4 Things You Need To Know About Marketing in a Down Economy

Jason Widup

We’re facing some weirdness again, friends. This time, it’s the economy.

Experts like banks and economists are predicting a recession here, and here, and many CEOs are bracing for one.

It’s definitely no fun to be staring down economic uncertainty just as we’re coming out the other side of a life-changing pandemic—but the best approach is to keep our cool.

So go have a little scream into the ether, then come back and check out these strategies for being the best B2B marketer you can be in a down economy.

1. Don’t make any knee-jerk reactions

You’re facing a scary threat—it’s tempting to do a 180 and back the heck away. But that’s exactly the opposite of what you should do. Knee-jerk reactions make you look unconfident and chaotic.

You should stick to your original plan as closely as possible (you built it and leadership approved it for a reason). Figure out what you need to flex while keeping the rest intact. This will help to keep you on track to meet your demand generation goals.

2. Don’t pull back on your commitments

Speaking of goals, don’t use the economic downturn as an excuse not to hit the original targets you set for yourself.

Instead, you need to get scrappy.

Like the rest of the marketing world, we had to make significant budget cuts when the pandemic hit. Our monthly advertising budget was cut by 60%, and we needed to find new (and cheaper) channels to generate qualified demos. I came across LinkedIn Conversation Ads and decided to try them out.

The result?

In April 2020, we delivered our highest number of demo requests ever (by 230%) and spent 60% less than the prior month.

Maybe your budget has tightened, or you’ve lost some team members. Instead of phoning it in, show leadership you’re willing to try to tackle the same goals with fewer resources.

Of course, you need to be clear that you don’t think it will be possible (or they won’t understand why you put forth the original budget). But scarcity can breed some serious creativity and innovation.

If you hit your original goals, leadership will be like, ”Oh, shit, you nailed it!”

Or maybe you’ll only end up missing your targets by 30% while your budget is down 50%. Your team will still be impressed.

3. Adjust your messaging as necessary

One of the first actions to take in any sort of crisis situation is to closely examine the messaging you have in market.

Given the state of the world, does it make sense?

Does it land appropriately with your audience?

This email campaign targeted at women described the initial pandemic shutdown as a staycation. Meanwhile, many women were recently forced to balance working from home with homeschooling children. Others were forced to leave the workforce altogether or lost their jobs, adding a significant financial burden to the situation.

How do you think this staycation messaging sat with them? (Spoiler: Not well.)

When it comes to a volatile economy, your messaging should be sensitive to the fact that some companies might be struggling. This could mean pulling back on those messages promising exponential growth and leaning more towards how your offering will help customers improve efficiency.

Our platform is all about efficiency, for example. But in times of boom, we don’t push messaging on reducing your spend—our customers have big goals and deep pockets. In our current environment, however, efficiency is on the buyer’s mind and should play a bigger role in our messaging.

Put simply, you need to look at your marketing through the lens of your customer, have some real empathy for their situation, and ask yourself:

Is this really what we want to communicate in this moment?

4. Tell a clear ROAS story

When the economy is going strong, delivering leads may suffice. You can make some assumptions about how they’ll turn into opportunities—and eventually revenue.

But nearly everything you spend in a downturn should have a clear return on investment.

This means investing time and resources into systems and processes that allow you to accurately and consistently measure everything you do.

And now is no time for vanity metrics.

You need to focus on creating marketing-sourced revenue, which has a very specific definition:

The marketing lead comes in before there was an opportunity created for that account:

  • After that lead comes in and an opportunity is created
  • The marketing lead is a named contact on the opportunity (either primary contact or decision-maker)

When your results meet these criteria, you know for a fact that, without marketing, the revenue would not have materialized. There’s no arguing about the impact marketing had, and it dramatically reduces leadership’s ability to poke holes in your strategy.

Marketing-influenced revenue doesn’t hold the same water in this environment because there’s no solid proof your efforts made a difference to the outcome.

Another way to tell a better ROAS story is to get maniacal about optimizing your existing campaigns rather than continuing to create net-new.

When everything is on an upswing, marketers put out campaigns without worrying too much about performance. It’s all about getting more in market. But when the economy kind of sucks, it’s more efficient and effective to focus on getting the most out of what already exists.

While the majority of things you do should be tied to revenue impact, we know it can’t be everything. Do your best, and make sure that, at a minimum, you’re making a difference from a total money in, total money out perspective. Compare the amount you spent to the total marketing-sourced pipeline and/or revenue you delivered.

Keep your confidence

We’re unfortunately facing yet another situation for which there’s no clear blueprint.

There’s going to be confusion.

There’s going to be upset.

And this can throw off our confidence.

Just remember that everyone else is dealing with the exact same thing—and nobody else has a foolproof answer, either. It’s up to you to create a new path forward, and the skills you develop will help you face whatever crisis the world throws at us next.

So, if you’re done screaming, take a nice deep breath. You’ve got this. Carry on.

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