How to Adjust Your Marketing Message in a Recession

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, times are tough for B2B marketers. Every buying decision, whether it’s a new purchase or renewal, is under serious scrutiny right now. 

In times of economic downturn, businesses face numerous challenges, and B2B marketers find themselves at the forefront of navigating these turbulent waters. 

One critical aspect that requires careful attention is adjusting messaging to align with the unique circumstances of a down economy. 

The importance of adapting marketing strategies and messaging cannot be overstated, as it directly impacts how businesses communicate with their target audience and ultimately affects their bottom line.

But one of the things that B2B marketers are doing is looking for new channels, new offers, more nurturers, more content, you name it. But one of the things that they overlook the most is messaging.

The best place to start for B2B marketers is to recession-proof your messaging. You need to make sure whatever your company sells is positioned as a must-have product or service in any type of economy. 

On DGU this week, get an inside look at how we’re adjusting our messaging in a down economy at Metadata.

If you’re too busy to run through the episode, don’t fret—here are the big takeaways.

PS give episode 13 of Demand Gen U a listen (How To Develop Your Positioning and Messaging (And Make It Stick) if you missed it last year

Top three episode takeaways: 

Takeaway #1:  Look for internal and external signals first

It’s hard to filter out the doom and gloom talk inside the LinkedIn echo chamber from what’s actually happening in your world.

Are you getting more one-off collateral requests? Are you hearing more from Sales and CS? Is something not landing nearly as well as it used to?

Are new objections coming up more often on calls? What’s happening to late stage deals? Are they falling through at the 11th hour?

Listen to what Sales and CS are hearing when they talk with your buyers right now. Spend more time wherever your buyers live so you know what’s keeping them up at night.

Sometimes the signals are right in front of you, too. We found a TON of signals in our DEMAND Community.

Takeaway 2: Keep it simple and make small shifts

Don’t assume you have to overhaul all of your messaging. It might just require a few tweaks.

Interview 3-5 customers that match your best-fit account profile and primary personas.

  • Ask them what would happen tomorrow if they couldn’t use Metadata?  
  • What would stop working? 
  • What’s the risk to their company?

Find a few sellers at your company who want to test new messaging. Look for sellers who are interested in helping out and will give you direct feedback after they try it out.

The key here is to limit the number of cooks in the messaging kitchen (as it always is). It can get crowded real quick and it leads to overthinking. 

Use qualitative findings to make small shifts before you swing big and miss.

Takeaway 3: Help your Sales team arm their champion internally

This is a big one. It’s the first time we’ve prioritized doing this at Metadata, too.

This time last year, three people were involved in buying decisions at the companies we were marketing to. A year later, there are anywhere between 7-10 people involved in the same decision. 

The reality is, your sellers aren’t the ones selling to ‌ these new people involved either. Their champion is.

Work with your Sales team so they have talk tracks (and content) for the new people involved in the buying decision. 

We interviewed our CFO and a few other new roles to figure out how they make buying decisions and what they‌ care about right now. 

You’d be surprised how much you can learn from talking to people at your own company

For more insight into the episode and questions discussed, check out the conversation between Mark and Alex below.

Signs it’s time to recession-proof your messaging

Mark: The down economy started last summer. Budgets got cut. Layoffs happened and then more layoffs happened and things started changing. But one thing that didn’t really change for most companies was messaging. So why do you think that’s the case?

Alex: I was looking at it and 140K people were let go last year and 93K Amount of workers have been let go this year, and I think it’s just escalated. I think there’s a couple of factors at play. 

All the big tech is letting go of workers and there’s damage control from a brand perspective so it doesn’t trickle down.

Business leaders are looking at the overall strategy, how they can pivot, how they can adjust pricing, etc. 

And then from a product marketing perspective, while you make shifts to like storylines or messaging that’s external, you’re positioning or your foundational messaging is not gonna change with every shift.

Taking feedback and taking time to consider things. I think right now we’re at that point where it’s a bit of an inflection and people are starting to try things and shift when it’s been building over the past couple of years.

Doing more with less

Mark: I did a little research. But here’s what I’ve found. I think the whole notion of doing more with less is bullshit. 

