Building Your Brand in a Recession

The R word never was, and never will be, a term that businesses relish hearing. However, how a company chooses to market themselves during a recession will eventually determine whether they survive or thrive. It is an unfortunate reality that companies have to make budget cuts in tough economic times, and often it is the marketing budgets that get hit first.

To Cut or Not to Cut – That is the Question

Just because times are tough doesn’t mean that your customers have stopped spending money; rather they tend to be more selective in their spending. They want to know they are creating a relationship with a company that they can trust and rely on. If your marketing strategy isn’t your top priority then your brand won’t be top of mind for your customers. By sensibly increasing your marketing budget you will not only ride out economic hardships but realize increased ROI afterwards. In fact, a McGraw-Hill research study of over 600 businesses showed that during the 1980 recession, businesses that increased their marketing budget experienced a 256% growth in sales by 1985.

Redefine Your Message

Take a fresh look at who your current customers are and craft a message that speaks to them. Rather than cutting costs, increase your marketing budget so that you can gain valuable insight as to how your customers are redefining value and responding to the recession. Keep in mind that during economic hard times people tend to have more of a family and comfort mindset. Focus your message on family values while reassuring them and demonstrating empathy.

Strategy = Visibility

First and foremost you want to ensure that your current customers are keeping you top of mind when making purchase decisions. Keep in touch with them and make them feel important whenever possible. A great way to do this is by pulling together your client lists so that you can create personalized direct mail campaigns (link to some of our work here). Another great strategy is to introduce a new product into the marketplace because new launches can gain visibility. In 2001, for example, Procter & Gamble’s successful introduction of the Swiffer WetJet established a new product category that eased the chore of mopping floors and weaned consumers away from cheaper alternatives.

It’s all in the Metrics

Your marketing budget is an investment, not an expense. By having a good system of metrics in place, you can monitor what you spend on marketing and what each dollar is getting you. Shift a larger share of your budget to efforts with more-measurable results, such as direct marketing campaigns and online ads. Create special coupons, codes and messages to see where customers are coming from, which demographics are responding, and what attracted them.

It is important to remember though that customers typically need to have a minimum of three touch points with your brand before they act. Therefore, you cannot dismiss your efforts if you receive lower than hoped for results with your first campaign.

The proof is in the pudding… or this case the cereal

In the early nineteen twenties, Kellogg’s and Post cereal dominated the packaged cereal market. But when the Depression hit no one knew what would happen to consumer demand. Post cut back on advertising, reigned in on expenses and prepared to ride out the dust storm. Kellogg’s on the other hand doubled their advertising budgets, moved aggressively into radio advertising, and heavily pushed their new cereal, Rice Krispies. By 1933, even as the economy cratered, Kellogg’s profits had risen almost thirty per cent and it had become what it remains today: the industry’s dominant player.

A Harvard Business Study analyzed 4700 companies through past global recessions. They found that firms that cut costs faster and deeper than rivals only have a 21% chance of pulling ahead of the competition when times get better. It was the companies that implemented a strategic combination of defensive and offensive changes that had a 37% chance of outperforming their competition in the long run.

Check out which other companies have conquered the recession here.


It is inevitable that consumers will spend less when the economy is down, but nonetheless they will still spend. The best advice that can be extracted from history is that by not just maintaining, but cautiously increasing marketing budgets, you can weather the storm and see increased ROI and market share once the market has settled. As history has shown us, the recession will come to an end. Rather than hiding view this recession as an opportunity to differentiate your company and get noticed.

Are you ready to rise above in this recession? Talk to our in-house design agency—orangedoor—today because together we will get through this. 

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