6 Ways Marketing Drives Growth in a Recession

January 13, 2024
By Pam Berg

One of the first budgets most businesses cut during a recession is marketing – and that’s a huge mistake.

Marketing is critical to help businesses survive economic downturns. Cutting your budget or pausing your efforts is the last thing you should do. 

Let’s get right into the issue here. Businesses around North America are feeling the stress from all sides:

Whether your customers are people or other businesses, they have less money to spend right now. But that doesn’t mean they don’t still need products and services

They just have to be more careful with their budgets, do more research before buying, and get a lot more reassurance along the path to purchase. A well-marketed company stands to not only survive tough times, but to earn customers away from competitors. 

In this article we’ll break down why it’s smart to invest in marketing during a recession, how it works, and what you can do to adapt your marketing strategy. 

Why Does Marketing Matter in a Downturn?

When people are thinking harder about how they spend their money (or if they even should), you have to try harder to win their confidence. That’s just a fact.

But let’s instead look at the benefit to you, the business.

If sales are slowing down, why would you give up on the tactics that help increase awareness and attract potential leads? And consider this: if your competitors are making cuts and slowing down their marketing, why wouldn’t you take advantage and fill that gap?

It’s also important to remember that when it comes to marketing (especially SEO), it’s much harder to regain lost ground than it is to maintain. 

Economic slowdowns don’t last forever. Markets are cyclical,” said our founder, Shawn Johnston, who has been through three such recessions as a business owner. “Investing in your digital marketing will set you up for success when the economy inevitably bounces back.”

“In some ways, a slowdown is an advantage,” he added. “It gives you time to focus on your business, your operations, your process, your marketing, and improve your systems and strategies. That way when things get busy again, you don’t just go back to keeping up. Now you have a stronger underlying strategy to drive you forward.”

How Marketing Drives Growth in a Recession

Here are 10 specific ways marketing strategy combats the impact of recession.

1. Never Stops Selling

Marketing assets have the unique ability to fill in operational gaps created by a recession, like scaled-back business hours or reduced staffing. 

Your website, social media, and any digital ads will work for you around the clock. The more of these marketing assets you actively, strategically maintain during a downturn, the better off you’ll be:

  • Optimized, up-to-date website 
  • Active social media channels
  • Email list and outreach strategy
  • Website FAQs
  • Support and/or demo videos (on-site and on social)
  • Resources or self-serve support documentation
  • PPC ad campaigns 

2. Helps You Get Found

An ongoing marketing strategy will ensure that your website is optimized for how people are currently searching for your products or services. If anything changes in marketing tactics or audience behaviour that would impact your discoverability, you’ll be ready to pivot.

If you stay on top of your SEO, social media, and content marketing strategies, your assets will continually attract potential buyers to your site and profiles. This means you can maintain or even increase your company’s reach despite having a tighter overall budget or fewer staff.  

3. Gives You a Platform

Competition is higher when people have less money to spend, and it’s easy for businesses to get left behind. Content marketing is the solution

“For any business wanting to thrive on the other side of a downturn, your digital strategy should include content marketing, specifically, content publication like blog writing,” said Johnston. “Ensure that you have an actual editorial calendar, and use slower time to do topic brainstorming, do keyword research.”

Producing quality content that piques interest by putting your customer first gives you a fresh offering to appease Google, and attract potential new customers via the search results. It also gives you something fresh to share on social or email channels, to bring people back to your website. Regularly putting out new, relevant content further helps you stay front-of-mind when someone is ready to buy. 

And if you can afford to run ad campaigns, they’re quite effective at making you visible and generating traffic, especially for new sites that aren’t yet earning a lot of organic traffic. 

4. Keeps Visitors On Your Site

Just like in a booming economy, your SEO and outreach efforts work to attract potential customers – but what are you doing to nurture them when they arrive? They need more convincing to stay than they did before.

Obviously your site needs to be fast-loading and look current and professional. But the same content and messaging might not work when budgets are tighter and buyers are feeling anxious about ROI. 

A marketing strategy for UX and UI design, and content writing and copywriting (not the same thing!), is critical for cautious customers. You want to reassure them from the moment they land on your site that considering you is the right move. 

Adjusting these areas to suit changing audience needs and attitudes will ensure a positive reaction, so visitors feel encouraged to scroll.  

5. Creates a Relationship

Perhaps most importantly in a bad economy and global turmoil, your marketing assets can empathize

Most of your customers won’t talk to a human on your team until they’ve engaged with your digital assets multiple times – if they even have to talk to a human at all. So all of your digital assets need to be fine-tuned to address their worries up front, and speak to the outcome you’ll help achieve. 

“How does your offering help your audience solve their problems and why do you do it? If that messaging and that story is clear, then you’ll be well positioned,” said Johnston. “If it’s not clear and other people have done a better job, then you’re going to get lost in that noise.”

6. Does the Convincing

Particularly in the B2B space, people need to know they’ll see results before committing to a big investment. During a recession that need basically doubles. 

Potential clients may spend even longer than they already do researching businesses and making purchase decisions, or they may be wondering if they should hold off on buying until the economy turns around.

Your marketing assets can help sway the customer’s decision by:

  • Having the right tone and messaging
  • Showcasing your values, commitment, and customer care
  • Providing ample proof of your expertise and trustworthiness
  • Showing evidence of your past successes
  • Demonstrating social proof 
  • Delivering highly convincing copy and microcopy at the right time, and in the right place
  • Remarketing to site visitors who didn’t convert
  • Upselling existing customers

Some of this may be starting to sound redundant, but that’s because there are so many smaller pieces within even just a website and a single social account! And if any one of them is off, it can cost you a sale. 

But if you have a cohesive plan for your whole marketing ecosystem, you can be the business that grabs those leads and sales. 

Bonus: What Should You Adapt in Your Marketing Strategy?

“The best thing I can say is not to lose hope,” said Johnston. “If you use downtime and slow times to be as productive as possible, to make improvements and create as long-term a plan as possible, you’ll set yourself up for success when it bounces back.”

The key takeaway here is that the same marketing tactics you’ve been using may not work in a recession. You might need to adapt at least one area of your strategy, and update several of your assets. Maybe even more than once, depending on how long the downturn lasts. 

Here’s a quick list of what to review and adjust (besides budgets) so you stay visible, and make those conversions:

  1. Audit your marketing tech, consider new tools that do more for less
  2. Audit your platforms, dedicate budget/time strategically to those with higher engagement 
  3. Update your brand guidelines, make sure all digital assets are on-brand
  4. Update messaging and tone to address new concerns 
  5. Update keyword research, including competitor audits
  6. Update content to play up benefits, differentiator, and pain points solved
  7. Collect and amplify social proof to reassure potential customers
  8. Audit your site for conversion barriers, improve CRO
  9. Add new conversion and micro-conversion data points
  10. Adjust your goals, be realistic about what’s achievable
  11. Reward loyalty, invest more in existing customers who are already convinced
  12. Improve your analytics reporting to more quickly pivot 

With the addition of effective AI prompts you can automate some marketing tasks to squeeze more out of your efforts.

I hope you’ve found this at least a little reassuring. The most important thing is to be patient. Try to avoid drastic moves with your SEO and marketing, because it’s really hard to recover lost traffic and rankings. 

We’re all in this together! 

Pam Berg

Pam has backgrounds in journalism, computer forensics, and public libraries, which add up to the perfect mindset for digital strategy. She's been a professional content writer for over 20 years, and working with clients in SEO and analytics for 8 years. Her Instagram feed is equal parts horses, waffles, and drag performers.

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