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Marketing Insights

How to Recession-Proof Your Marketing and Business


The principals at RSM Marketing have faced the Great Recession of 2007-2009 and all the little recessions since, including the not-so-subtle disruption caused by the pandemic. Facing recessions is no fun, considering our own business and those of our clients. Here are a few key learnings you might want to use with your management team when recession-proofing your company.

Challenge Your Assumptions

Every recession is a little different, so the next one may act differently as well.

Let’s use the ‘Portfolio Analysis Theory’ to approach assumptions.

In their portfolios, every company has its:

  • Cash Cows (low growth, high profit)
  • Stars (high growth, high profit)
  • Problem Children (high growth, low profit)
  • Dogs (slow growth, low profit)

When times are good, we tend to take orders from the Cash Cows, celebrate the growing orders from the Stars, work with the Problem Children, and either tolerate or selectively fire the Dogs.

During a recession, you may see decreased orders within all segments, leaving all of your customers to wonder, “What do we do from here?” Immediately, you’ll need to put credit curbs in place for the Dogs and Problem Children, perhaps requiring prepayment or some other change in terms.

Yes, we just said that. In fact, your Problem Children and Dogs will raise the biggest, or at least loudest, ruckus. You’ll need to “freeze them in place” and point your limited resources towards your Stars. This is where your long-term and strategic opportunities abound. Also, many in the company might start championing discounting. Challenge that! Fundamentally, challenge your team to consider the recession a time of immense opportunity.

During the Great Recession, we saw competitors shed talent that was better than our own. So we fired some and picked up better talent on the cheap. This improved our marketing offerings.

We also decided that some key verticals of larger opportunities were experiencing fee fatigue from our larger, fatter competitors. We contacted many of these and were able to provide faster service of a “pivot” nature and at price points that saved these new customers money but at price points higher than we usually commanded. Now, to do this, we had to hire a salesperson and provide them with marketing support! So it took an investment, one that paid off nicely. It also required courage, because the payoff became apparent only over time.

Piggy-bank-blasting-offIncrease Your Value

Rather than discount your pricing, increase your perceived value. 

When times are good, many customers’ “pain points” may go unnoticed or uncommunicated by your clients. When times turn, what were once small fractures or irritants can quickly become magnified into something larger.

Be the company that is working with your Stars and Cash Cows, in that order. We’ve observed so many companies in times of recession.

They tend to fall into three categories. 

  1. First, those who decidedly hunker down to ride out the storm. These folks shed their sales staff and cut their already underfunded marketing and sales budgets. These are also the companies that shrink the most.
  2. The second kind are those who can’t make up their minds about what to do. They just argue about possibilities and tend to coast. They may end up contracting but not as much as those who hunker down in survival mode.
  3. The last category is those who lean into the wind with some bravado and mojo. These companies show corporate courage. They may have to make some tough financial and staffing decisions, but in general, they’re looking to snap up market share and client share. They also look to engage strategies that will exploit opportunities presented by competitors in the first two categories.

These ‘Category Three’ companies are ready to innovate in two ways:

  1. Product/service design
  2. Customer experience, that way your best talent will reward your leadership’s “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” posture

Innovate Product Service/Design and Customer Experience

There’s a cheater tool we like at RSM, and it’s the question:

“How do we make things easier?” 

If there’s ONE “thing” humans and companies share, it’s the desire to make their lives easier.

During recessions, companies will definitely be looking for “easier” solutions from partners.

  • What does “easier” look like in your product/service designs?
  • What does it look like in your total customer experience?

Fundamentally, companies need to be listening to their customers. What are their gripes, both big and small, about you or your competitors?

Is your billing or your competitor’s billing difficult? Is it time to “give them what they want” in product design?

Fundamentally, you want to be perceived as the caring partner with the mojo. Those who add more value to their customers win during recessions. Easier = better. Therefore, when you make your customers’ lives easier, you are perceived as a better vendor.

