In such volatile times, you may be considering whether marketing in a recession is a wise move or not. I'm here to tell you that it is. In fact, it might just be the most critical factor in your success.
It's tough out there and the world is going to take a little longer to recover than we had imagined. The reality is that the doors to many companies won’t open. Some will delay the inevitable and struggle through the next year or two before eventual submission.
The bright side?
Many companies will make it through. Many new businesses who respond to the changes in how we live from now on will bloom. Like wild bushfires, the very thing that causes untold devastation may also bring about new life.
Where we find ourselves
In South Africa, we have seen an incredible effort and ironclad commitment from the medical fraternity. Most complied with the rules and did what was required of them when possible.
We have also seen some epic policy fumbles. The suspension of e-commerce activities and the now-famous ban on selling flip-flops are just two examples. For many people, what “took the koek” was the prohibition of cigarettes and alcohol.
I'm not going to go into the impact of alcoholism and/or smoking. Nor will I go anywhere near political commentary.
What I will say is this.
If the lock-down has taught us anything, it is that it doesn't matter what the government takes away. Come hell or high water, if people want it, they will find a way to get it.
Sure, we might temporarily lower our standards in favour of more wholesome homemade alternatives. We will proudly display our newfound brewing superpowers and create our very own pineapple beer or apple cider.
We may start to dream of self-sufficiency and off-the-grid living in the mountains. But, once we taste pineapple “beer” or pour that milky glass of apple cider most of us will change our minds.
When that happens, we will chuck our wholesome imaginings out the window with the same contempt as a week-old slap-chip discovered under the car seat while blindly fumbling for the face mask you know was there yesterday.
We will go as far as to buy our favourite beer or cigarette brand from criminals on the black market. However reluctantly it may be, it will still happen.
We will have our poison despite the consequence.
What does this have to do with marketing?
With an inevitable recession on the horizon, businesses are likely to do what they have always done in times of crisis. They will check for leaks in the ship and close any holes they can get their fingers into until the market returns to “normal”.
Usually, one of the first areas to get the finger is marketing. I will get to why that's a bad idea in a bit.
It's tempting to stop all marketing in a recession.
Marketing is often accused of costing more than what can be clearly and directly attributed to it through sales. Marketers talk about “the brand”, “the experience” and all the intangible stuff that, if we're honest, is barely noticeable unless well executed.
It is true. Marketing often costs more than the sales it generates directly if that is the yardstick you use. It's also true that a lot of marketing activities aren't clearly visible.
Which makes it no surprise that marketing is often in the crosshairs of a budget cut especially in a recession.
Here is why that is a huge mistake.
Granted, some of us might stick with homemade pineapple beer (not me). Some may stick with R250 “Wheelbarrow” light cigarettes too. But, most of us are going straight back to the brands we know, the very second the opportunity arises.
You know, the products and brands that reliably and consistently deliver on our expectations. In short, we will return to what we are familiar with.
Familiarity is a powerful currency that is often ignored.
Part of this is what we, in marketing call it “top of mind awareness”. Top of mind awareness measures where brands rank in the minds of consumers when considering a particular category.
As an example, if I ask you to imagine pouring tomato sauce on your french fries, which tomato sauce brand is it that you imagine? If you have an answer then you know how it works.
Top of mind awareness extends further than your weekly shopping list. It determines where you buy new tyres, which provider you use for email and who you reach out to when you have a particular business need.
The more familiar you are with a particular product, service or even the sales representative the more likely you are to call on them when the need arises.
Advertising is the traditional method used to create “familiarity”. It is heavily reliant on repetition to make it effective. We use tv, radio and digital advertising to reach your eyes as often as is necessary to plant a seed of familiarity in your mind.
Nowadays, video content, social media, blogs, news articles and websites are component of what is called “content marketing”. Seen by many as the “new advertising” it involves the creation of digital content which offers contextual value to the viewer while building familiarity with its brand.
For example, Bakers is a well-known biscuit brand in South Africa with a huge range of products to market.
Instead of telling consumers to buy their products through advertising, they use content marketing to gently coax them into buying their products. They create baking recipes which are shared online for free, each recipe conveniently calls for one or more of their products to be used.
In the case of Bakers biscuits, your Google search for “birthday cake ideas” might bring up a photograph of a cake that you like and the recipe you need to make it. They have provided you with a recipe that solves your problem. You are likely to remember that the next time you are in the aisle shopping for teatime snacks.
Why marketing in a recession is critical to business success, especially in a volatile market.
Suspending your marketing during a recession, while tempting, hands advantage to competitors with the courage and willingness to stick it out.
Brands who take advantage of the gap left by competitors deciding not to spend on marketing will win. They will ascend the search engine rankings, save on digital advertising costs and build up their audience all due to the lack of competition.
Top of mind awareness
Brands who stand up to claim their share of the conversation in the absence of competition will become a familiar voice in the mind of the consumer. They become the brand they turn to when life starts to normalise.
Just as consumers have returned to the brands they are familiar with as prohibition lifts, they will do the same with everything else. Unless someone stands up and becomes the “new familiar” in our post-COVID “new normal”.
Remember - No one buys from strangers in a recession.
While continuing marketing in a recession might seem counter-intuitive, it may just be the only thing standing between success and failure. If you can’t afford to market the way you used to rather streamline your activities, bring some work in-house or speak to us about how we can help you do more with less.