Latest industry views and advice

May 19

What can marketing do to help businesses in tough times?

It’s an appropriate question for the times we’re living in: quoting the UK’s National Institute of Economic and Social Research (Niesr) and the Bank of England, the Evening Standard reports the potential for an H2 2022 recession and “a sharp economic slowdown”.

The Marketing Centre, in its recent CEO’s guide webinar, added to that already bleak picture the issues of “supply chain disruption, spiralling costs, customer expectations, inflation and changing technology”.

Meanwhile, businesses are expecting excellence in a number of areas that makes the difference between a supplier winning and maintaining the business, or not. Lindsay Ball, portfolio marketing director at the Marketing Centre, referenced a McKinsey report identifying the basics that buyers expect to see, including:

  • Performance guarantees.
  • Product in stock
  • Purchasing channels wherever you’re promoting your business
  • Real time customer service, 24/7
  • Consistency: customer experience irrelevant of channel or season

“[These are the] five clear basics of running a business: if you don’t get these right differentiators are irrelevant,” Ball said.

Making marketing count in challenging conditions

So, in these economic conditions, how can marketing help businesses?

Chris Burton, portfolio marketing director at the Marketing Centre, highlighted several key areas:

  1. What is your business at its best?

Businesses should understand clearly the traits they demonstrate when working at their very best; setting new standards in their market and adding more value than their competitors. “How can your business be more valuable at different points on the customer journey? You’re providing an experience, so what does it look like and are you creating strong willingness to recommend?”

  1. Know your audiences and their value

Who are your business’ most valuable audiences among customers, introducers and distribution partnerships, for example? This, Burton asserts, can be a game-changer; reassessing who you need to connect with and investing where it makes most sense. And that might be based on your audiences’ attitudes and needs rather than going after specific, vertical markets.

  1. Having a “next-level” value proposition:

You need to develop the customer experience for each of your audiences beyond the givens they expect. This is about finding the “next level of [customer] needs” and reshaping the customer experience you provide.

  1. Marketplaces: avoid the “bloody water”

Burton describes the “Red Ocean” marketplaces as those with “lots of blood in the water” and a “dog-eat-dog” mentality, with many rivals fighting over the available business. “Do you want to trade there or find ‘Blue Ocean’ where you can define price, margin and reposition the business where it can become more profitable?”

Making the most of existing customers

Customer retention in tough times is vital. So, Lindsay Ball asks, “How engaged are your clients? Competition is rife so engagement is critical.”

She advises defining the customer journey from their discovery of your business with a need and continuing through to maturity and retention. “You need to understand trigger points, barriers and engagement factors – and you don’t want clients to become inactive.”

Recurring revenue is about building relationships and positioning yourself as an expert while creating a pattern of behaviour that encourages frequency of purchase.

Name your price

When it comes to pricing your products or services, it can be tempting to discount (or acquiesce to discount demands) in difficult times.

However, the Marketing Centre’s advice is “be bold”. Be confident in what you’re offering, be clear about what differentiates it and ensure everyone responsible for making sales know this.

As Lindsay Ball added: “Don’t underestimate the price people will pay for consistency.”

Marketing: a cost to cut or conserve?

Does it make any sense for companies to cut back on their marketing spend when recession looms? Chris Burton is adamant: “You do so at your peril – it’s a short term move which you will pay for later. You can be more economical with media, but don’t cut the marketing budget as all previous gains will be lost.”

However, he’s equally clear about the need for marketing teams to track and monitor what marketing is delivering to the business. When marketing becomes part of an organisation’s “growth engine”, it’s less likely to be cut.


Do you want to position your business as experts and thought leaders in your field and stand out from the competition? Talk to Metamorphic PR about your content marketing and public relations.

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