Pay Attention to Your Marketing

Here are a few key questions for your management team now:

  1. Do we have any marketing strategies? Are they working? What new marketing strategies do we need? (Marketing strategy is different from business and product strategies.)
  2. What does our brand strategy look like? Do we have ONE word that sums up our brand? Do we understand our value propositions, because if we don’t, how will our market understand them?
  3. How are we making it easier for customers and prospects to find us online and then choose us? Do we even know? (These are tactics, by the way. Most marketing pros confuse tactics with strategies. Websites, blogging and email campaigns are not strategies.)
  4. What marketing technologies are we using to give us an “unfair advantage” during the recession?

When times are good, most companies don’t run a very thorough online marketing program. That’s because they don’t have to work that hard in a buoyant growth environment. Their marketing is just not “tied together” in a way to make marketing an inbound sales opportunity rather than a necessary evil.

Start By Asking Yourself: Does Our Marketing Generate Leads?

In no particular order, here are a few tips to lean forward in your marketing during a recession to generate more inbound leads.

  • Expand your paid advertising to include online searches of your own company’s name. Doing this will help deny ads by your competitors and reduce prospect stealing.
  • Buy ads against your competitors’ names. Yes, now you are stealing searches for their companies (don’t worry, it’s all legal). Many times when a customer searches for their vendor’s name, they’re unhappy and want to talk about that. They’re in a perfect mindset to jump elsewhere. Be there.
  • Expand your search engine optimization (SEO). Most companies have rankings for just the most obvious searches. RSM can provide you with an exhaustive list of what are called “long-tail search terms.” These are all the searches your website and customer categories should command. They may look like this… “what XYZ pumps are the easiest to install and last longer” versus searches for “XYZ pumps.”
    • First, general searches for “XYZ pumps” in this illustration are expensive both in terms of paid ads and SEO effort because more of your competitors are fighting over them. When you develop online content for these long-tail search term opportunities, you not only reduce your total cost of marketing, but you also build a long-term inbound channel while appealing to customers who may pay more for your value-added propositions (or at least make you their choice).
    • They’re also more apt to “buy sooner” because they are farther down their purchase path. In B2B, companies do 75% of their research online prior to contacting anyone.
  • Provide more content to help prospects in their research. Add videos that demystify difficult-to-understand concepts/processes/features. In general, make your important messages visually appealing.
  • Add blogs like a drunken sailor. These blogs should be written against your long-tail keyword opportunities.
  • Start/expand your email campaigns. Change the nature of your communications from “sales” to “helping.”
  • Start sending press releases that tell the stories of every little innovation you make during this time. Let’s say you expand your customer service hours. Send a press release to your customers and prospects and release it online.
  • Add an online customer portal.
  • Tell that story, especially on social media channels like LinkedIn and Twitter. Don’t ask, just do it! It’s all about the purchase decision cycle and SEO. Marketing is really all about who tells the better, more comprehensive story that is the easiest to hear.
  • Take that to the bank. Mark Twain once wrote, “I’m sorry for such a long letter. I didn’t have time to write a short one.” Yes, better marketing requires more effort.

Use marketing technologies to gain an unfair advantage. There are many opportunities here and RSM has a team dedicated to them. We cover it all:

  • Automating your customer/prospect communication and information delivery possibilities through low-code solutions
  • Identifying and automatically marketing in real-time to your website visitors
  • Providing a lead list to your sales team
  • Reducing your paid media spends
  • Enhancing prospect data for superior targeting
  • Real-time reporting of all this and much more

Every year, RSM makes significant investments in maintaining best-of-class marketing technologies and adding new ones that we then allow clients to use. Sorting through all the babble out there is hard and requires real expertise. Even large e-commerce companies who definitely benefit from these markets, let alone B2B, manufacturing and industrial companies, don’t have the teams or budgets to analyze and afford these next-gen solutions.

There’s more to say about all that we’ve mentioned here. If you’d like to hear more, we’re happy to chat about your low-hanging fruit that will produce the most benefit with the most efficiency. Just take a U.S. Marine Corps truth that applies to companies during recessions: movement is life.

Mike has started and led several businesses and is a managing partner at RSM Marketing. Mike has a master's degree in marketing and is a retired lieutenant colonel with the U.S. Marine Corps. Mike's mission is to help corporate and individual brands create a strategic "Unfair Advantage."

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