There are times in the year when churches, faith-based non-profits, and businesses alike revisit their budgets. Sometimes it’s due to the shifts and changes that come with summer schedules and workflows. The end of the fiscal year is another reason to reassess things.
Whatever the circumstances might be, if there’s a need to reduce the budget, marketing tends to always find its way onto the chopping block — especially when times are tough.
The truth is, though, reducing your marketing isn’t a good solution if you’re facing a crisis. In fact, you should do precisely the opposite.
The Critical Role of Marketing
If a company has missed its projections or had a bad quarter, it’s easy to cut marketing because, well, you won’t feel it right away.
If you let go of a salesperson, you can easily project the impact it will have on your bottom line. If you tighten your accounting expenses, you might not end up with a budget at all.
When you slash your marketing budget, though? Well, a few more people might not know about you, but you’ll make it up down the road when things are better, right?
If you see marketing as an expendable bonus you get to indulge in when times are good and your coffers are full, you’ve got the wrong mindset. That’s why we can’t start breaking down the importance of marketing in economically tough times without first pointing out how critical marketing is at all times.
We’re not talking about a recession-specific solution here. The role of marketing is one that should transcend the specific circumstances you’re in.
Will things like budgets, business life cycles, and market conditions impact your marketing? Absolutely. (More on that further down.) But the fundamental reasons you engage in marketing should never change, no matter what your operating environment may be.
That’s why we recommend taking the time for you and your staff to truly grasp the importance of marketing in relation to your organization. That way, you can use that understanding as a North Star to help you make decisions when the pressure builds or you have to make tough decisions.
Let’s start with a quick analogy.
A Marketing Analogy (Courtesy of Donald Miller)
In his book “Business Made Simple” Donald Miller associates businesses with a jet plane. It’s an analogy that makes a lot of sense. In fact, we’ve broken down Miller’s image of an airborne business in detail on the digifora podcast.
To summarize in text form, imagine that your non-profit or business is a plane. If that were the case, you could assign the following areas to each part of the plane:
- The main body is your overhead.
- The wings are your services and products.
- The tail is your capital and cash flow.
- The two engines are sales and marketing.
While everything matters here, that last item is mission-critical. Without engines, the plane won’t fly. And once it’s airborne? The last thing you want to do is lose one of your engines. (“Top Gun” anyone?)
When times are tough, approaching marketing as the complimentary in-flight snack is the wrong approach. You need to see your promotional activities as the lifeline that is keeping you in the air.
The Importance of Trust in Marketing
The plane analogy is helpful to make the initial point, but what is it about marketing that makes it worthy of that hallowed “jet engine” spot? Well, as you can imagine, there are quite a few answers to that question.
For instance, marketing keeps you engaged with your customers. It also builds brand awareness and establishes you as an authority in your industry.
But there’s another element of marketing that we think rises above all the rest: trust.
At digifora, trust is an essential building block of success. It’s a staple ingredient in the marketing mix. Good marketing builds trust between you and your audience. It builds relationships, establishes a rapport, and cultivates comfort.
Trust is also an integral part of your internal marketing workflow. As we already touched on earlier, marketing is difficult to quantify. Sure, we have data and analytics, but there are many nuanced elements of marketing that are hard to measure. Showing that you trust your marketing team is an important way to keep them confident and effective as they project your mission and message to the world.
So, what happens when you reduce the resources or backing of your marketing team when times get tough? You undermine that trust — on every level. You’re telling your marketing team that:
- They can’t count on set budgets and strategies if their circumstances change.
- They aren’t an integral part of your organization.
This can catastrophically impact the ability of your marketing team to effectively do their job.
On top of that, the message will trickle through to consumers, congregants, or whoever’s in your target audience. If a business slashes its marketing budget for an extended period of time, people will notice. If a non-profit’s marketing efforts go dark for months on end, communication and engagement will suffer.
When that happens, your hard-earned reputation will begin to erode. There are a lot of reasons that marketing matters — but trust should always be at the top of the list.
Recessions And Corrections Are Common
Okay, so we’ve got a good idea of why marketing matters. Now let’s put it in the context of a crisis. We’ll use the idea of a full-blown recession here, but keep in mind that even when times are just tough — as was the case in the first half of 2022 — you can still apply these same marketing principles.
The first thing to point out here is market corrections, in general, are common. In fact, according to research conducted by Schwab, they happen roughly every two years, with an average of a 15% pullback each time.
We’re not trying to be downers here. Quite the opposite, in fact.
The takeaway shouldn’t be that you need to brace for the worst every 24 months. Instead, adjust your thinking to see economic troubles through the lens that they are a common part of the business cycle.
In the context of your organization, you will likely experience multiple “tough times” over the lifespan of your business — dozens of them if you’re successful over the long term. They’re normal, and if you keep your head on straight, you won’t be any worse for the wear over the long term.
Even better? Market pullbacks aren’t all bad news …especially if you’re willing to market in them.
