Retreating in a downturn

eMarketer recently published a story on marketing budgets, and surprise surprise, the majority of marketing budgets are getting cut globally. From traditional advertising all the way to social media.  Obviously no one is going to criticize  a business for shedding costs in this environment, but it has always struck me as counter-intuitive that we choose not to take the offensive while our competition retreats, and then when brighter days finally arrive, we shake off the dust only to compete with more opponents for a smaller piece of the pie.

Now is the time to get out there! Now is the time to win the hearts and minds of struggling consumers and small businesses; customers who just need a little TLC.  Now is the time to claw our way back into favor, to earn back a little bit of the trust that big business has lost. While hiding is certainly a safe play, it will never be a winning play.

I recently read about a restaurant in Europe that, in response to the downturn, was not charging patrons for meals. Instead, patrons were encouraged to leave whatever they felt was a fair price for what they consumed. Mind you, probably not a long-term strategy, but in times of hardship that’s a service that resonates with people and builds reciprocity. Never underestimate the power of reciprocity! No doubt this move has carved out a prime piece of real estate in the customers’ consideration set.

To be fair the study went on to say that spending will be flat to up in online categories like paid search and email. That’s understandable – those tactics are inexpensive, measurable, and have a clear line of sight to revenue generating activities. Both are also more targeted than mass media. But in my experience online budgets are also relatively small pieces of the overall marketing pie to begin with… which means even with minor increases in budget we’re still underinvested when it comes to online marketing.

With that in mind I challenge you to be bold – to think long term. The field will always be cluttered, but as companies pull back, the field is becoming less cluttered and you have an opportunity to vie for a bigger piece of  the customers’ mindshare. They may not buy from you today, but they also won’t forget about you tomorrow.


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  1. #1 by Laura on May 8, 2009 - 9:40 am

    Totally true. And one of the reasons it’s also important to continue to do market research. In these times, you need to understand what’s still important to your consumer and then act upon that knowledge. Our savviest clients are still conducting MR (to our delight) and are getting the important information from consumers that their competitors are not.

    • #2 by Kris Kaneta on May 8, 2009 - 9:59 am

      Hi Laura! Great point… if you’re not in touch with your customers, you will be playing a lot of catch-up when things turn around, when you could be pulling ahead of the competition. Tastes and preferences can change drastically over time, especially during times of economic hardship.

  2. #3 by Kris Kaneta on July 2, 2009 - 10:39 am

    A business contact of mine recently blogged about marketing in a recession. Posting below as it supports the argument I made here in May.

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