How to use Growth Marketing to Survive a Recession

Mar 26, 2020
5mins read

The internet was a very different place 10 years ago. In 2009 we didn’t have Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Tinder or even Facetime. Influencers were just starting to break through with the help of YouTube and we were all still blissfully unaware of just how much the mobile landscape was about to change - forever.

We were also in the grip of the worst global recession to hit markets ever - even worse than the Great Depression in the 1930s.

Things were also bleak in our industry. Advertising expenditure in 2009 fell by 12.3% in 1 year. Only one medium didn’t see a drop in spending, in fact, it had a 7.3% increase: Digital.

A year-long study by the Harvard Business Review looked at nearly 5000 different publicly traded businesses across three different global recession to see how they fared. They found that 17% didn’t survive. 80% did - but they were still trying to get back to their pre-recession positions 3 years after the economic downturn. The worst affected were the businesses that drastically cut spending with no thought to strategically investing in business growth.

Fast forward to today and we’ve got a huge App Economy with Mobile advertising being put first ahead of other mediums and an explosion of digital-first businesses. Which is great news for digital businesses and agencies alike.

With news of a new Coronavirus-triggered recession on its way, what lessons can we as growth marketers learn from the so-called ‘Great Recession’ of 2009?

Really Know Your Audience

Marketing in hard times is undoubtedly tough, but tougher yet when whole nations are forced into a completely new way of life - like a lockdown. As growth marketers, we’re used to pouring through various data sets in order to uncover new insights - but now we need to reframe our strategic thinking to pivot from massive growth to sustainability marketing.

Look at data with a view of understanding your audience's new behaviours caused by the recession landscape. How your audiences behaved last year is not the same as now, and next year it will be different again. We need to understand, and quickly, how new factors are impacting the market, and how audiences responding. What are they cutting back on, how are they spending their time and money, are they using their devices more etc?

By getting this data together quickly you can pull together the most comprehensive marketing strategy for your clients - and implement your learnings to be sure you’re pushing the right message, to the right people. Focus on raising the brand's profile - it'll keep your audience's attention and keep them engaged.

Using the data you'll be able to create a strategy that increases the :

  • number of visitors to their site,
  • credibility and market share,
  • number of returning customers,
  • and generate profit growth.

Don’t slash your Marketing Budget

History shows us that the businesses that drastically and arbitrarily cut their marketing budget came out of the recession cycle worse (if they survived at all) than those who chose to kept advertising. According to the IPA: “It is better to maintain SOV (share of voice) at or above SOM (share of market) during a downturn: the longer-term improvement in profitability is likely to greatly outweigh the short-term reduction,”.

Think of digital marketing as in investment, not an expense. Instead of being purely reactionary with your cuts, look objectively at your budget and move to spend to where it’s likely to have the most impact in the downturn. Right now, choosing to run an expensive outdoor campaign would be extremely foolish - considering we are on a UK-wide lockdown. Instead - push your budget to reflect where the people are - on their devices at home.

By placing more budget into digital channels you will get more precise and measurable campaigns. This will lead to far better, more quantifiable results than you can achieve with other advertising methods. Digital marketing also works out cheaper than traditional marketing- put simply: you'll get far more juice from your squeeze.

The businesses that do well in a recession are the ones who are adaptive and free themselves up to pivot to new audiences easily - digital allows this flexibility.

Test, Optimise, Repeat

Now is the time to invest in some heavy-duty tests. In a recession landscape, you have to learn quickly what’s working and what’s not so you can survive. Through rigorous testing, you can get all the answers, then spend time optimising to really get your audiences to follow your lead.

Leverage your media budget and test a range of solutions for each channel. Testing works out far cheaper than spending thousands on a campaign that fails to get the desired results.

For the businesses that do invest in digital acquisition and retention marketing, it wouldn’t be unusual to see real-term growth even during a recession.