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All the talk of a recession is forcing small business owners to hope for the best and prepare for the worst. To understand how small businesses are preparing, I reached out to several marketing agencies that specialize in working with entrepreneurs to grow and scale. Preparing for a downhill period of time is like cross-country skiing. You have to be prepared to weather the storm. To help, I’ve combined your feedback with the marketing strategies we’re implementing in our company to be prepared for whatever the future may hold.
There will not be a one-size-fits-all approach. Your approach will depend on your current situation and the level of marketing you have implemented. At the larger end of the small business market, you’ll have a full marketing team and multiple agencies supporting your business. And on the smaller end of the spectrum, you might have a single marketing manager. Evaluate each of these strategies to see how they will apply to your business and adjust them for your focus.
Related: 6 Proven Business Marketing Strategies to Grow During a Recession
Create trigger points for changes in marketing spend
If there is a recession, we can expect revenue to decline. If that happens, what will happen to marketing spend? It’s best to plan these decisions ahead of time when you’re not under the stress of the moment. Where will spending decrease? Where will spending increase? What metrics will you use to measure the success or failure of initiatives? What is your target cost per lead? What is your target cost per new customer? These are all questions entrepreneurs are asking themselves and their marketing teams right now.
We are working to establish baselines. It’s like building an airplane while we fly. We’re seeing some categories like advertising and email declining since the Apple iOs15 update, and it’s hard to tell when we’ll hit the floor. Meanwhile, we’re seeing others like thought leadership, influencer marketing, and podcasts rise, and we’re not sure when we’ll hit the ceiling. The key is to stay on top of the marketing mix and be accountable to understand what really drives the needle we need to move. A complete strategy will consider new account marketing, customer marketing, and partner marketing for a holistic strategy.
Invest in branding and messaging to stay ahead of the competition
Companies are redoubling their bid to stand out from the crowd. Bob Gillespie, founder of Propr Digital, said his clients are moving toward differentiation through powerful branding and messaging. “Brands are looking to stand out. And once they do, they want that differentiation to widen. We’re finding that companies are investing in their corporate brand and messaging on the front-end and then carrying it through all of their campaigns to create greater brand awareness in a more competitive marketing environment.
This is something we chose to do during the pandemic. We knew that the market was changing and we could not compete in size as a small company. So we knew we had to stand out and make every interaction count. We hired a branding agency to come. They turned our brand on its head and came back with something that truly sets us apart in the marketplace. We then hired a courier agency to come in and line up our sales messages. Now, we’re focused on making an impact and being memorable at every touchpoint.
Related: How Small Businesses Can Survive and Thrive in a Recession
Be strategic about ad spend and its purpose.
If revenue declines, most companies will reduce their advertising spend. Steve Krakower of the Harbor Marketing Agency says, “This will make it harder to scale.” He recommends asking yourself, “How do you acquire customers more efficiently? Focus on Return on Ad Spend as your big metric and reset expectations. Growth may be slower. Days when you put $1 into Facebook and you get $5 out. So what we’re trying to do is focus on brand building. We’re putting out a lot of content to build a community around brands and businesses. Then we’re supplementing that advertising more sweat for results than five years ago, and in today’s market, branding isn’t optional.”
He also recommends that you “be smart about your spending. You don’t have to ride out the recession. You may not be as aggressive. You need to make sure you can weather the storm while positioning yourself to climb afterward.”
Combine forces to amplify resources
This is not a time to go it alone. Positioning as part of a “whole set” implies better value; People assume that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Brian Taylor of Goldiata Creative says, “Align with other recession-proof companies. Look for industries that will have less of an impact during a recession, such as government, health care, and consumer goods.”
We made a strategic shift to align with specific partners on our go-to-market strategy. We realized that with a small marketing team of three, we couldn’t boil the ocean. We had to focus and leverage our partners’ marketing teams if we wanted to make an impact. This has allowed us to align our sales teams on a joint account-based marketing strategy, leverage content marketing resources across both brands, and increase the amount of lead volume sent to sales. That is win-win. We are in a market where we recognize that together we are stronger. Our partners have marketing teams that are more than triple our size. Why would we try to do it alone when we could create joint content and joint promotions that maximize the reach of our two brands? We have a powerful combined story to tell, so let’s tell it.
Related: Why You Should Never Skimp on Brand Marketing in a Recession
Offer more social proof to increase loyalty
In a down market, everyone’s reputation is at stake. And that means every decision matters. Joe Dominick, Partner at Gauge Media and owner of a small IT business, says, “In a down market, be prepared to offer more social proof. You want case studies and testimonials that reassure people that the money they’re getting is going to pay off.” spending point will win”. You will not regret. It’s not about loyalty, it’s about reducing the fear and uncertainty of prospects. Reputation matters. And theirs is at stake as much as yours.”
We have invested heavily in case studies as part of our content strategy, understanding this will only become more useful as time goes on, regardless of whether there is a recession or not. Social proof always matters. See how you can tell your customers’ stories and turn them into heroes. Your success is their success, and the more you can put them at the center of your marketing strategy, the better. Even in industries where you can’t publish the customer’s name, you can still publish it with the type of business and industry it serves and anonymize it. The idea that we can’t share our successes is simply not true. There is a creative way to tell every story.
Entrepreneurs understand that we must think ahead and start making strategic changes to prepare for an unknown future once again. How you handle your marketing strategy could make or break your business. It’s not uncommon for entrepreneurs to slash marketing budgets in a recession and rely solely on the sales channel. This is a strategy for failure, as you need both to remain competitive. If you disappear from the market and expect people to remember who you are, you will be disappointed. We live in a culture out of sight, out of mind. People will forget about your business. And small businesses will need to find a way to do both to stay competitive. They will have to be smart about it. The reality is that we will not be able to do everything. Thinking about where to strategically focus now will help you right-size your workload so you can scale up or down as needed. Every bear market presents great opportunities for small businesses to grow.