Guide to Marketing During a Recession

Recessions are scary for everyone – no doubt about it. This time could leave you and your employees wondering or even doubting how and if you will get through. Following our guide to marketing during a recession will help you not only get through lean times but come out better positioned to take advantage of the recovery.
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Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Plan Ahead and Get Ahead
  3. Clear and Consistent Communication
  4. Every Recession is Different
  5. Existing Clients are Key
  6. Send the Right Message
  7. Don’t Forget the Basics of Marketing
  8. Make Appropriate Price Adjustments
  9. Get Help if Needed
  10. Recession Marketing is Focused on the Long-Term
  11. Resources

Introduction

Even before the coronavirus epidemic, there were many predictions of an upcoming recession, but the coronavirus has largely cemented the likelihood of a recession. Plus, it’s just economics, a recession will eventually happen. Questions still remain about when exactly it will happen, what it will look like, and how long it will last, but it’s time for architects to start thinking about how you will handle marketing during a recession. 

While we can’t answer questions about what the recession will look like with any amount of certainty, and no one can, we can provide some guidance on how to get through the lean times. Focusing on the following when developing your recession marketing plan will help you get through the lean times with more confidence and less fear.

Plan Ahead and Get Ahead

One of the first steps to marketing during a recession is to have a good handle on your cash flow so you can create a good recession marketing plan. Know what it looks like right now and have an idea for how it might look mid-recession. If your revenue drops, will you need to immediately start making cuts to your budget? Is there some wiggle room built in? If there isn’t, can you create some right now before you need to?

Whatever you do, view your marketing budget as an essential budget item – especially during a recession. So many view their marketing budget as overhead and it’s the first thing to go during a market downturn. The thinking behind this isn’t unreasonable. During a recession, fewer people will be looking to spend money. If you are already strapped for cash, spending money on marketing when it feels like no one is looking can feel like a huge waste of time.

But the truth is, while your clients might not be hiring architects at the moment, they are still looking. Try to view this time as your opportunity to stand out from the crowd. So many other firms will be cutting their marketing budget. If you keep yours strong, you are the company your potential clients will continue to see and remember. Once the recession is over, your clients will be looking to spend more money again, and you'll be in a prime position to continue seamlessly

While a recession isn’t a good time to cut your marketing budget, it is a great time to be critical of where the money is going. If you don’t already, do an analysis on all the different marketing tactics you use and how effective they are. If you aren’t seeing a benefit from a specific tactic, first see if there are ways you could improve that approach. Don’t be afraid to make some drastic changes to your marketing strategy. 

Ask yourself: Where will my marketing budget have the biggest impact? Focus on those items that bring you the most bang for your buck.

That being said, don’t be afraid to diversify your marketing. This is the best way to keep up with a changing industry. With fewer competitors out there because they slashed their marketing budget, it will be easier to have success from new strategies.

Clear and Consistent Communication

During times of uncertainty, it can be easy to clam up and not let your employees know your plan. Maybe you are worried about saying the wrong thing or maybe you are feeling uncertain about what the plan is yourself.

Whatever your reasons, fight this urge. The companies that do the best during a recession are the ones who keep up clear and consistent communications with everyone in their company.

Your employees are already scared, and a quiet leadership team can make them even more scared. The fear can make employees start to wonder what they can do to have their co-workers be the ones to be laid off and not them. This destroys the culture of trust and cooperation you have worked hard to build. Even if you don’t quite have a plan yet, communicating that to your employees is better than nothing. 

On the flip side, allow your employees the space and trust to voice their concerns and ideas. You never know who could have a great idea!

Every Recession is Different

Between the dot-com bubble, the mortgage crisis, and now coronavirus, we know that every recession is driven by different factors. The situation surrounding the recession means that your recession marketing needs to change to match. 

Recessions have a profound impact on how people act. This is even more true with coronavirus. Nothing has changed our habits and schedules like it since the World Wars. People are spending a lot more time at home. Flexible, work-from-home arrangements are now the norm. These changes might be permanent.

Make sure to keep an eye on how the recession is changing the way your clients act and spend money. This will help you target your marketing during a recession – you probably are not going to be spending much money on advertising at big events. It will also help you offer services that exactly match what your clients are needing, like bigger houses or cool home offices.

Harvard Business Review suggests classifying your clients into different consumer types: slam-on-the-brakes, pained-but-patient, comfortably well-off, and live-for-today consumers. 

Your slam-on-the-brakes consumers will be the hardest hit – right now that is probably anyone working in the travel or entertainment industry. They will be the most cautious and will reduce all spending. Because they tend to have a larger safety net, high-income clients don’t tend to be in this category.

The pained-but-patient consumers will probably be your largest group of clients (unless your projects tend to be very high-end). Cautious about short-term spending, they will still be making plans for future projects. This group is likely not directly impacted by a job loss or financial hardship.

Your comfortably well-off consumers are your highest income clients. They have enough saved up to weather most storms. The recession will have a very small impact on their spending habits, and they will consume at about the same level as they did before the recession.

Your live-for-today consumers tend to be urban and younger – making them less concerned about savings or the future. This group might push back major purchases, but in general they won’t change their behavior. This group also tends to be the least likely to need or want architectural services.

Using these categories , or making your own, will help you get a handle on what your clients are doing. If these categories don’t seem to fit your clients, then make your own. Architects should try to know their clients and their needs best -- this is perhaps the most important tool for an architect in recession planning. This allows you to shift your recession marketing into a more productive and targeted approach. 

