Recession Marketing: Going Up When The World Goes Down

wooden walkway with a split path at the end

You’ve probably heard the news by now:

Experts and analysts have signaled a potential economic recession in the near future. 

No one knows what’s going to happen with certainty. We should, however, learn to prepare ourselves (and our marketing strategies) for inevitable future recessions either way. 

So, how should we approach marketing during tough economic times? 

Step 1: Don’t Freak Out

When a recession hits, the knee-jerk reaction is to bring out the budget chainsaw and start cutting. 

Don’t get us wrong: When cash flow starts to slow down, it’s important to analyze how we’re spending our money. But let’s not get hasty. 

Instead of chopping away everything that seems unnecessary at first glance, we’d be much better off taking a balanced, strategic approach to our efforts during uncertain times. Harvard Business Review says it best:

“Companies that put customer needs under the microscope, take a scalpel rather than a cleaver to the marketing budget, and nimbly adjust strategies, tactics, and product offerings in response to shifting demand are more likely than others to flourish both during and after a recession.”

But what exactly should we spare, and what should we cut?

Step 2: Determine What’s Working and Optimize

According to Markletic, “The internal pressure will become greater on the marketing team to prove return on investment during a recession.”

It makes sense. When money is tight, you need to focus all efforts on increasing the things that are bringing it in. But, it’s not that simple. 

Without an analytics platform configured to track detailed conversion actions (and to use those conversions in optimization efforts automatically), it’s unlikely you’ll know what marketing actions are driving leads, let alone revenue. To put it simply:

You should set up systems to track marketing successes before a recession hits. And you need to have “successes” in the first place. 

Your campaigns must be optimized from the foundation – and on an ongoing basis – to respond to customer behavior and trends (in your industry, your keywords, or in the economic condition). We can’t cover the calculus of a great marketing strategy in one article, but there are many things you can do in the meantime to help track successes, optimize campaigns, and maximize revenue during recessions: 

  1. Set up a CRM to track prospects: When they visit your site, what actions they take on your website/ads, where they’re at in your funnel, and more. We recommend HubSpot
  2. Set up “offline conversion tracking” for your advertising platforms: It’s possible your ads are driving more leads than you think – they just aren’t converting directly from the ads themselves. Offline tracking helps you understand this.
  3. Place a greater focus on retargeting campaigns: This is one area you can look for easy wins: it’s much easier (and cheaper) to convert leads who already know you. 
  4. Audit your sales funnel: When a recession hits, it’s likely you still have prospects in your sales funnel who are interested in purchasing. Closing these deals can be crucial in sustaining business. 
  5. Optimize your website for conversions: You can afford to have leaks in your bucket when it’s constantly being refilled. But, when the stream becomes a drip, you’ll wish you had repaired the holes. 
  6. Create and optimize email nurture campaigns: Properly-optimized emails nurture campaigns result in higher lead conversion rates over time, helping you make the most of every email address you capture. 

How do top digital marketing agencies plan and execute successful campaigns? Our digital marketing blueprint canvas will help guide, communicate, and ensure the success of any digital marketing campaign you run.

Step 3: Start Planning and Executing Recession Marketing Activities

It’d be nice if we could treat recessions as mini-vacations. But instead, we must be vigilant and stay ahead of the game. 

The marketing strategies that each business implements during a recession will differ. However, there are a few that stand out among the rest:

Account-Based Recession Marketing 

If you’re a B2B company, your prospects will likely cut back on wish list items and begin to focus on their specific, core needs during an economic downturn. Suppose you’re prepared to tackle these core needs. In that case, you can create a hyper-targeted Account Based Marketing (ABM) strategy to speak to your ideal prospects on a near-individual (or fully individual) basis.

Here’s a simplified process you could use to create the foundation of an ABM strategy:

  1. Gather a list of ideal prospects by industry, project budget, employee numbers, revenue, location, or any other qualifying piece of information. 
  2. Set up HubSpot Prospect Tracking to monitor and alert when larger prospects visit your website. 
  3. Conduct an audit on your prospects. How healthy are they in the areas your products/services aim to improve? Are there any new initiatives they’ve undertaken that could be improved by your products/services? 
  4. Audit your prospects’ competitors for ammunition in marketing materials. Have their competitors started initiatives similar to what you’re offering? Are they succeeding in those initiatives?
  5. Create marketing materials that address the specific needs of each prospect (or small groups of related prospects) and execute email marketing, advertising, and content marketing efforts to reach them where they spend time online or elsewhere.

Note: Case studies that showcase your successes during recessions, if you have them, can be amazing resources to fuel your ABM efforts. 


“Wait a second. Doesn’t SEO take months to show results? Weren’t you just talking about focusing on the things that provide immediate results?” 

It can seem counter-intuitive to invest in a long-term SEO strategy during a recession. This is especially true when finances begin to thin. 

But, think of it this way: 

There will be a time when consumers start to purchase again. The floodgates will open eventually. Who’s going to be at the top of Google, ready to harvest when the new season comes? 

Your competitors will likely cut back on efforts that don’t provide immediate results, like SEO. And that’s great! When your competition slows down, that’s your queue to speed up. 

Start producing content that provides more value than your competitor’s content. If they don’t spend the energy updating their own content (and producing more) to match your quality and output, Google will take note. 

Step 4: Don’t Freak Out (Part 2) 

You may have noticed a common theme throughout our tips: 

You should do them regardless of whether there’s a recession. 

Apart from the changes you make to your messaging and strategy, the basic marketing tasks necessary during a recession do not change. They just shift in priority. 

No matter what may happen in the coming months, let’s all remember to keep a level head and to reach for the scalpel instead of the cleaver. 

How do top digital marketing agencies plan and execute successful campaigns? Our digital marketing blueprint canvas will help guide, communicate, and ensure the success of any digital marketing campaign you run.