3 Proven Strategies for Marketing in a Recession

When economic uncertainty rears its ugly head, it affects businesses at every level. Uncertainty slows spending and consumer confidence. But one thing remains true: Never. Stop. Marketing.

Marketing is an area you may be tempted to cut when things become fiscally unpredictable. But cutting your marketing budget can have major negative short-term and long-term consequences for your business. Marketing isn’t optional. It’s an investment, not an expense — an essential part of a business’s ability to keep and grow its customer base and keep its doors (digital or otherwise) open.

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What Happens to Marketing in a Recession?

Economic downturns actually level the marketing playing field — giving even the smallest of brands an opportunity to capture new leads from competitors and increase conversions by boosting brand awareness.

Is marketing effective in a recession?

It really depends on your goals. Advertising can be even more effective during a recession – but you might not see results until the recovery period starts. That’s when an excellent brand awareness strategy starts to pay off in real dollars. When customer confidence begins to rebuild, you will want to be top-of-mind as soon as your customers are ready to pull the trigger.

When times are lean, it’s important to focus on maintaining your current customer base while striving to capture new attention. Aim for a good balance between providing useful information that will help customers make informed decisions and asking for conversions.

How does psychology play a role in recession marketing?

Recession marketing also requires understanding consumer psychology. People are more likely to buy something they can connect with on an emotional level – so tapping into how customers relate to your brand is key. Re-targeting communication tactics to target potential customers with personal stories, engaging content, and a sense of shared purpose will be essential for success.

In industries that aren’t recession-proof, spending relies on customers’ disposable income. However, it goes beyond that. They also require faith in the future, a solid bond with the businesses they wish to support, and a cultural mindset that emphasizes the importance of purchasing. This holds particularly true for retail customers, but is true for anyone you’re asking to give you money (B2B buyers and nonprofit donors included).

Let’s think of customers (and donors) as spending personality types:


This group feels the most financially vulnerable and risk-averse. They eliminate or decrease spending whenever possible by postponing purchases or switching to lower-cost brands. You might think this group comes from lower income brackets, but in many cases it’s quite the opposite.  Remember:


This is the largest segment of consumers in the U.S. right now. Usually employed, this group is cautiously optimistic. They’re resilient in the short-term, but not as confident about their standard of living in the future. They economize in many ways, too, but less aggressively. But as news of recession increases, purse strings tighten, and these customers can easily become slam-on-the-breaks buyers overnight.

Comfortably Well-Off

These are usually the top 5% of earners. These folks plan to ride it out; current and future road bumps don’t lower their spending — they tend to buy at the same levels they did before the recession. However, while the spending may stay the same, where they spend can change; they tend to be more selective about where their money is going, which means your brand has to really shine.

Even if this customer isn’t in the top 5% of earners, they feel as confident and stable as those who are. This sometimes includes retirees or low-risk investors.


This is the Business As Usual segment, and can be seen across income levels. The group is less concerned about savings — purchases are short-term investments. When the going gets tough, they tend to extend their spending timelines, rather than cutting spending altogether. They’re typically younger, urban home renters who spend more on experiences than objects (except for electronics). Unless they become unemployed, they’ll keep swiping that card.

What sells in a recession?

Some industries are considered “recession-proof.” They won’t stop in their tracks just because the economy takes a downward turn. But just because your industry is safe from collapse doesn’t mean that your business is going to withstand the storm — unless you continue to drive revenue.

No matter which type of spender they are, every consumer prioritizes their purchases and categorize them as:

  • The Essentials: things perceived as necessary for survival; integral to well-being. This will include food, shelter, clothing, transportation, and medical care.
  • Postponables: things we need, but that we don’t need right now.
  • Treats: luxuries and indulgences; immediate purchases that are easily justified.
  • Expendables: viewed as frivolous or unnecessary.

While the essentials category is fairly standardized, the other three are very subjective — and will vary from person to person across all income levels.

What marketing strategies are especially effective during a recession?

Conversion-based strategies and short-term campaigns aren’t going to be as helpful as before, as some of your prospects have closed their wallets. Instead, your strategies should be about building long-term, trusting relationships between your brand and your audience.