If most of your clients are businesses, this approach will still work for b2b marketing, but the categories might be a bit different. Remember, the idea is to know exactly what percentage of your clients are behaving in certain ways – how you categorize them doesn’t matter as long as it makes sense to you.

Existing Clients are the Key

Don’t worry as much during this time on finding new clients. A recession is a time when the vast majority of people and businesses are feeling fear and uncertainty. This can make it extra hard to get new clients to trust you enough to hire you.

Your existing clients already know and trust you – your initial work gaining their business is done. Now focus on keeping it. Check in with them and keep up contact. Recession marketing strategies should largely be about maintaining clients. Consider some sort of loyalty reward program. Make them extra happy. This is especially true for b2b marketing.

A recession might be the perfect time to consider trying out the “2% That Counts” rule coined by entrepreneur Mark Patey. The “2% That Counts” rule says that once you have met a client’s expectations you should go 2% further. 

The example he gives during a lecture involves the deck building business he owned with his brother. With their first client, they hadn’t gotten to 2% extra until they came back two weeks after the deck was built and gave the client some free planter boxes made from left over material. Finally, the client pulled out their phone and contacted some friends to tell them about the Patey brothers.

Mark Patey encourages businesses to always meet your client’s expectations and then go 2% past that – keeping in mind that everyone’s expectations will be different. While meeting your client’s expectations might make them happy with your work, it’s not until you go further that they reach out to people they know to send referrals your way. He argues that the 2% more is the only percentage that really counts.

Whether you decide to try out the 2% That Counts rule or not, referrals from existing clients should be a large part of your recession marketing strategy. Referrals are free marketing and they are a genuine form of marketing that most people will trust. 

Send the Right Message

Since you are focusing mainly on your existing clients during a market downturn, your recession marketing should rely heavily on the relationship you have built before the downturn. The goal is to have your clients know you meant it when you say you feel for what they are going through. 

If you don’t think your clients will know you meant it, this is a good time to do some thinking about why they might think that. Make a plan to change that and start to work on that plan. If your clients don’t view you as a genuine person/firm, a recession won’t be the best time to change that – but you can start to work on it now.

Even marketing during a downturn will rely heavily on human psychology and behavior. Marketing that focuses on emotions will still do better than messages about logic and reasons, despite what you might think. Regardless of our best efforts, humans most commonly make decisions based on how they make them feel.

Marketing during the current recession will rely even more on the right message because this recession will likely still have fears about coronavirus mingled with economic concerns. All of these stressors have made people extra sensitive and reactive to the wrong message. There are many examples of ads that have come out recently that have generated a very strong, and usually not positive, reaction from the public.

While your marketing efforts during the recession might not always hit the right note with everyone, keep in mind how your clients are feeling. Being empathetic will help you get to the right message in your marketing. This is really a time to focus more on them and what they will gain from you (although that should be your focus all the time).

Right now, reporters have plenty to cover, so make sure any media pitches are worth their time and effort. Consider shelfing some ideas for later. Follow the news, so you know how your pitches fit in with the general theme. 

Don’t Forget the Basics of Marketing

When a recession starts, it can feel like we have entered a new wild west of “recession marketing” and all the previous rules should be thrown out the window. This is only partly true. In fact, some marketing basics are even more important during a recession. 

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is key in recession marketing. As we said before, you need to make your marketing as efficient as possible. Over one third of google visitors will click on the first result that pops up. Getting your website into those top spots will make any content you put out more effective at bringing in clients.

Questions about what SEO is and how to leverage it? Check out the guide we made on SEO for architects

Track and tweak everything. Again, recession marketing has to be efficient – you don’t want any wasted efforts or money. You don’t have the room to continue with marketing that isn’t working for you. The only way you will know if it’s working is by tracking. Track your efforts and then make changes to your marketing campaign until it’s working. 

Use Google Analytics or other software to track what is happening with visitors come to your website or social media pages, if you aren’t already. This makes it easy.

Make Appropriate Price Adjustments

This will depend a lot of what your existing clientele looks like. If you tend to work a lot on high-end projects, then your prices should probably stay the same. After all, your clients are in the category of consumers who won’t be impacted much by the recession.

If, however, your clients are more mid-level, you might want to consider making your services more affordable. This will be a time that you will see people shopping around more and being more conscious of price. One way of doing this without cutting into your profits is to offer more lower-end project options. Maybe your client is willing to forego some of your normal services in exchange for a lower price. Give them even more choices, even within your b2b marketing.

If you do decide to have some sort of special on your services, tie this into your loyalty program. Focus on your existing clients.

Get Help if Needed

Marketing during a downturn is extremely important to get right. Not only will your efforts be vital to keeping things afloat, but they will help you make a strong comeback when the recession ends. People will remember your actions during this time.

To that end, if you think you might need help, don’t be scared to get it. It will be a good investment, especially if you hire the right consultant. Ask other architects for recommendations. Someone who has experience in marketing for architects will help you the best. Even if you have a great marketing team, they might need some help with marketing during a downturn. 

Recession Marketing is Focused on the Long-Term

During a recession, it’s really easy to get focused on the short-term. You probably will see a dip in business. You might even have periods of no business. This can be extremely nerve-wracking for a firm. 

By focusing on positive cash flow and making sure your recession marketing is targeting the right people, you are doing what you can to get yourself in a good position for the economic recovery. Keep in mind that the recession won’t last forever, but it probably will have some permanent impacts on how people spend money.

If you find yourself with more time than you would like, don’t panic. Take the time to write some blog content you have been putting off. Do some research on that marketing idea you had. Work on your relationships with existing clients. Focus on the future. 

Resources

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