The Benefits of Marketing in a Recession
When the economy goes south for a while, it can present some powerful opportunities for any organization willing to market itself. For instance, marketing in a recession:
- Demonstrates strength, leadership, and confidence.
- Cultivates better brand awareness as others restrict their marketing budgets.
- Can offer very affordable opportunities as advertising demand drops.
On top of these benefits, Forbes Council Member Peter Boolkah cleverly points out that there are even subtle advantages to your business shrinking in a recession. In the short term, that is clearly an unwelcome reality. But, remember, everyone is in the same shrinking boat.
However, Boolkah emphasizes that this natural contraction across an industry marketplace provides plenty of opportunities to build new relationships and trust. This can put you in the driver’s seat when the economy begins to expand again.
8 Tips to Improve Marketing When Things Are Tight
There are plenty of reasons to embrace marketing in tough times. The question that remains is …how? What should you do to market in a recession or a serious market pullback?
The correct answer is hardly ever to just “keep doing the same thing.” You need to be ready to react and adapt to your circumstances.
For instance, consider when the market initially contracted when the pandemic started. At that time, many companies began pivoting their product offerings and shifting marketing messages to accommodate the ongoing needs of those weathering the crisis.
Here are a few suggestions to consider each time you find yourself marketing in an economic storm.
1. Tap the Services of a Fractional CMO
A fractionalized CMO can give your organization the power of a full-time CMO without the added expense. It’s a great cost-effective way to keep your marketing infused with life and focus.
If you’re struggling to find direction with your recession-era marketing, a fractional CMO can be the perfect answer to keep you on the straight and narrow during the tough times ahead.
2. Fight for a Bigger Budget
Is more spending money counter-intuitive during a recession? Yes. Should you at least try to get a bump in your budget? Absolutely. This does two things.
First, it gives you a chance to demonstrate to the rest of your organization the different opportunities that come with a recession. Second, even if you’re denied, it establishes the importance of the marketing budget and can protect it from potential cuts.
3. Market to New Customers
We already talked about this, but it’s worth reiterating. When other businesses are backing off on marketing, it can open up the doors for you to expand your own customer base.
Use a recession as an opportunity to identify and target a new audience. It may feel like extra work when you’re trying to survive, but the effort will set you up for success in the future.
4. Market to Repeat Customers
Along with pursuing new customers, you want to make an effort to retain your current customer base. In fact, it’s no secret that it’s much easier to retain a client than to win over a new one.
With that logic in mind, don’t let your pursuit of new customers allow you to overlook the value of your existing clientele. Harvard Business Review points out that when a recession strikes, loyal customers can be your primary source of cash flow.
They can also maintain organic marketing, regardless of what you can afford to invest in that area of growth. Don’t forget about your existing customers!
5. Stay Creative
Creativity is an integral element of good marketing. It’s easy to overlook creativity when times are tight and you’re crunching all of the numbers.
But if you let that inspiration slip, it can sap the effectiveness of your marketing. Take the time to approach your marketing strategy with an imaginative eye. What can you do to tailor your current message to the pain points and needs of your audience in the here and now?
6. Communicate With the Right People
And… we’re back to trust. If you want your marketing to succeed during a recession, you need to make sure you’re consistently communicating with the right people.
This starts with your internal team. Make sure everyone is on the same page and understands the goals, efforts, and direction of your marketing activities.
In addition, keep your audience informed. Stay connected and engaged. Let them know that, no matter what the circumstances, you aren’t going anywhere.
7. Prioritize Consistency and Stability
If you’re marketing in a turbulent market, chances are things won’t feel steady or predictable. Remember that you aren’t the only ones feeling that way.
Your audience is going through the same instability, too. That’s where prioritizing consistency and stability in your marketing messages come into play. If you can make a concerted effort to be as predictable as possible to your audience, it will help you naturally stand out.
8. Track and Assess Over Time
No matter how hard you try to maintain your marketing budget, if money is tight, you’re going to need to adjust — or at the least, justify your expenses.
That’s why it’s important to track and assess your marketing success or failure on a regular basis. Is what you’re doing working? Do you need to adjust your tone, marketing approach, or even your offerings to match the current needs of your audience? If you need to prioritize certain marketing activities over others, what areas of marketing are giving you the highest bang for your buck?
Don’t be that marketer with a chip on your shoulder because you know how important marketing is. Be a team player. Justify your expenses and be willing to make thoughtful, informed changes to your strategy over time.
Dominating Marketing No Matter Your Circumstances
Marketing isn’t an option. It’s an engine. It’s a key element that keeps your company moving forward. It’s important for pastors, managers, and marketers alike to understand that concept.
If you find that your organization is taking a hard look at your marketing budget, don’t be afraid to step in and defend the expense.
Marketing isn’t a luxury reserved for good times. It’s a necessity that gives your business the propulsion it needs to go the distance. Make sure to fuel it properly.