Just because you’re doing more bad things doesn’t mean you’re getting more done or doing the right things, but what I found was this whole doing more with less belief. 

Guess when it came up and guess when people started posting about it? Since 2008. This isn’t anything new. 

A lot of them still hold true today. There’s a lot to pull from, and there are companies who have come out, you know, better at the end of it. I don’t think that this is all doom and gloom. It’s not great, but it’s happened two or three times in the last, 20-ish years.  

How do you define messaging?

Alex:  I think messaging is how you define what you’re going to say to your personas and what kind of content medium it will take place in. 

Something else to consider, maybe a level above or maybe adjacent to messaging and positioning is product-market fit, which is‌ where all of this trickles down from.

It’s important to keep that in mind, when you’re trying to redirect messaging in a down economy. 

You’re staying away from perceived product market fit bias, groupthink, and you’re trying to transition into evidence-based work.

I think we do a good job at Metadata of refreshing our positioning documentation, and then messaging and testing that externally. 

Messaging is how it’s produced externally. And then of course our positioning materials are the internal frameworks and different things we use to pinpoint the value, the position, the personas, and all of that stuff that then is reflected outward.

What are the core components of messaging?

Mark: What are some of the core components of messaging? What are the things that you need to think through in coming up with new messaging.

Alex: I think it’s important to remember messaging; it’s gonna come in all different shapes and sizes. 

What a solo marketer’ s able to do and what an enterprise marketer’s able to do might be different. 

I think the important thing with messaging is just to start and use messages based on insights you’re gathering from your go-to market team, your customer advisory board, and the market more broadly.

Match the messages with the value of your platform or product. Work toward pulling that into ways to validate that messaging and training internal teams to make sure that messaging across the board is, fluid and consistent. 

How to start reframing your messaging

Mark: Should they be starting small? Should they be going more broadly? Where do you recommend people first get started?

Alex: Since you brought up personas, I think it’s just important to remember that personas are blueprints, they’re ideal customers.

They’re not your actual customers and they’re not the actual audience. 

Validating that kind of stuff and just starting with a hypothesis, a guess, a question you wanna answer. 

Then flesh that out based on your historical data or your go-to-market team and come up with those roles that are in either a buying group or a lead buyer. First and secondary audiences, and flesh those out. 

Test them, validate them, and then just keep improving upon them. I think you can take broad strokes initially just to get‌ something going and then niche down after that. 

I think you can lead to a lot of indecision paralysis by trying to start small or trying to take on too many personas or too many audiences. Keep the KISS method; keep it simple.

Signals for when you should revise your messaging

Alex: There are internal and external signals. Internally, you start to hear it from your network of go-to-market teammates. 

You start to see shifting in Gong calls or indexes that they’re using. Start to get a lot of requests for these one-off things.

That signals that something needs to shift or you need to maybe do some more research in an area or a topic or a persona, externally. 

Perhaps ad fatigue. Perhaps what you’re seeing is just from a content survey. We have a community here, so there’s a lot of chatter we can collect feedback from.

There’s this shift that I’m seeing internally and externally.

It’s time to maybe do a review and pull up together and do a gut check to validate some things. Or take some potential biases or opinions and see if there’s any need to shift. 

For example, our messaging at Metadata has always been to reduce manual work, save time, and in a down economy. Yes, that’s true.

But how do we reposition that to pain points or specific personas? That’s where we needed to evolve the messaging at this.

Qualitative versus quantitative

Mark: Is there anything you can quantify that helps you understand that messaging needs work?

Alex: You can take a quantitative approach to many of the qualitative indicators that we’re seeing. 

I would stress that you need to come up with a question that all of these signals are going to answer versus all of these signals and you’re trying to be retroactively fitted to a question.

Especially in a down economy. Getting the message right; being able to test and iterate on something that’s data-backed.

Whether it’s qualitative or quantitative, it’s going to be more crucial to have clarity on your insights without context. 

Steps to tweak messaging

Mark: You’ve got your messaging. Something forces you to tweak your messaging and figure out what needs a change. 

How do you go about changing it? This is the good stuff. Where do you get started?

