Better Branding During a Recession

As I sit here in October 2022, it looks like we're heading into a recession.

And if we're not, at the very least, we will be dealing with businesses tightening their spending as massive increases in energy bills start to hit the bottom line. It feels like the winter of 2022 is going to be rough. 

So what does that mean for your brand? There is no shortage of brand experts on the LinkedIns and the Twitters reminding you that the research shows that those businesses that invest in brand during a downturn tend to come out the other side stronger.
And the research is out there. The challenge is that you'll be facing arguments from other departments within the business to maintain their level of spend. And when the rubber hits the road, money going to brand promotion doesn't look good if the potential for redundancies is on the cards.

So, in an ideal world, you'd keep spending like no one was watching. But they are watching. What's the pragmatic approach to your brand during a downturn? What helps keep those green arrows pointing up while getting you in the best shape for the inevitable upturn?

Here's our responsible approach to branding during a downturn. It's not exhaustive, it may not suit your particular situation, and parts of it may seem perfectly obvious..  but here’s what we'd look at tightening up or letting go of as we head into the economic unknown.

Focus on your existing customers
It's easier to convert an existing customer than to acquire a new one. According to Bain, increasing customer retention rates by 5% increases profits by 25% to 95%. So, look at how you can improve customer retention to ensure your brand budget is as effective as possible.

Understand that customer
The word 'unprecedented' has been used an unprecedented number of times over the past few years. Given all that we've gone through and what we may be facing, it's a good idea to get some idea of the sentiment of your customer, how they view the challenges they face and the steps they're taking to surmount them.

It's easy to push this back and rely on your feelings as a proxy for how your customers feel. We're all going through it, after all. But we're always surprised at the small but meaningful insights we get from a twenty-minute call with a customer.
We also recommend backing up those initial insights with the sales team, an excellent example of cross-discipline knowledge sharing. The sales team's understanding can provide helpful context while you may have a nugget from talking to customers that your sales team hasn't gleaned.

This approach works as well for B2B as it does for B2C. It's usually a matter of scale. Listening and understanding are essential for your brand to remain relevant as we move on.

Review your Tone of Voice
It's language that humanises your brand and will convey empathy as your customers go through this downturn. However, given its importance and how language can be changed quickly, it's a good idea to review your tone of voice to ensure that it fits your purpose.

It may be fine, it may just need a tweak, or it may require a deeper review. But it's important your tone of voice can meet the times we're facing. Review and refine.

Become more useful
A strong content strategy can benefit both a retention and acquisition strategy. Think about how you can help your customers provide insights into your areas of expertise. The range of your content strategy depends on your particular product or service, but think about how you can help people during this time of austerity. How can you make the most of your product, what overlooked feature is there, best use cases to save money? Whatever it is, share it.

Beware, though, that you must feel worthwhile. A listicle of tips like wearing a jumper to save energy is likely to cause offence rather than help. Instead, look at the content you offer and lift it to be seen as useful in helping people get through this tough time.

Measure, refine, measure, refine
When it comes to belt-tightening, looking at the big line item of "media" will attract the most attention. You can tighten the customer focus. You can finesse the tone of voice and hone your message, but you must squeeze the most out of the ad spend. This is always a good time to look at your comms strategy and ensure that each stage of the journey, from the first touch to the call to action, is clearly defined.

From there, you must start measuring. In times of plenty, you could look at top-line figures and see if things were going well. But, be warned, success can hide failure. When each budgetary line item is under scrutiny, you need to be measuring each stage of the comms plan and refining to make sure you're getting the most from each $$$$.

Focus on value, not benefits
It's no surprise that the buying cycle for any product or service will be extended during this recession. It's a good time to review your offering and clearly define its value. And by value, we mean how your product makes money or saves money for your customer.

Defining the value themes for your offering so that the economic decision makers easily understand it within your customer's organization. Focusing on value isn’t just the difference between a win and loss but possibly between three weeks and three months of internal decision-making. 

Defining the positioning of your core products is a team sport within an organisation - pulling product, sales and marketing teams together. And it can have real tangible value. Tying that positioning to your brand platform lifts your product beyond a basic feature and benefits circus and helps you gain traction in the overall sales cycle. It's a no-brainer.

Get ready for the upturn
While we're at the top of this economic rollercoaster, it seems flippant to say that you should be looking to have a good recession. But positivity is essential, and you should take a review of your brand to make sure it's ready to go when we do get out of this.

Hopefully, we've suggested some tips to help buy you some time to take stock of your brand. It's time to review your brand architecture; does it make sense? Is it clear? Is your brand definition right for the times we're in? Are your brand assets up to scratch? Now's the time to review - to understand what you need to do. You may not execute it yet, but at least you have the plan ready to make the most of the upturn.

This is a very top-level view of what we'd look at while we're waiting. And, hey, if you can spend, spend. That’s a fantastic Plan A. But if you’re feeling the squeeze, hopefully, we’ve offered you some pragmatic advice for a Plan B.

If this article's been helpful, you may be interested in reading about product positioning, why your brand strategy is business strategy or how to start building a useful content strategy.