3 Guidelines for Marketing in a Recession

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A bear market is upon us, inflation continues, and economists put the chances of a recession at 44%. Marketing is often quick to face cuts during economic downturns, as many leaders view marketing as an optional expense — great to spur growth when money flows easily and relatively easy to cut when the going gets tough.

How can marketers overcome this challenge and optimize spend to drive growth even during tough economic times? Here are three guidelines for marketers to follow.

Balance short- and long-term goals

Recessions incentivize short-term thinking. Lean into everything helping you hit goals today, and dial down activities like content marketing that tend to drive results over a longer period of time.

But shutting down long-term plays like content can leave brands at a disadvantage over, well, the long term. If your competitors are gradually building large audiences on social platforms while you depend entirely on ads, those audiences will be there to support them after the recession. Your audience will not.

To that end, marketers need to focus on the tactics driving results today while maintaining budget for one or two long-term strategies. The key is to invest enough in the strategies you do choose that you can be sure the channel is or isn’t working for you. Don’t lean in halfway just to end up unsure if the channel is not a fit or if you just did not pour enough money into it.

“The balance between immediate, short-term sales growth and long-term brand equity is a tough one that we are all going to be challenged to execute in the months to come,” said Kayla Dillon, head of marketing at Bar Louie. “I think it’s important as a leader in marketing to understand the low-hanging fruit that can have the largest impact on short-term needs while also keeping the long-term goals intact. You don’t need to throw the entire budget and plan away, but we need to think differently.”

Don’t cut every tactic you can’t easily measure

During a downturn, marketing organizations, CFOs, and CEOs are going to feel pressure to cut spend, especially on activities that can’t be clearly linked to revenue.

This is understandable. Your organization’s belt is probably tightening, and if you’re the VP of marketing making decisions with your boss’ trust on the line, it’s easy to lean into marketing tactics with clear ROI and give up those that do not easily lend themselves to attribution.

But do your research. Analyses of billions of dollars in marketing spend have found that while performance channels drive short-term gains, branding really does drive greater returns over the long term. Simply prioritizing channels that you can easily measure can undermine the bottom line.

So, if you must cut some spend, you’ll cut spend. But make the decision on if and what to cut after carefully reviewing the data, not after glancing at Facebook ad performance and comparing it to returns on PR, content, TV ads, and other forms of marketing that simply don’t lend themselves as much to attribution.

Figure out metrics where possible for brand activities

Brand marketers can get blue in the face about how attribution can’t be the be-all, end-all of marketing, but at the same time, their case is stronger if they can put numbers to it.

So, marketers should develop a system for tracking leads and revenue generated by their activities, including brand plays like thought leadership content. Even if the system doesn’t cover all a marketing strategy’s value, it can give the organization some idea of the cold, hard revenue a tactic like LinkedIn content is driving.

Consider other quantitative metrics for branding activities, too. How many people read that publication where you secured coverage? How much social engagement are you driving? What’s the cost of pulling back on PR activities or content? How many conversions has organic social content generated that turned into discovery calls, sign-ups, and fresh revenue?

The truth is, with everything going digital, brand and performance marketing are converging, even if attribution isn’t a good framework to evaluate every marketing tactic or channel. So, marketers on what has historically been considered the brand side can and should make both qualitative and quantitative cases for the value they drive.

Joe Zappa is the Managing Editor of Street Fight. He has spearheaded the newsroom's editorial operations since 2018. Joe is an ad/martech veteran who has covered the space since 2015. You can contact him at [email protected]