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How to Market in a Downturn

What we can learn about brand marketing in a recession from 2008

Stocks start tanking. Sales are down. Budgets get cut.

All of these signs might have you thinking about how to trim discretionary expenses. Before you take the proverbial scissors to your marketing plan, consider your long-term approach. Strategic marketing may actually help both short- and long-term growth of your brand whereas a cut back on marketing spend during a downturn may decrease current brand recognition and future sales.

If your first thought is, “Of course a marketing agency advises marketing during a downturn,” we understand your skepticism. So, we’ve pulled together examples from the last recession as inspiration for surviving (and thriving!) post-COVID-19. Read on for how to market in a downturn.

Marketing during a recession: Brand stories from 2008

To show how the silver lining plays out in real life, here are a few case studies from brands that kept, or even ramped up, efforts during the last recession. Spoiler: Those who continued marketing in a recession came out on top.

  • Amazon®: During the 2008 Recession, the online company saw its sales grow 28%. The company focused its attention on new Kindle® products through the economic downturn. By releasing budget-friendly alternatives, they caught the attention of consumers looking to spend less.
  • Hyundai®: Consumer fear can be a big barrier to making a large purchase during a recession. Hyundai spoke to this fear with a unique assurance program and aggressive high-profile ad buys. Unlike competitors, they told customers they could return a newly purchased vehicle if they lost their job. The result: A 5% increase in sales during the recession.
  • Starbucks®: Even before the recession of 2008 hit, Starbucks’ sales were taking a hit because of high price-points and an increase in competitors. They sweetened their caffeinated deals by adding in a free breakfast pastry with their coffee. The deal was sold to more than 1 million people at their local stores.   

5 tips on how to market in a downturn

Here are a few takeaways on how to market in a downturn and make the most of marketing.

  1. Think long term. A recession may mean a possible shift in consumers’ values and attitudes. Consider their change of mind and how your messaging can speak to it now and later.
  2. Bolster trust. Use messaging that creates an emotional connection and demonstrates empathy to help build trust with customers. Be sure to walk the walk. Back up these empathetic messages with actions showing how your brand is on the customer’s side.
  3. Be helpful. Use your products or services to be helpful to your audience during times in need. Whether you offer additional services free of charge or supportive content, providing beneficial resources can improve consumer views of your brand now and later.
  4. Do your research. Learn how things have changed during the downturn. Data and case studies are your best friends while developing your strategy and assessing opportunity.
  5. Monitor and adjust. There is never a time to set and forget your marketing efforts. This is especially true during a recession. Track and monitor results throughout campaigns and take the time to adjust if performance is not where it should be. And, if you do need to pull back, use data to drive decisions to blunt the impact of the changes.

Marketing through a recession may even have a silver lining – lower overall advertising costs, less “noise” from competitors and the opportunity to show customers corporate stability.

We’re here to help

Remember this: Marketing strategy is more important than ever in an economic downturn. With long-term thinking, trust-building and a helpful, data-driven approach, you can position your organization to survive the downturn and thrive when it ends.

If you’d like an outside look at how to market in a downturn, we’re here to help.

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