Recession Marketing-How To Prosper In A Slow Economy

Marketing in a Recession

Marketing In A Recession

“They” tell us it’s coming.

Recession is a term used to signify a slowdown in general economic activity (spending) lasting more than a few months. In the U.S. Recessions are declared by a committee at the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) and are characterized by higher unemployment, a rise in inflation, and a dip in wholesale-retail sales.  This slowing of the economy affects small business more profoundly than mega marketers for two reasons.

  1. Smaller businesses don’t usually have a good cash reserve.
  2. They have little knowledge in how to cope with this business slowdown.

This article tackles the second reason - how to do marketing in a recession.

Recent Recessions

There have been three recessions so far this century.

Millennium Recession Mar 2001 – Nov 2001

After a decade of steady growth, the collapse of the “.com bubble” and the 9/11 attacks combines to give us this memorable, but brief and shallow, recession.

Great Recession” Dec 2007 – June 2009

Subprime mortgage crisis.  Housing prices dipped sharply while oil and food prices soared.  Unemployment reached 10%.

“Covid Recession” – Feb 2020 – April 2020

Pandemic led to business closures and unemployment of 19.2% but lasted only 2 months, helped in part by online purchases, stimulus checks and government intervention in the stock market.  Even so, the stimulus packages caused the inflation rate to soar to 6.8% in 2021, with continued increases in the first months of in 2022.  Small businesses were the hardest hit because, in part, marketing in a recession is difficult.  Many are still trying to recover.

Even in recession some businesses and some small businesses did well with innovation, covid workarounds, and effective marketing being the key reasons. 

How To Prevail – Even Prosper – By Marketing In A Recession

Here are five marketing basics you can focus on when the next recession is on the horizon.

1- Mine the Diamonds in your own Backyard

Oftentimes, small business owners and managers scurry to find new customers when sales start to slow down. 

New customer acquisition is generally the costliest marketing activity there is.  Instead look inward to your current clients; they already know and like you, so your job is to educate, motivate, and incentivize their continued patronage. 

  • Create a loyalty program that will save them money and earn you more of their business
  • Offer additional “spiffs” to make their buying choice easier
  • Offer a free program teaching about things they could be doing on their own to save money in slow times. People appreciate you understanding their predicament and will reward you for it.

Do these things and your customers will think of you as a friend they can trust. 

2- Think Like Your Customers

Here’s a motto I live by in my own marketing:  “It’s not about you; it’s about your customers.”

Way too many small biz marketers love to shout about their expertise, virtues, and experiences.  You can change prospects to customers, and customers to “raving fans” by simply putting yourself inside their heads.

  • What do they really want to get out of doing business with you (benefits)?
  • How does your product or service make their lives better?
  • Do they feel the “love” from your business?

Check your ego at the door; it’s important in good times and crucial in a slow economy.

3- Be Different and Unique

Advertising legend (and an Original Madman) Raymond Rubicam said, “The beginning of greatness is to be different, and the beginning of failure is to be the same.”  This is even more important when marketing in a recession.

  • Are you unique and different from your competitors?  Do you do something they do not do, cannot do, or do not say?  If you don’t, I suggest – quite strongly – that you make this a high priority “to do” item.  (Get my free Infographic, “Differentiate or Die”.)
  • In slow economic times consumers double their efforts to find the best product or service, the best value, and the best people to do business with.



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4- Create A Powerful Marketing Message

If you already have one…perfect; most small businesses do not. 

A powerful marketing message is your best link to your customers.  It answers some very important questions they have in their minds.

  • What can your product or service do for them?
  • Why should they do business with you rather than your competition?
  • Can they trust you?

(If you need some help with your writing, see my articles, “Better-Writing = Better Results” and “The 3 C’s of Copywriting”)

To create your powerful message, you need to know more than a little about copywriting (the art and science of creating “selling” words and images).

5- Power Up Your Website

You CAN Prosper In A Slow Economy

As we've seen, putting out winning marketing in a recession is definitely possible, but it’s not easy.

  • I suggest you stay focused on your main money-makers.  Some peripheral products and services may not warrant marketing time and expense during recessions.  Your time and money is valuable – allocate it smartly.
  • Count on your good customers to help you as much as you’re going to help them.
  • Now’s the time to win.  Some of your competitors will not know how to do marketing in a recession; you will. 
  • Concentrate on marketing.  It’s one of only two business functions that make you money.

And, most of all, understand that recessions come, and recessions go.  The smart marketers have a game plan for both.  Be a smart marketer.


Business Has Only Two Functions

If you're not different - Innovate!


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