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Recession. The very word makes us nervous. It’s rooted in the word recede — to withdraw, diminish, decrease — as in “his hairline is receding.” You get the picture. No wonder it gives us the heebie-jeebies, especially if you run a business.
Economic downturns usually trigger all sorts of cost-cutting measures, and digital marketing during a recession is the last thing many brand leaders think about. But that’s a mistake because brands that scuttle their marketing during recessions put their long-term growth at risk. Research bears this out repeatedly: companies that advertise during recessions perform better in the long run. A McGraw-Hill Research study looking at 600 companies from 1980 to 1985 found that those businesses that maintained or raised their marketing spend during the ’81-’82 recession had significantly higher sales (256% higher!) after the economy recovered than those brands that didn’t continue to market themselves.
That’s partly because there are always opportunities to take advantage of during economic dips that aren’t there otherwise, and smart brand leaders capitalize on them through their marketing efforts. A downturn can open the field, creating space in buyers’ minds and allowing brands that continue marketing aggressively to step right in. Furthermore, their cost often comes down because there’s typically less demand for advertising services during tough times. Brands can more easily boost their visibility online via search engine optimization, achieve better pay-per-click efficiency and see an overall greater ROI across campaigns.
Dreaming and dream
There have been approximately 17 recessions in the US over the last century, which means they aren’t unusual. Covid-19 triggered the most recent, the sharpest two-month downturn and shortest recession in US history. But its brevity didn’t keep people from panicking. At my digital marketing agency, we saw a measurable drop in business during the first few months of the pandemic, and we had to make some internal adjustments.
But then a funny thing happened: we stopped freaking out. We realized the pandemic was an opportunity for us to reset priorities and reevaluate goals (and business quickly picked up as a result). We weren’t alone; for many, the pandemic was the chance to start living life on their own terms. The economic uncertainty and layoffs across corporate America encouraged a large swath of people to stop putting their dreams on hold and start investing in themselves. Perhaps not surprisingly, many of those dreamers became first-time franchisees.
Why is that? Well, investing in a franchise during economic uncertainty is attractive for several reasons, including:
- A proven system: The franchise model is a system that has been proven over time to work, removing a lot of pesky guesswork. Franchisors offer investors vetted business models with established processes and procedures, intellectual property, and built-in brand awareness, among other perks. This framework is especially appealing to investors when the economy is iffy.
- Ongoing support: Who wants to handle everything on their own? Not the smart small business owner. They appreciate franchisors’ ongoing support, like national marketing, research and development, thought leadership, and more. This kind of guidance and expertise is especially valuable during economic uncertainty.
- A sense of security: More than anything, franchisees often feel a sense of security they wouldn’t otherwise. It’s a feeling backed by facts; according to the International Franchise Association, 92% of franchise businesses in the US are still operating after five years compared to 50% of independently owned small businesses that fail during the same time. This speaks to the resiliency of the franchise model, which is especially important during challenging times.
The fact is that people don’t stop living during recessions. They don’t stop planning, and they don’t stop taking advantage of opportunities. Investors still invest, and dreamers still dream. Your brand should be there for them through digital marketing strategies that reiterate your value and dedication to meeting their needs, no matter what’s happening in the world.
Making a connection
Yes, you should speak to your buyers during both good times and bad. But digital marketing in a recession demands that your brand be more transparent than ever. You don’t have the luxury of being vague, and you need to reach your audience in ways that go beyond selling to reiterate your brand’s purpose. Buyers have a lot on their minds during economic downturns and, more than ever, prioritize their time and their needs. New cars and vacations don’t usually make the cut. Neither does being strung along. So, when a consumer or investor can turn to your brand during tough times, trust it to be what it says it is, and rely on it to deliver, that brand has made a friend for life.
Good digital marketing is always about honesty and, by extension, connection, which is especially important in a challenging economy. Digital marketing during a recession is the perfect way to remind your buyers that they aren’t alone, that you understand what’s at stake, and that you are not about to take their business for granted — points you should be making no matter what the economy is doing, by the way. That said, when crafting your digital marketing strategy, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is my message empathetic?
- Does it reiterate my brand’s value?
- Does it leave room for discussion?
- Is it genuine?
Honesty and connection are the supportive siblings of a third: generosity. Generous, generous brands take the time to answer questions, explain their worth, understand pain points, and make it easy for consumers and investors to feel good about a partnership with them. Being generous is especially important during recessions because when your brand gives more of itself during tough times, you’ve stopped being one of the thousands and have started singling yourself out as a leader in your industry.
In the end, it may be tempting to cut your marketing budget during downturns because it feels like the quickest and best way to rein in expenses. But at what ultimate cost? Recessions don’t last forever, and your brand still needs to engage with its best customers. Where will it be when the dust settles? Simply put, it pays to keep on keeping on, and your digital marketing should do just that.