One of the most effective things you can do right now is to focus on creating content that provides real value for your consumers. This helps build trust and keeps you top-of-mind with your prospects – even when times are tough.

The power of SEO in a recession

This is the long play; the smart play; the power play. A heads-down, all-hands-on-deck strategy that might not show results for at least six months. But the best-ranking websites in the most competitive industries prove time and time again that sharpening your SEO is going to increase traffic and boost revenue more predictably and reliably for the long-term. Don’t forget: anything entered into a search bar is an attempt to find you. So you have to be findable.

Marketing experts have seen as much as $3 earned for every $1 spent on SEO services. But that takes work. As a strategy, SEO brings customers to you, driving brand awareness and boosting conversions. It’s that brand awareness element that does the trick during a recession. If they don’t click “buy now” today, they’ll bookmark your site for tomorrow.

Customer retention and loyalty during economic downturns

This has a lot more to do with perception than with hard numbers, and business news has an enormous effect. News of corporate scandals, taxpayer-funded bailouts, and housing market crashes foster major distrust among consumers. And that distrust breeds skepticism about marketing messages. Gen Z customers are particularly affected by these shifts, and their brand loyalty is easily lost (and hard to get back).

Loyalty primarily hinges on one factor:


Tell the truth. Support your statements (in all of your marketing, advertising, and social posts) with credible research and expert input. Be consistent in your messaging — contradictions are easily spotted and even more easily shared/retweeted among your prospects. Handle your social justice initiatives, social media posting, and branding ethos with sensitivity and transparency, especially in times of crisis or controversy.

Should you cut down on digital advertising during a recession?

No. No. No.

B2B organizations already spend less than half of their marketing budget on brand-building (60% is recommended), so you can’t afford to go any lower if you want to keep your brand top-of-mind.

Because many other advertisers will reduce their budgets, every dollar you spend has a greater impact — you have a better chance of being heard when there’s less digital noise. So take advantage of the opportunity.

How do you promote your business during a recession?

Here are the Big 3 Strategies we recommend when marketing during an economic downturn:

1. Focus on Value

Everything costs more than it did a year ago. Thanks to inflation, that’s always true. In a recession — it’s even more so. We know that 66% of customers will switch brands to find a better deal on a product or service. That means discounts, special offers, and price reductions should be a huge part of your marketing strategy. If your prices are competitive, so is your business.

Whatever products or services you offer — make sure your customer wants to put it into that all-important essentials category. If it’s merely a treat (or worse, an expendable), it’s much tougher to cross the bridge that separates a customer from the brand.

2. Leverage Digital Marketing

Paid social media ads and Google ads are well-tested ways to build new relationships with potential customers (and nurture the existing ones).

But there are plenty of ways to reach beyond that through strong long-term content strategy:

  • Storytelling videos that talk about your brand’s mission
  • Blog posts that boost SEO performance through keyword optimization
  • A/B testing with the engaging social media ads you’re posting
  • Authentic user-generated content, reviews, and testimonials
  • Purchasing pay-per-click ads (PPC)
  • More interactive media like e-books, guides, apps, and podcasts

3. Communicate Empathetically

Get to know your customers better. They may be spending less right now, but you need to be prepared to reach them when the economy begins to revive. Keep an eye on shared interest groups on LinkedIn or Facebook, watch Google and Yelp reviews, social media comments, and your messaging inbox. What trends do you see? What do people want? Give it to them.

Transparency is a must. Humanize your brand by telling your customers what is going on — even if that means admitting imperfections. If costs are increasing, come right out and tell your customers why (inflation, better technology, etc).

Above all, don’t lose touch with your customers. Get to know them. Figure out what they’re thinking about and worrying about and how your brand might fill their needs without outright asking for the sale.

Innovation: The Key to Thriving in a Recession

During a recession, people are looking for affordable, easy solutions. With keyword and customer research as your guide, new engaging and optimized content is going to be your biggest ally. And you need an expert team to help make these innovative changes happen. Contact us to learn how Big Sea can help take your brand from surviving to thriving.