How to Rise Above Recession – Lessons from History on Marketing

We’re into uncertain economic times after Covid, and another recession was overdue anyway, being more than a decade since the last one. Most businesses are acknowledging it now, and it can be difficult and stressful for many. It may even be make-or-break time for some, but this environment can inspire change and growth.

By doing things differently and reaching out beyond what you would normally do, you can gain ground in the market. “Necessity is the mother of invention”, pushing us out of our normal comfort zones to do things we could’ve done before, but didn’t.

Here are 6 ways to overcome recession, based on historical patterns and lessons from the 1930’s to 2008…

1) Don’t just cut marketing – optimize it to get more for less

A defensive reaction is an understandable survival instinct, but can be counter-productive. As Warren Buffett said, do the opposite to everyone else… it’s smart to invest when everybody else is in panic retreat. 

Some cuts may be necessary for unprofitable areas, but it’s no good cutting anything that generates more value than it costs. You wouldn’t stop production to save operational costs, nor is it good to lose profitable customers by ruining their satisfaction.

In recession, it’s been suggested to boost marketing to raise “share of voice” in the market, leading to a higher “share of mind”. There’s less advertising ‘noise’ out there to compete with. It also shows company resilience and longevity, building trust in your brand.

But it’s not just a matter of throwing more money at it. These days, digital marketing is very measurable, so with some analysis, you can see what’s working best. 

A key to success is your message – connecting your greatest value to your clients’ greatest needs, regardless of which marketing channels you use.

2) Go to the “horse’s mouth” for real market intelligence

Client needs and issues can change in these times – so their ‘hot buttons’ are a moving target. If you’re adaptable and agile to meet this, you’ll be ahead of the game. You’ll need to review what clients value most, and the best way to find out is to talk to them.

Outsourcing this interviewing will bring an objective third party perspective, while freeing you up to focus on your day-to-day operations. Clients can also talk more openly, not just telling you what you want to hear. You may even get suggestions for improvement – valuable in these times to help lift your game.

Using someone who understands both the technicalities of your industry and marketing communications has real advantages. They can ‘see both sides’ and bridge the gap between you and your clients. With all this market intelligence under your belt, you can have the confidence to hit the mark with your sales and marketing.

3) Find your sweet spot – leverage your forte

What are you best at? What’s your specialty that stands out in the market and offers the greatest value to clients? If you have a passion for this, you’ll excel even more. It could be hidden right under your nose, but client interviews can uncover it.

It’s good to capitalize on your strengths, and not work in your area of weakness – which may be a competitor’s strength.

One of my engineering clients presented a job to a staff member who complained that it was tricky and awkward, but my client said “that’s why we’re in business”. Handling difficult outside-the-box jobs was their strategic advantage in the industry, and key to their success.

It’s been said: “Strategists succeed where opportunists fail”. The latter go after all the latest fads in the market – which may not be in line with their strengths. Strategists also look at market opportunities, but only go for the ones that suit their strategy – based on their strengths and passion. It’s like getting into a yacht that’s drifting here and there in the wind and ending up on the rocks, instead of using the wind to tack across to where you want to go.

Focus is required, which means saying no to the hundred good ideas out there and just going for the one best idea, according to Steve Jobs.

4) Build trust and confidence while proving your value

Trust and value are keys in recession. You need to be seen as a safe solution for nervous, risk-averse prospects, who can be confident that they’re going to get more value than they’re paying for.

Trust can actually be gained quickly if you have the ‘substance’ – which comes down to what I call ‘ability’ and ‘attitude’.

‘Ability’ is the means or skill to do something – competence, reliability, quality, and consistency.

‘Attitude’ is the motivation for doing something – honesty, fairness, and genuine care about client interests.

(See my other article that shows how research has proven this with a formula for trustworthiness)

You can also look at ways to add extra value – by ‘innovating’ to provide greater benefits that clients appreciate. But you may actually only need to show the value you already have, if it’s hidden, like Schlitz Beer discovered in the 1800s…

They were lagging behind at 8th place in the market, so they called on Claude Hopkins, an innovative copywriter, for help. He explored their operation and was wowed by the lengths they went to, such as 4,000 foot deep wells to get the purest water, a yeast cell borne out of 1200 experiments to develop a robust flavour, and meticulous cleaning routines. When he communicated all this in his ads, the company jumped to number one in only 6 months. But the most amazing thing is… that the other companies were doing much the same thing, but weren’t communicating it.

Proving your value also commands a good price. As they say, quibbles about price come down to quibbles about value.

5) Convert market needs into demand for your services

With effective content marketing, you can target potential clients early in the “buyer’s journey”. This process is getting longer and more uncertain these days. If you can get in before other companies, who only target ‘purchase-ready’ people, you’ll ‘slip under the radar’.

By digging deep into client issues, and some creative thinking, you can re-frame their key needs and problems to position yourself uniquely as the solution, without direct selling.

For example, if you produced natural fertilizers for home gardeners, you could explain that chemical fertilizers damage the health of the soil and cause pest problems which are treated by pesticides, which in turn kill the microbial life in the soil, requiring more chemical fertilizers. A vicious cycle. So if you can show gardeners that they have this problem they didn’t know about, you have re-framed everything and positioned yourself as the go-to solution.

Offering relevant and useful advice also generates a lot of goodwill, client satisfaction, and loyalty, while presenting yourself as an expert authority.

The sales stage then becomes easy once you’ve won their trust.

6) Team up with partners having compatible values

Why should your business fail because of your areas of weakness?

To cover services that clients need outside your sweet spot, build relationships with other companies who have different sweet spots. But make sure they have compatible values to ensure strong mutual trust to support ongoing ventures.

There’s a difference between “out-tasking” and “out-sourcing”. The former usually involves hiring a low-cost party in a transaction-based arrangement to get things done for you. But it doesn’t always work too well for quality and timing when you need it most.

Effective “outsourcing” is a loyal relationship where you can rely on the other party’s honesty, communication, quality of work, and commitment to deliver – even in demanding situations. And you do the same for them, which makes for a strong and resilient team that’s hard to beat.

Leveraging shared resources, expertise, or channels can also enhance business resilience and open up new growth avenues.

Get help to rise above recession

If you’d like someone to interview your clients to find your ‘hidden value’, build trust, and win recognition to get the business you deserve, find out more.

See also: “How to leverage ‘strategic’ case studies to build trust, demonstrate value, and take your company to the next level