3 recession-defeating marketing strategies

Fast-reaction pivots that scale to a new market condition are essential to endure economic uncertainties.

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At least thrice a week, somebody asks me if our agency business has declined because of economic uncertainty. My answer: No. Enterprise companies have not slowed down or pulled back. If anything, they are accelerating.

Consider this: 17% of companies are planning RFPs this year, according to the 2023 State of the ESP RFP. You might not think that sounds like a large number, but it is if you scale that number to industries. So, that doesn’t sound like a pullback to me.

Among the clients for whom we manage RFPs, we see more requests for technology platforms that help marketers execute and innovate faster. They ask, “What can I do to insulate myself from the coming economic apocalypse if it happens by being innovative and agile?”

Below are smart decisions to improve your business, whether the economy goes sour or not.

1. Rethink that RFP

Before you replace or add technology, ask yourself whether you maxed out your current functionality. Whenever anybody asks me to start an RFP, my first question is, “Are you using everything the platform gives you right now?”

Dig deeper: Economic uncertainty means marketers will re-evaluate ad buys more frequently in 2023

A rule of thumb holds that marketers use only about 20% to 30% of what a tech platform offers. Maybe they didn’t have time to learn how to use the really cool stuff. Or the vendor didn’t offer training. Or they couldn’t get the platform to integrate with external data sources. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how innovative the platform is. It has so many other deficits that you still need to switch.

Today’s vendor marketplace makes the RFP process much more challenging if you don’t have someone to do the work. Look at what you’re paying for now but not using before beginning the time-consuming and potentially disruptive process of finding something new.

2. Develop a plan to shift your marketing priorities

Remember when, at the height of COVID, email saved ecommerce? That’s not an exaggeration. Many companies rediscovered how well email drives sales and revenue and builds customer relationships, especially during a crisis.

Your CEO might remember that. If the CEO asks how the company could change its marketing approach, what would you say?

If your email program became your company’s hero this past few years, it’s even more likely that your CEO will seek your input now. But even if it just kept on keepin’ on, you should still have a plan for the next few months that lays out your options and how you could use them for marketing against a downturn.

What to put in your plan

It shouldn’t begin and end with “Send more email.” If your customers don’t have the money to buy more often or to fill larger carts, sending more offers won’t move the revenue needle.

Look at your targeting. Consider your segmentation program. Review your price structure on promotions. What should it look like to stimulate more sales?

Dig deeper: 5 tips to get more value from your tech stack

Identify segments that can be more lucrative to target, such as regular buyers, people who buy at full price instead of waiting for sales and shoppers who send you clear purchase or upgrade intent signals. 

Look for propensity to purchase. Consider developing a next-logical-purchase plan that moves beyond cross-selling or upselling.

If your CEO asks for your advice, that’s as much of a blue-sky question as you’ll ever get. So be ready to jump. Don’t stop to think about the process. Be able to respond quickly with a plan. 

It could go like this: “We need to structure campaigns around our best customers’ propensity to buy in these lines. Here’s what those email campaigns would look like.”

Develop your plan now, and have it ready to go when the CEO or another high-ranking executive comes calling. But even if that call never comes, if the recession doesn’t happen, or if your customers keep buying, why not execute your plan anyway instead of doing business as usual? This is an excellent opportunity to think strategically without getting bogged down or distracted by tactics.

If you’re unsure where to start, begin with an email audit. This can help you find gaps and other weaknesses in your messaging strategy. (Get background information and details in this earlier MarTech column: 10 questions to ask when auditing your email program.)

3. Educate yourself and reach out to your community

Think about all the advice — in columns like this on MarTech, during webinars, in white papers and guides — that poured out as the business world shifted gears during the pandemic. Expect the same if the economy stutters.

Besides these thought leadership sources, you can call on your email communities for advice and ideas. These communities thrive because the members feed off each other for support and advice. 

Watch the news every day. Raise your sights and educate yourself about what’s happening in the broader economy beyond your vertical. Maybe you weren’t directly affected by the mass layoffs that have rolled through the tech industry, but the repercussions could affect your company or industry.

Spend at least an hour a week reading up on everything that’s happening in email, social media and mobile marketing, in privacy legislation and customer expectations. Add to this cauldron of content news about changes in consumer behavior, the unemployment rate and the economic impact they could have.

Be informed so that when your CEO asks for your advice, you can report what’s happening in your immediate market. CEOs can call on higher-level business forecasts, but you will be the expert on your market conditions.

Wrapping up

Use these suggestions to jumpstart your own thinking. If you want to tap into the added functionalities a new vendor can provide so you can increase your business, then go for it. Suppose implementing propensity is the right strategy to improve your marketing results; get it done. 

The one thing that marks a potential recession is what we saw during COVID: fast-reaction pivots that scale to a new market condition. A recession doesn’t have to be scary. But now is not the time to rely on the adage that email is recession-proof. 

Keep your eye on the future. Think back to November 2019. How would you have prepared if you had known that the world would shut down three months later? You have that time now. What’s your plan?

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


About the author

Ryan Phelan
Contributor
As the CEO of RPE Origin, Ryan Phelan's two decades of global marketing leadership has resulted in innovative strategies for high-growth SaaS and Fortune 250 companies. His experience and history in digital marketing have shaped his perspective on creating innovative orchestrations of data, technology and customer activation for global leading retail, FinTech and technology brands as well as ESP’s.

In 2023, Ryan received the industry’s top honor of Thought Leader of the Year Award and is the Chairman Emeritus of the Email Experience Council Advisory Board. He is also an in-demand keynote speaker and thought leader on email marketing.

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