With the recession predicted to last through late 2016, Alberta businesses continue to face tough decisions when it comes to marketing.

So, how can you tweak your strategy to ensure that your organization not only survives this difficult time, but comes out of the recession stronger than ever? Race ahead of your competition, get to know your customers, and discover the secret marketing genius behind Coca Cola’s smaller cans with these data-driven tips for success.

1.   Do your research, and segment, segment, segment

If you are going to be spending precious resources on advertising, your efforts have got to be targeted. Investing in market research and knowing how your customers define value will be crucial to success.

“In a B2B environment, the top 20% of customers in a business may generate as much as 80% of the company’s profits. It is therefore necessary to focus on existing customers that matter.”
– Julia Cupman,
Effective Marketing Strategies for a Recession, B2B International.

John Quelch, who wrote this excellent overview of recession marketing for the Harvard Business Review (HBR), suggests that there are four typical reactions to a downturn, creating the four types of customers summarized below. Where do yours fit?

  • The slam-on-the-brakes segment immediately reduces or eliminates spending.
  • The pained-but-patient consumers form the largest segment. Optimistic about the future, but less confident in the short term. Spending reduced in all areas (though less aggressively).
  • The comfortably well-off customers will continue to spend, albeit a little more selectively.
  • The live-for-today segment (usually a younger, more urban crowd) does not alter its habits.

Once you’ve segmented your customers and identified what type of reaction they are likely to have in a downturn, it’s time to turn your focus on your marketing budget.

2. Don’t immediately slash your budget

In a recent blog post, I outline why you should definitely keep marketing during a recession.

Although it may seem counterintuitive, drastically decreasing marketing will not only hurt your company in the long term, it will prevent you from taking advantage of the comparatively “quieter” marketplace that emerges during times of recession.

First, it has been proven that cutting ad spend during a recession delays your recovery. Ultimately, you are likely to spend even more than you originally saved trying to claw your way back to your original, pre-recession position once the market picks up again.

Second, as your competitors scramble to cut costs by decreasing their marketing spend, your own efforts will be more noticeable and effective. As branding experts Millward Brown explain in this POV article, an increase in your share of voice will lead to an increase in your share of market in subsequent years.

“If you increase your marketing investment at a time when competitors are reducing theirs, you should substantially increase the saliency of your brand.” – Millward Brown.

3.   Emphasize family values

As spending decreases, we tend to stay home and surround ourselves with the less expensive comforts of food, friends, and good family fun. The recession is a time of uncertainty in Alberta, and customers will be craving reassurance and security.

 

Your marketing campaigns should reflect this: think cosy fireplaces and warm smiles, not solo treks in dangerous mountain ranges. While that kind of independent adventure may appeal in other years, it’s the wrong message to focus on right now.

An added bonus of the trend to “snuggle down” is that your customers are likely to be consuming more media-based entertainment, increasing the efficacy of your marketing efforts.

4.   Adjust your products. Less is more!

According to the Harvard Business Review, purchasing behaviour changes dramatically during economic downturns. Customers may choose the lower-price versions of their usual products, either by switching retailers buying store brand instead of name brand, or doing away with frills.

If your products are the lower-price versions, this may be good news for you! If not, it’s time to get creative with your pricing strategies and product mix.

The crucial question is this: how can you help your customers save money while ensuring they still buy your product?

One strategy is to take a steer from beverage giant Coca Cola and offer smaller sizes. Not only is Coke retaining customers during the recession and getting a lot of positive attention in the media for helping consumers to cut calories, the higher profit margins on the cute little cans haveled to a 7% increase in profits.

The HRB also points to another innovation that can be seen across budget airlines. Now that luxuries such as checked baggage, in-flight meals, and headphones are sold separately, customers are able to save money on basic flights.

Could your company find a way to offer reduced prices by unbundling one of the services it offers?

5.   Drop your prices–but not too much

When customers are shopping for a bargain, price promotions and flash sales can generate much needed excitement and revenue. Aside from the standard 10% off, your pricing tactics could include reducing the threshold for bulk buying, or buy now-pay later schemes.

In these tough economic times, shoppers are much more likely to respond to price decreases than to other types of promotions, so this strategy should generate short term sales.

However, focusing too heavily on discounts can be a risky long term strategy.

As this fascinating study shows, money and value are wired together in the human brain: the more something costs, the more value we ascribe to it. The last thing you want is to accidentally create a cheap or negative long-term perception of your product that may well outlast the recession.

Think about it this way: if Birks started selling diamonds at steep discounts, how would you feel about purchasing full-priced jewellery from them in a few years’ time?

If prices cuts are part of your strategy, focus on periphery products that will not erode core brand values. For example, a company that sells coffee mugs could offer free refills as opposed to lowering the price of the mugs themselves.

6. Focus On Cost Structure to Increase Market Share

Savvy marketers will take advantage of customer consolidation to increase the strength and efficacy of their communications and maintain or even improve market share.

Of course, this could be an expensive strategy, so it’s important to know the cost structure of your business. Where can you safely save money, and where should you invest for maximum impact?

A lot of thinking in this area is based on research drawn from the Profit Impact of Marketing Strategies (PIMS) database. As econometrics consultant Les Binet summarizes, the study basically found that admin and manufacturing costs are most expendable, whereas budget cuts linked to product quality, marketing, or market research can lead to underperformance.

In terms of effective spending, online marketing is inexpensive, lends itself well to an integrated approach, and allows for sophisticated customer segmentation. Perhaps most importantly, its performance can easily be measured for ROI. – Harvard Business Review

To summarize

The current economic situation means marketers in Alberta may be faced with budget cuts and tough decisions in the months ahead. We hope that this post has given you the tools you need to make a case for the importance of marketing, adapt your current strategies, and work more effectively.

If you invest in research and segmentation, focus on family values, adjust your products, think creatively about promotions and discounts, understand the cost structure of your business, and take advantage of less expensive marketing channels, then the challenge of the recession can be changed into an opportunity to gain traction in a quieter market.

And now for the great news

While marketing during a recession might seem overwhelming at first, the discipline and skills you develop during this difficult period will make you a marketing superstar when the economy recovers and will continue to serve your company long after recession time is over. So be bold; and good luck!

If you’ve had success (or otherwise) with any of the tactics suggested here, please let us know in the comments—we’d love to hear from you.

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