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Marketing in times of economic uncertainty

Often when a brand’s finances are strained, the first thing cut is the marketing budget

Jennifer McGhee //February 12, 2020//

Marketing in times of economic uncertainty

Often when a brand’s finances are strained, the first thing cut is the marketing budget

Jennifer McGhee //February 12, 2020//

Economists have been issuing dire reports predicting a 2020 recession for some time now. With trade wars, yield curve inversion, slowing growth of the U.S. economy and general uncertainty about the future, some experts have predicted 2020 to be reminiscent of 2008. Now, however, economists are beginning to change their tune toward a more positive economic outlook for 2020, and as the Washington Post reports, a downturn is now looking less certain. The problem is that many businesses have already put cautionary spending plans in place for the coming year.

Often when a brand’s finances are strained, the first thing cut is the marketing budget. With a looming recession or any kind of uncertainty, corporate leadership often reverts to a way of thinking that positions sales as a money maker and marketing as the money spender. As a result, marketing budgets are slashed to save overhead and keep the company afloat. Though at surface level budgetary numbers may seem to support this idea, from a strategic perspective there is a strong argument for spending marketing dollars even when times are tough.

Here are several recession-proof marketing tips to utilize during economic uncertainty to ensure continued sales success today and ensuring a strong position ahead of the competition once things start to turn around.

Take a deep breath

The first thing to do is pause, examine the facts and create a plan. There is no reason to rush toward budget cuts without proper information and data. Take time to sit down with your leadership team to strategize and come up with a well-informed plan to weather the storm.

Brands that panic and cut marketing spend on the first indication of a downturn lose valuable opportunity to stay visible to their consumers. By removing your marketing budget, you remove yourself from the ring, guaranteeing that you will see a downturn in sales as you are no longer top of mind for customers. Stay in view of your consumers for as long as possible, even if you suspect you may have to cut costs at some point.

Lean on marketing fundamentals

What has worked for your company in the past? Maybe it is maintaining strong relationships with your clients, or scrappy marketing techniques that are cost-effective, though maybe not as flashy as big media buy campaigns. Whatever it is, find your niche and lean into it while the going gets tough. Just because the country may be feeling the pressures of the recession, that doesn’t mean that consumers are no longer buying goods. And chances are, if your brand isn’t more visible than your competitors, they won’t purchase your product after the recession either.

Continue to keep the lights on, even if the budget needs to shrink a bit. Going dark will only make it more difficult to come back when budgets are replenished.

Do a deep dive into your audience

Your audience is always crucial to sales, but it becomes even more important when finances are tight. Have you done a deep dive into how your consumer base acts in times of recession? Chances are, they will be doing the same thing this time around as well, and if you can forecast that behavior, you can make your dollars work harder. Additionally, this is a great time to strategize with loyalty programs, letting your audience know you care about their repeat buying and loyalty to your brand.

Track everything

If your budget has been affected by the changing financial climate, there’s no room to spend money that isn’t giving you a return on investment. Google Analytics is the best way to see if your marketing spend is effective and which avenues are the most effective. Combine these analytics with your sales data to identify the top-performing initiatives in real-time without cutting programs that are working. You can quickly change your strategy when needed, and being able to stay that nimble is important when you’re keeping a close eye on spend and ROI.

Emotional connection is key

Though connecting to your consumer on an emotional level is always paramount to a successful campaign, it becomes even more important during times of financial concern. Senses of consumers may be heightened in a struggling economy, so making sure your audience knows that you see and hear them on a more personal level is even more important. Yes, they love discounts and deals, but they also look for the emotional bond that you’ve been building for your brand. Focus on the consumers with whom you’ve built rapport, and make sure you continue to serve them as time goes on.

Lean on brand evangelists

One of the most cost-effective ways to gain impressions for your brand and continue to build brand awareness is through your loyal brand evangelists. Consumers continue to look to other consumers, micro-influencers and influencers as trustworthy sources for their shopping choices. Now is the best time to be on their list of go-to brands. If the marketing budget has indeed been cut, find influencers and brand evangelists who will do collaborative posts and blogs in exchange for product and giveaways. The impressions and engagement you’ll get from partnerships like these will rival that of the big campaigns you’ll continue to run in the future.


Tougher times may be looming, but don’t think short-term for your brand. Going dark with marketing now could hurt you in the future. While your company is retreating, other brands are forging ahead knowing that their consumers are still purchasing and will continue to purchase after the recession. If you can dig in and trust in your capabilities as nimble, resourceful marketers, you will see the benefits in the long run while other brands may have to start from scratch.

Jennifer McGhee is a managing partner for VOCO Creative, a Colorado-based Marketing Agency that specializes in savvy marketing for brands. Learn more at