Marketing Strategy and Tactics in a Downturn

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COVID-19 has reshaped the world—and our economy—in fundamental ways. Business leaders and marketers worldwide have been considering how best to position themselves, their products, and their services, not only to survive but also to emerge stronger.

For many, the threat of an economic crisis inspires fear and uncertainty. But research shows that during downturns, 14% of companies actually improve both growth and margins. Thus, strategic, smart wins can still happen if you reframe your messaging and shift your focus onto the right industries.

So, as we face the economic challenges that will inevitably continue to knock on our doors, I'd like to share four marketing tactics that will help you and your organization improve sales and marketing success during a downturn.

1. Pinpoint imperatives for your new marketing strategy and tactics

What we've been experiencing is not business as usual. It is essential to understand precisely how the downturn is affecting not only your own business but also those of your customers.


Doing so demands setting the noise aside and focusing on the key issues and identifying your top priorities—then building new strategies based on exactly how your industry, the sectors in which you sell, and your customers are being affected.

It also means doing your homework, and for that, you have to go deep. Study industry and peer research to assess the impact of the pandemic. Talk to your customers; don't second-guess them. Have conversations so that you understand their challenges and their emerging scenarios.


I recommend speaking to at least 15-20 customers and using that information to confirm (or disprove) your original hypothesis. The interviews should also give you ideas on future directions of travel.

Use the information to produce a list of imperatives:

  • Cost-cutting opportunities: how can you cut fat—but not muscle—from your business?
  • Operational improvement: where can you release cash while still maintaining operational strength?
  • Sales and marketing: how can you strengthen your customer base while also identifying new revenue streams?
  • Customers' desired outcomes: What data and insights can you use to resonate with business decision-makers?

Imperatives will differ from one business or sector to another, as will their order of priority.

2. Rethink your product and audience

Once you have gained perspective from prioritizing imperatives, you will need to rethink how you are selling, how you are marketing, how you are positioning your product or service, and whom you are targeting.

Align your product or service with those emerging imperatives and focus on how your product or service will help achieve your customer's business objectives. Focus on the outcome-sell rather than the feature-sell.

Resist the temptation to continue to do what you have always done.

Think about which industries are likely to be least affected by the pandemic recession and how that might affect your approach to the market. For example, your product or service may be highly technical, but could it be the time to reach out to the business decision-maker instead of the IT manager with a message of how your product could help them deliver operational efficiency?

Also, in a recession, mid-market companies tend to move faster than larger ones, so rethink your audience accordingly.

Ensure the outcomes you target are specific to the industries you target: Financial services, manufacturing, and healthcare will all have different outcomes.

3. Reframe your story and use corresponding tactics

You cannot tell the same story you were telling before the pandemic. Consider what you have learned and how you can use that to inform your positioning and connect effectively with your customers.

Accentuate the positive and remain empathetic. You should be prepared to take a long-term perspective. Find the right balance between being too eager and conveying too much fear. You may even need to tone down your message.

In short, be authentic, and accentuate the positive impact of your product or service—especially how it meets your customer's needs or helps them achieve desired outcomes. The messaging you used in 2019 is not going to be relevant in 2021.

I also advise acknowledging the pain. Recognize the situation your customers find themselves in, and use it as a benchmark for emerging stronger. Offer a product or service solution that will enable them to prepare for growth and—most important—stay ahead of the game.

Demonstrate how your offering will enable your customer to stay ahead of the competition.

4. Focus on digital marketing strategy and tactics to help drive demand and close sales

Now is a good time to evaluate how you conduct your business. In-person interaction has been fundamentally disrupted, so you need to embrace that digital is now the main conduit for establishing and conducting business.

Explore how you can stretch the capabilities of your technology, and evaluate new ways to connect with your audience. That means thinking about how you are promoting your brand or filling your sales pipeline.

While rethinking your digital strategy, rethink your metrics. Redefine what success looks like. Success in 2021 will look different from success in 2019.

Revamp your sales pipeline and work out how to evaluate new opportunities while you redefine success. Choose metrics that align with your particular marketing mix, because digital marketing is not a one-size-fits-all process. Start from scratch. Look at your economic reality, and work out how your digital approach can be different from your in-person approach.

Finally, ensure that you have the right platforms in place to lead with digital—whether that's turning lunches and meetings into virtual chats, summits into virtual workshops, or live events into webinars and webcasts.

Digital is no longer a strategy purely for lead generation. It should be your approach for nearly all sales and marketing activity.

More Resources on Marketing Strategy and Tactics in an Economic Downturn

Three Agile Marketing Tips for the Post-Pandemic Economy

126 Successful Businesses Started in Tough Economic Times [Infographic]

B2B Brands: Five Marketing Strategies to Come Out of the Recession Strong

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