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Marketing in a recession: How to avoid 5 common mistakes

by | Nov 18, 2022 | Search Engine Optimization News

It’s hard not to be anxious about the macroeconomy right now. 

Unless you’re a brand marketer in a thoroughly recession-proof industry or an agency marketer with a portfolio of clients in recession-proof industries, you’re working against an undercurrent of stress and performance pressure.

These emotions may help some marketers achieve hyper-focus. But they’re also leading many to make hasty decisions that run counter to the short- and long-term health of their businesses. 

In this article, you’ll learn some common mistakes marketers make and more thoughtful alternatives that will position brands to survive and thrive over the long haul.

Mistake 1: Cutting instead of reducing

You’ve likely heard that marketing is a flywheel.

What that means, especially with major platform algorithms’ self-learning capabilities, is that cutting spend implies a hard reset that will have last ramifications well beyond the time it takes to turn campaigns back on.

What to do instead

Wherever possible, keep the lights on in campaigns you know are providing results. If you need to reduce spend: 

  • Understand that you’re in good company.
  • Take a deep breath and start by dialing back (but not cutting altogether) where you’ll see a less immediate impact. 

If you can’t clearly see opportunities within specific campaign segments, you may need more precise segmentation:

  • Top of funnel, middle of funnel or bottom of funnel at the campaign level.
  • By objective at the ad set level. 

This will help you assess where performance is relatively poor and eligible for reductions.

Mistake 2: Cutting without referencing account history

It’s an especially tough time for startups. Without a lot of benchmarking data, they’re unable to reference past account history for smarter budget reductions. 

There are fewer excuses for more established brands not to dig into the history of account performance (especially if the history goes back to other frenetic times, like the first six months of the COVID-19 pandemic), but I’ve seen it happen.

What to do instead

If you are a startup and don’t have a helpful archive of performance data, but you do have an agency running your account, lean heavily on them to pull insights from similar accounts they may have had in the past. (Make sure you’re involving your agency in any big decisions, of course.)

If you have a more established set of accounts, go back at least to your 2020 data to analyze: 

  • How you reallocated budget then.
  • What worked in the short and long terms.
  • What had lasting effects (good or bad). 

This will give you a good strategic starting point for product or service campaigns that remain relevant to your business.

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Mistake 3: Cutting without referencing CRM data

I’ve seen this a lot over the years and not just in recessions: marketers who react to surface-level metrics without understanding actual business impact make poor budget decisions.

Examples: 

  • A B2B brand throws more budget at a source of cheap CPLs instead of understanding which source is driving the most qualified leads that evolve into opportunities.
  • An ecommerce brand reduces budget for their highest-CPA audience without realizing that the audience in question carries an average LTV 50% higher than other audiences.

In times where spend reductions are widespread, kneecapping your most valuable audiences, segments or campaigns may achieve your immediate budget goals, but it’ll crater your revenue over the long term.

What to do instead

If you haven’t synced your marketing data with your CRM data, it’s high time to get that nailed down. 

At the very least, make sure you have an understanding (on the B2B side) of which channels are driving your most qualified leads (which you can keep track of on a simple Excel sheet if you’re waiting on dev resources) so you can prioritize other areas for spend reductions.

Mistake 4: Cutting new campaigns prematurely

In today’s algorithm-heavy marketing world:

  • Campaigns need time and data to optimize. 
  • Tests need enough time to return statistically significant results. 

Early indicators are not the full picture and shouldn’t be all the information you need to make your decisions.

What to do instead

Rather than panicking and cutting, rotate in fresh creative and messaging while adjusting bidding types. Go through all the usual optimization options you normally would, and resist the urge to cut without understanding the true performance ceiling of your campaigns.

In B2B, where data density takes longer to build, set some higher-volume growth indicators that will return information more quickly. 

Even CTR can be a decent proxy metric to start with (as long as you react to high CTR/low conversion scenarios by optimizing the weak point in your funnel).

Mistake 5: Going blind to opportunity

While it may feel like a worst-case scenario for many marketers, the likelihood is that at least one of your competitors is in poorer shape – which means they may be leaving market share and/or lower costs on the table for you to grab. 

(If you’re working for a recession-proof brand and have a full budget on hand, this is relevant to you as well, since you may see lower CPMs and CPCs in your social channels once the election and holiday seasons have elapsed).

Yes, many of us are on the defensive for good reason. But spending all of your energy on preservation means you might miss out on opportunities to expand.

What to do instead

Make sure you’re paying attention to weekly cost trends so you can quickly identify (and jump on) any market softness. 

Keep close tabs on industry news, particularly concerning platforms you haven’t yet tested, that indicate any general downward cost trends making those platforms more viable. 

The other thing to watch for is emerging trends and market shifts that you can address in your campaigns. If your traditional ideal customer profile (ICP) is developing new pain points: 

  • Make sure your marketing addresses those.
  • Communicate the developments to your executive team so they can consider shifting any offers accordingly. 

Above all, do your best to approach your campaigns with an eye toward the long term, which will help keep you from spending all of your time and money on sheer survival tactics.

Great marketers emerge from recessions

You may notice that every one of these mistakes should be avoided at all times, not just during economic upheaval

There’s a reason for the adages about great marketers emerging from recessions

Whether the recession forces you into good new habits or you brought good habits that helped keep your company ahead of the curve, the foundations of great marketing persist. 

Keep them top of mind as you wade through the news cycles and tough internal meetings.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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About The Author

Laura-Schiele.jpeg Marketing in a recession: How to avoid 5 common mistakes

Laura Schiele, Head of Paid Acquisition at Jordan Digital Marketing, has nearly a decade of experience in paid media strategy and execution in both agency and in-house accounts and uses advanced analytics skills to scale growth within efficiency goals across Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, and more. Laura manages a large team of paid media experts remotely from her home in Burlington, VT.

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