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Marketing in a market downturn

There is no question that the market took a significant downturn due to businesses scaling back, shutting down and shifting priorities due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It would make sense that traditional marketing needs to shift as well. This is especially true when your customers have changed their own priorities and might consider a sales pitch or flashy campaign insensitive.

Is the answer to just stop marketing your business, pull all your ads and hunker down until consumers are in a buying mood again?

Quite the opposite, in fact. Your marketing might need a slight course correction, but there is no need to take your foot off the gas if you are conscientious of your surroundings, are agile and prepared to put on the breaks when it is necessary.

To understand marketing during an economic recession, you need to understand the dynamics of a recession. Without getting too technical, each recession has three phases — the fall, the rise and the growth. Your marketing will be focused on softening the fall, shortening the duration of the rise and accelerating the growth.

The most important marketing step you can make right now, while we are still struggling to fully recover, is to invest in branding and understand your customers during the fall and slump.

Your marketing should be focused on messaging that builds loyalty and familiarity. You are part of your community, and it makes sense to let your customers (and potential customers) know how you are helping them.

Be empathetic and sensitive to the stresses and anxieties of your customers. You may have to change your images or messaging that were perfect before COVID-19. Your message should be informative and positive, but not naïve.

During the fall is also when you can identify and market those products or services that are most relevant to customers now. Customers behave differently during an economic downturn as well. Most at the very least scale back their spending — some more aggressively than others — and re-prioritize their typical buying.

Use whatever data you can — sales numbers, web visits, click rates on email campaigns or social media posts — to understand what your customers are most interested in right now. Use your media investments to boost these items. And put marketing for other products, launches or initiatives that do not relate to your customers’ immediate needs on the back burner for now.

An economic downturn is also the time to get creative. Insert some personality and content into your marketing through email and web to help you stand out and build relationships. Explore new ways of delivering your services and invite your customers into that journey. Invest time in resources you haven’t explored, like search engine optimization or digital marketing.

The brand loyalty and customer insight you build to soften your fall will also boost your rise when the economy rebounds. Spend the time now to consider how your brand can stand out and invest in the planning and tools you will need to remain top of mind and first in line when your customers are ready to return. And, eventually, you will be in a great position to invest in marketing that will help your business grow along with the economy.

The past few months have been uncertain for businesses and customers alike. You can be a source of certainty, hope and assurance for your customers by listening to their needs and returning to your mission with your marketing. And, when stability returns to our world, your customers will know they can rely on you and hopefully return the favor.