Alex: I think for me it was taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture. Making sure I wasn’t being reactionary and not creating a bigger mess by adjusting or taking big swings at adjusting messaging. 

Taking stock of what’s working and what’s not. A change in the market or the economy might not mean a full rewrite, it might just mean tweaking the language.  

Getting started with staying close to customers, if you have a community tapping into that, keeping your ear to the market so you’re not adjusting based on internal biases or opinions. 

Again, you want to be smart, like you wanna resonate with your audience. You want to be smart that you’re making the right moves with the team and resources that you have. 

I think we’re doing a lot of that right now. And shifting. Making small shifts versus big swings.

Mark: I think one thing that we’re trying to do right now is trying to limit the number of cooks in the messaging kitchen. 

I’ve found that when you have too many cooks, it becomes a crowded kitchen and very opinionated kitchen.

We’ve got a core group of sellers that we work with who are interested in working with us and want to test things. Telling us what’s working and what’s not landing. 

Rather than try and work with the entire sales team all at once, we’re working with a couple of people right now. I think that is helpful. 

What questions are you asking?

Mark: When you’re having some of these conversations, how do you go about structuring them? What are the questions you’re asking? 

Alex: I’m structuring these questions to get at the pain of the prospect or customer’s feeling; to ‌ connect that to the value of the platform.

I’ll generally start broadly and see where the conversation takes me. But normally I have an idea of a value proposition that I want to change or validate. 

Working with a sales rep, getting to know what they’re hearing, any additional resources that they might have, or who to talk to next.

I like to leave these types of conversations open and see where it goes. As I mentioned earlier— keeping the types of questions that I have in the back of my mind, but letting the conversation go wherever.

What’s the risk if you change your system?

Mark: Questions I’ve had with customers: what would you do tomorrow? What are the impacts of not being able to use Metadata?

If you get a tool like Metadata or any tool taken away from you, what’s the risk to the company? 

What’s gonna stop working? What are the implications of what you’re doing right now? What are you gonna lose? 

Because it helps frame the risk to marketing teams and potential risk to companies.

Alex: Talking to external folks, those questions are so key and especially getting out of the Metadata way and listening broadly. Pain points or additional areas. 

So much can be uncovered by hearing where that pain comes from and what they would do without something that’s currently helping them.

Diving in deeper internally 

Mark: We did an AMA customer webinar and we only invited late-stage prospects to it. 

We had two different customers; one longtime Metadata customer talking about their experience using Metadata.

The end of the discussion was centered around this: how would you suggest people who are looking to buy Metadata make their case internally? 

The budget request is under serious scrutiny right now. I think that’s when I first started to think about, how we reframe what we are doing. 

Are the statements still true in a down economy? Are they nearly as compelling?

Do they reflect the current priorities of a marketing team or the current priorities of the probably not? How are you positioning and selling Metadata internally to your CFO?

I went to that webinar that Chris Orla put on with CFOs from Drift, Gong, and Invoca. I think all three CFOs said they don’t want to talk to salespeople. 

You don’t have the ability. Make that argument to a CFO. You’re relying on your champion internally to do all of that work for you.

So you have to make sure that you are the champion of Metadata and really whoever’s going to buy your tool to make sure that they have the right information that they need to make it past the CFO.

Alex: That’s such a good point. I think when we’re thinking about messaging and the CFOs coming up, or other folks that are not traditionally sought out perhaps by a salesperson, it’s important for the marketers.

Especially product marketers to spend time parsing out in those conversations a consensus, “Who’s gonna be your target buyer?” 

Who’s the user? Who’s the influencer? Who’s gatekeeping? What other resources are they looking at? 

Try to be a little more tactical with the messaging and how you’re positioned. How you’re framing it. It’s not shocking that CFOs don’t want to talk to sales folks.

Using non-traditional personas

Mark: Let’s talk about some of these non-traditional personas that you need to start accounting for. 

Alex: Some of the personas we’re thinking about right now are CFOs. We’re talking about how we may position some of the materials that we have for marketing ops. 

Legal and compliance and those sorts of things factor into the buying decision. 

While I think we don’t need to create content for each of these types of roles, folks play in a buying committee, and how can we incorporate that into the strategy?

