Don’t get shy with marketing spend. Be bold and build awareness, recession be damned
Look, I get it. A PR guy is telling you that going bold on marketing and public relations spending will help recession-proof your business. How convenient?!
But, hear me out. Creating broad awareness for your business in advance of any pending challenging times is one of the best ways for you to stand out from the crowd when the going gets a little tough.
It’s true that one of the first areas where many markets may tighten the belt during a downturn is in marketing. After all, leads may still come in even if you’re not actively promoting your brand, right?
While that’s true, it’s an extremely short-term view of how marketing and brand building works. It’s a kind of reactive form of marketing: When I have the additional budget, I’ll spend it on marketing my business. But, think of the opportunity cost of scaling back marketing spend. If you’re neck-and-neck with a competitor in sales (or even if you’re ahead but there’s a young buck on your heels) and that up-and-comer decides to spend while you save during a downturn, you lose. You’re missing out on building trust and awareness with your target audience. If you’re in an industry that’s built on long-term relationships (which is most industries in B2B, frankly), then you’re in big trouble.
Take this example from the recession of 1990 and 1991 (which, ideally is the kind of milder recession we face if we indeed hit one). Hat tip to Brad Adgate for sharing this nugget in a Forbes piece from a few years ago. During that downturn, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell took advantage of McDonald’s decision to pull back on advertising. As a result, Pizza Hut increased sales by 61%, Taco Bell sales grew by 40% and McDonald’s sales declined by 28%. I’m thinking McDonald’s is not loving that strategy now.
There’s an old adage in advertising that stands the test of time: When times are good you should advertise. When times are bad, you must advertise.
A strong way to allocate marketing resources–particularly for B2B brands building layered trust with their audiences–is to develop long-term relationship opportunities via sharing informative content across your own channels (social, website, email) and trusted third-party (like national press and key business media in your verticals, plus opportunities like podcasts or webinars). Teach me you’re smart and that others trust you before you sell to me and I’m that much more engaged with you in the sales cycle. We can start in the middle rather than from Square One. And, amid recessions when budgets are tighter, companies are more selective about how they spend their money. If you’ve built a stable of content that shows you’re an expert, you give decision makers more confidence in your ability to deliver.
In our industry, when someone cuts back on PR, there’s always a similar company who can come in and be a source for a reporter or producer. And when that happens, you run the risk of not having that opportunity again for quite some time. Media relations–one of the tried and true ways companies create lasting relationships with media outlets–is all about relationships and strong storytelling. If you’re cutting back on sharing your story with the media, you have no kindle to start a relationship with target audiences.
Here are five ways you can start to recession-PRoof your brand:
Create a LinkedIn content calendar for key executives in your company AND stick to it
Build a media list of contacts in key outlets your audience reads/interacts with. Follow them and comment on their stories on Twitter or LinkedIn. Reach out in confidence when you have something to say that their audience needs to hear (or have a PR firm help you)
Create a PR marketing plan for the rest of 2022 – what milestones or major events can you announce (and, please, for the love of all our journalism friends, make sure it is newsworthy)
Develop or refine your email marketing strategy so that it’s super targeted and relevant for your audience. Segment your lists. Offer specific information relevant to those specific target audiences. Seek to engage, inform and inspire. Stay clear of putting readers through scroll-hell with too many words about how great your company is. It’s not going to convince most of them and will turn off many readers. Still, email is a time-tested way to interact with prospects/clients
Have a crisis plan in place. How do you hedge against real or rumored finacial challenges, or staffing issues if you have to go through them? How do you protect your company from crummy Glassdoor reviews? Pro tip: Don’t ignore it, craft a plan to mitigate your firm’s exposure. One final question to ask as you’re considering avoiding crisis (and, on the flip side, building a values-based organization): How do you continue to build a strong ethical culture in trying times? (More on building ethical culture and why it pays off across a number of key business metrics in LRN’s Benchmark of Ethical Culture Report).