Spend or Save? Approaching Marketing During a Recession

As we plan for 2021, you’re not alone in wondering where you should be investing in your marketing.

Sector Challenges

As we plan for 2021, and a highly likely prolonged economic downturn, you’re not alone in wondering where you should be investing in your marketing.

According to Forbes and Harvard Business Review, when a recession hits, your marketing budget is the last thing that should be cut – not the first thing. It’s more important than ever for brands to be investing in their marketing, particularly digital content, so that when we’re in the clear, your brand emerges positively at the forefront of consumers’ minds. Actually securing marketing budget during a recession can be tricky, with stakeholders often keen to hit the pause button on campaigns as we ride out the uncertainty.

On November 25th, we invited a panel of industry experts to discuss how to approach marketing during a recession, and how to use innovative tech and authentic storytelling to speak directly to your audience. Joining us to share their insights were Luke Buxton, Head of Connected Life and Gaming at BT & EE, Clare Willetts, CEO and Founder of Not only Pink and Blue, and Matthew de Graft-Hayford, Head of Growth at TripAbrood. Read on for their insider advice on pushing ahead with exciting marketing campaigns in the midst of a pandemic.

We’re in a time of opportunity
Earlier in the year, we saw brands delaying their campaigns, aiming for early 2021. But as the new year approaches, we’re still in the mindset of the pandemic, and marketers have got to adapt to the current reality.

Our experts unanimously agreed on the opportunities that arise from unusual situations. “It’s time to think outside the box, and come up with new ways of engaging the customers you already have,” advises Matthew de Graft-Hayford. “That way, when times are better, you’re in a much stronger position to engage with those customers – who’ll hopefully remember you.”

“Don’t just tell yourself that marketing is dead for now,” echoes Claire Willetts. “Think about what else is out there about your company that could help with the narrative, and use that to your advantage.”Challenge yourself to consider the upsides of the situation, too. “We’re forced to think about every penny we spend, and to ensure that our marketing investments are smart, so we’re spending our money more wisely and getting better returns,” points out Luke Buxton.

Become comfortable with risks
Even at the best of times, no marketing outcome is ever guaranteed. “Marketing is all about risks,” says de Graft-Hayford. “You can do something once, be certain that it’s going to work again, and then it doesn’t. Get comfortable with knowing that you might fail.”

Once you’ve made peace with that fact – and ensured your senior managers are also aware of the risk inherent to creative marketing – you gain a certain freedom to try out new ideas. At the same time, you’ve got to be sensible. So how can we mitigate risk? “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” advises de Graft-Hayford. “Have multiple strands of marketing that you dip into. Build layers into your marketing so that you can pivot if something goes wrong, and allocate more resources if it’s successful.” Having backup ideas never hurts, either.

If you’re not sure whether a risk is worthwhile or not, look inwards. “Draw back to the values of your company,” suggests Willetts. “What are your mission, purpose and values? Centering around those really helps you decide how to spend your money.”

Get your managers on board
Not all managers are immediately willing to give risky projects the green light – especially during a recession. If you’re looking to convince your company of the need for marketing budget, stick to the data.

“We have to accept that since Covid, everything is new,” says Buxton. “What worked 10 months ago won’t work now. We need to lean into thinking differently by analysing the markets that are growing. Gyms might be closed, but Peloton is booming. Cinemas and theatres are shutting down, but home entertainment is growing.”

Research and data are key, agrees de Graft-Hayford. “You’ll hopefully have the data to say look, here’s what worked before, it was very profitable, and maybe we need to scale it down to see how well it will work now things have changed, but ultimately we know it does work.” It’s this data that will convince your managers to give you the budget you need to flex your creativity.

Willetts also points out the need to be concise. “Be clear about your priorities,” she advises. “Instead of going into a meeting with a long list and outlandish ideas, be really clear about the three things you want to do, and the budget you need for those ideas.”

Ensure your agency adapts
If you’re working with an agency on your marketing, a recession doesn’t mean you should cut all ties. Instead, work on strengthening your relationship, and ensure that your agency adapts. “From the agency side, now is the time to listen,” says Willetts. “There can be a tendency to say straight away ‘you need to do this’, but actually, the organisations you’re working with are probably under a lot of stress. It’s time to sit back and listen, and be as flexible as possible.”

Buxton and de Graft-Hayford agree. “You can also be proactive and approach clients with ideas,” suggests de Graft-Hayford. “Make the most of the client-agency partnership by leaning into all of the agency’s information about trends and working with different sectors. When you work in-house, you don’t get access to that, because you’re really in the zone of what your business is doing, so agencies can really help with the bigger picture.”

Get outside perspective
In a similar vein, Buxton points out that outside perspectives provide endless benefits. “You want to see a broader context and learn from the experiences of others,” he says. Outside perspectives help us gather new ideas, and learn from the successes and failures of others. “It’s not copying!” says Buxton. “All innovation builds on earlier innovation.”

“This is where agencies are particularly helpful,” says Willetts. “They sit outside your organisation and generally have a broader view thanks to lots of different clients in lots of different sectors. Having someone else who isn’t in the trenches who you can bounce ideas off is really helpful, even if it’s just a half-hour conversation.”

Finally, de Graft-Hayford advises you to gather insights from those who matter most: your customers. “Have conversations with your customers, and understand what they want and how you can help them,” he says. It sounds simple, but in the rush of rearranging campaigns, it can be easy to forget.

A recession doesn’t mean your marketing activities should automatically be put on hold. You’ll have to think outside the box more than ever, and you might find yourself working with a small-than-usual budget, but some of the most creative marketing arises from challenging circumstances.

If you’d like to know how Nucco Brain can help you plan out your 2021 marketing, get in touch here.

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