Maybe adjust some assets to meet those needs and make it easier for our champion to get deals closed. To have a shared understanding of our platform.

It’s interesting how things have expanded and there’s still pressure on sales and the champion and different things to get everything done faster. 

That’s where it’s important to incorporate what kind of messaging needs to go to who, and at what stage of the deal cycle. This is obviously where updating the messaging is important.

How can you test messaging?

Alex: It can be as simple. Hosting a couple of customers and validating it, user testing, I think if you have platforms to be able to do that and to see what’s resonating. 

It’s not about the words, it’s how you’re styling it. What else is on the page to give context? 

Platforms like Wynter are great, but I think the important thing is to get to an answer versus what kind of platform you’re using. 

Start small, get a group together, build consensus, or try to validate whether the message works. 

We can see clearly what ads perform well, and what messaging, and that can translate back to expanding to other things like a webpage.

Different positioning pieces that we’ll put out or slide decks. Just getting started and having some way to get feedback and consistent feedback would be my recommendation. 

If you have enough funds for a cool platform, that’s even better.

Mark: I think the cheapest way that you can do this too is if you have a customer advisory board like we do at Metadata, and use them as a sounding board.

In a down economy when talking with CFOs, they’ve got three levers to pull. You can increase revenue, you can improve margins, or you can decrease costs. 

What we’re trying to do is just get inside the head of our own CFO and see, does this stand up with your thinking? 

I think oftentimes the trap that I’ve gotten stuck in before, other companies are not realizing how many resources and people you have around you to test messaging and hope that it works in the market. 

How often should B2B companies look at their messaging?

Mark: How often do you suggest people look at their messaging? Is this something that they should be doing? Monthly? Quarterly?

Alex: Every six months because they shouldn’t just sit on a shelf until the down economy is hopefully over.

I would recommend at least reviewing them every half if not every quarter. And the messaging that’s trickling down from. 

I would recommend reviewing every quarter just to validate and gut-check, things change.

You have product launches, you have market conditions. If you have different storylines, as we do with some campaigns or some of the approaches we’re taking to the website, those can be optimized ongoing. 

It’s finding the right cadence at a consistent time frame. You’ll validate and revalidate.

Adjust the content that you’re creating and the different mediums that you’re using. Definitely for those larger pieces, the half or every quarter to get a gut check. 

Big things like a recession will change things but long term your big value props may not be changing that much.

It’s how you’re kind of sizing your pieces and how often they need to be evaluated.

The importance of R in ROI

Mark: One of the CFOs mentioned—you are trying to make a budget request for something that was previously budgeted or maybe something that is not budgeted, and you’re trying to make sure that you can articulate the R in ROI.

Many times people are making budget requests and not considering how they’re going to measure the return. 

There are so many ROI studies and reports out there that have these just insane estimates. 

Every customer who buys X company will see a 600% increase in ROI. All of the CFOs said that they don’t give a shit about any of those because they know how fluffy the map is and how good it makes the company. 

What they want is they want real ROI projections and they want to use harder cost savings.

Most importantly, they don’t want you just to do it one time when you are trying to make them. 

For a new tool, they want you to commit to. When are you gonna revisit this? 

When are you going to see it—we bought this tool 30 days from now, or 60 or 90. We’re gonna reevaluate the return that we’re seeing right now.

They are looking for people to stay on top of this once they sign contracts. So don’t think that because you know you can help your buyer. 

Estimate ROI one time that you’re off the hook. Your buyer’s gonna have to show what the return is as they’re using the tool. 

If they can’t, then I hate to tell you, your tool’s probably gonna get cut.

Alex I love an ROI calculator, but I think it’s smart. A lot of platforms now are starting to put that kind of cost, time savings. There are a bunch of other platforms that are doing it.

Therefore, marketers may not be in the CFO mindset of constant dollars, cents, and savings. And can understand what the value platforms bring. I can imagine that’s very top of mind for CFOs.

Final thoughts

Alex: Now we’ve got to figure out how to do this quickly so that we can make sure our sales team knows how to talk about Metadata because they’ve gotta talk about it in a different way than they have been for the last year and change.

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