How To Market in an Economic Downturn

We know that life is filled with different seasons.  Sometimes we live through a season where things are going well…and sometimes not so much.  From an economic perspective, this feels like one of those “not so much” times.  While I don’t want to over-react and start using the “R” word, I think it’s safe to say we are in an economic downturn.  Inflation is a big concern across all sectors, the supply chain is still not back together, and interest rates have risen quickly.

So what do we do now?  How do we market in an economic downturn?

While economic downturns are challenging, plenty of companies thrive in them.  While the competition and the market panics, these companies seem to not only weather the storm but come out on the other side with a stronger boat (or umbrella…you get the metaphor).  Here are some strategies to market your organization in a challenging economic time.

Keep Your Customers Close

When it comes to marketing in tough times, keeping your current clients is job 1.  The best organizations take care of their customers all of the time…but especially in tough times. One simple way to do this is to show them appreciation.  Studies will tell us that 69% of customers that leave you will do so because of “perceived indifference.”  They leave because they don’t think you care!  Creating an ongoing system of appreciation is a great way to let your top clients (you know, the top 20%) that you value them and their business.

I say ongoing because it’s not just a one-time thing!  Customers are hit with thousands of advertising images a day.  By showing appreciation consistently, your organization is able to fight through that clutter and create real relationships that stand the test of time.  One way to help customers become a strong member of the tribe is to provide them with quality branded merchandise.  The immediate impact is powerful and long-lasting.

Action Step:  Create a quarterly appreciation program to consistently thank your top 20% of clients.

Grow With Those Clients

Studies will tell you that it’s easier to get a current client to buy from you than a new one.  They already trust you.  And yet so many organizations spend all of their time and resources on mining for new customers. New customers are vital of course (and we will get to that), offering your product to your current client base is often the best way to spur sales.  Make sure you create campaigns with current clients in mind…especially in tough times.

Action Step:  Create a VIP deal for your current clients.  Not only will it make them feel special, but it will likely drive sales as well!

Make Your Prospects Targeted

If you want to grow your business, you will need new customers.  But during an economic downturn is not the time to do a shotgun blast approach.  “If everyone is your customer, no one is your customer.”  Now is the time to get hyper-focused on who you want to serve.  This will allow you to be more creative and more valuable to your partners during this time.  This doesn’t mean you need to get rid of your current customers!  It just means that when you are using marketing dollars and resources, you are crafting them to a much narrower audience.

Action Step:  Create a niche that you want to target and serve in your marketing and start to create a plan to tell your story to them.

Focus On “Owned” Media

When it comes to marketing your organization, you can rent media or you can own it.  Most of us are familiar (and comfortable) with rented media.  The radio station “owns” the audience.  We pay them for access to that audience for a brief window in time.  We rent that media.  The same is true for all traditional media.  And make no mistake, the same is true for social media.  They own those audiences.  Even if Facebook makes it feel like the followers are ours, they are not.  That is still rented media.

Owned media is the audience that has opted in to hear from us.  This is your email or text list.  These people have raised their hand and signed up for a newsletter, downloaded a book, or joined your tribe on purpose.  You “own” this audience and you get to decide what and when you send them communications.  This list is incredibly valuable to your organization and is a powerful tool for marketing during a challenging time.

Pro-tip:  Make sure you are adding value through your list…not just barraging them with ads.  Remember, they can unsubscribe!

Action Step:  Start to create new ways for people to join your “list.”  Once you have an “owned audience,” create a schedule of regular communications you send out that adds them value and communicates your value.

Create Content That Adds Value

Adding value is always a great strategy, but especially now.  One powerful way to add value to your prospects and customers (and drive traffic to your website) is to create content.  This is a wonderful time to create a blog, video series, or podcast that is hosted on your website.  We certainly do our best to do that.  One of the best ways to get started is to simply create content around what your clients are already asking you.  Make a list of the top 5 or 10 questions you (and your team) get asked every day.  Now…create a piece of content that thoroughly answers that.  This is a great way to add value, drive traffic to your site, and ask them to join your tribe.  You can join our tribe here by the way.

Action Step:  Start (or re-start) to create content that serves your client.

See The People

Some of the best sales advice I ever got was very early in my career.  “When in doubt, go and see the people.”  In sales, it is incredibly easy to sit behind your desk and wait for the phone to ring.  And when times are rocking, this seems to work.  But in an economic downturn, you have to be proactive.  You can’t just sit back and wait for customers to come to you.  This is the time to go on offense.  It might mean upping your social media game, attending conferences where your customers go (read this if you are going to do that), or even just getting out of the office and going to physically “see” your customers.

Action Step:  Create a strategy to get out of the office and go to where your customers are.

Increase Your Marketing

Of course, the marketing guy says this, right?

But here’s the thing.  During economic squeezes, most people react in fear and retract.  The boldest companies dare to do the opposite.  Now is a time to invest and look to gain market share while your competitors are afraid to stick their heads out and see their shadow.  This doesn’t mean throwing money around irresponsibly.  That’s why this is the last tip.  If you follow the advice of creating value, focusing on a targeted market, and growing your current client base, you can do this effectively.

At a recent conference, I listened to Dean Graziosi talk about the economic downturn and his advice was simple.  “Whatever you planned to spend on marketing this year…double it.”

Update:  One place to focus on your marketing is on video.  Here are 10 videos we think every growing organization needs to consider.

Action Tip:  While your competitors cut back, look for ways to wisely increase your efforts.

Bonus:  Invest In Your Team

“Nothing kills a bad business faster than good marketing.”  For real.  There is no sense in investing in a great marketing campaign in order to send your prospect or customer to a frustrated employee.  The experience will do nothing but chase a good lead away forever.

Now is a great time to make sure your team knows you appreciate them.  I talk in detail here about how to build appreciation into each day.  But suffice it to say, if you are building a tribe with your customers, make sure your team feels a part of it!

Action Tip:  Create internal branded merchandise that the team actually wants to wear!  It doesn’t need to have a logo on the front.  Connect it to the mission!

These are just a few tips on how to market your organization in an economic downturn.  If you want to join our tribe, feel free to sign up here.  And if you want help creating a plan to help your organization not only survive but thrive, let us know!

Written by: Kirby Hasseman

Kirby Hasseman is the CEO of Hasseman Marketing & Communications. Kirby hosts a weekly Web show called Delivering Marketing Joy where he interviews business leaders from around the country. Kirby has published four books. His most recent is “Fan of Happy.” His book, called "Delivering Marketing Joy" is about doing “promo right” and is perfect for people in the industry and customers. He also wrote “Think Big For Small Business” and “Give Your Way to Success. All are available on Amazon.