brand will have built up a wealth of content over the last few years: social media posts, white papers, webinars, quality answers in your bid documents – the list goes on! It’s wise to get into the habit of repurposing and refreshing your content. When carried out intelligently, this is a straightforward way to keep budgets low and your reach high.  

4. Invest in your relationships

I once heard that, in both life and business, the allies you have make all the difference. Whether your allies are friends, business partners or trusted customers, these relationships are so important to nurture. 

Allyship is a two-way street. It’s just as much about giving as it is taking. So, throughout your career, take time to foster connections with the people you come into contact with. You don’t have to make big gestures – there’s a lot of power in a coffee or a phone call!

And that, in a way, is what we’re here for. When times are tough, or you need support with raising your brand profile, our team is your ally, here to help you strengthen your brand, improve your positioning and come out of any downturns stronger than before.