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Marketing In A Downturn

Marketing in a downturn & why it’s not time to go quiet

Marketing in a downturn

Our daily walk to the mailbox became even more meaningful this spring. Just getting outside and breathing fresh air was cause for a little bit of joy. We could have hope again. We could shop at actual stores instead of online. Enjoying a meal at a restaurant became a cause for celebration. Our lives are finally starting to look and feel more like they were before the pandemic and the ensuing business closures.

However, the economic outlook for many businesses is still far from rosy. Depending on what you believe about the economy, we may already be in or heading for, a market downturn.

Although a large majority – 74% — of U.S. business economists appear to believe a slowing economy will tip into recession in 2021, reacting and slashing advertising budgets can make things worse.

This article will provide insight into how consumers think and purchase during an economic downturn and what specific things you can do to be relevant to them. Staying connected is vital.

The case for ramping up marketing

So just how does a business “come back” after a pandemic while the economy is trending down? Some marketers are
delaying or reviewing product and service launches during this time, while others are maintaining or revving up their spend based on how applicable their services are in today’s market.

Think about your product. How were you marketing it before the downturn? What is it about your brand that makes it different from anyone else? How can you demonstrate that value in new ways?

Assessing your current marketing initiatives is wise, but jumping ship and stopping all marketing could hurt you in the long run.

Forbes took a closer look at the effects of reduced ad spend during recession periods and found that when a brand goes quiet or cuts advertising budget, they typically lose market share and consumer loyalty once consumers rise from the slump.

Share of voice and why it’s important

Keeping your brand out there in the competitive marketplace is known as your “share of voice,” and it’s critical to keep it strong during a downturn. Why? Companies that keep their brands in front of consumers – even when times are tough – do considerably better when the recovery comes around than brands that slash marketing budgets and stop advertising.

A word about relevance

In the post-pandemic marketplace, it’s all about making connections and creating value. How can you best respond to what they’re feeling and experiencing? How can your brand be part of a solution? How will your brand have to adjust to meet your customers’ changing expectations?

Understanding customer spending behavior

First of all, know who your customers are, and develop an offer that makes sense for where they are at this place and time. Are they going to economize immediately and drastically, or will their purchasing habits remain the same? The answer to this question greatly impacts how you shift your focus during an economic downturn.

The Harvard Business Review provides this model to get us thinking about how people react and spend during an economic downturn. Consumers generally fall into these 4 groups:

  • Slam on the brakes—halt all non-essential purchases
  • Pained but patient—pull back strongly on purchases, but not to the same degree
  • Comfortably well off—spend their money with purpose, but do not feel the immediate tightening of the global economy
  • Live for today—put their head in the sand and act like nothing is wrong. This is the only group that does not economize their purchasing in some respect.

Regardless of which group consumers belong to, they prioritize consumption by sorting products and services into four categories:

  • Essentials are necessary for survival or perceived as central to well-being.
  • Treats are indulgences whose immediate purchase is considered justifiable.
  • Postponables are needed or desired items whose purchase can be reasonably put off.
  • Expendables are perceived as unnecessary or unjustifiable.

“It’s critical to track how customers reassess priorities, reallocate funds, switch brands, and redefine value.”Harvard Business Review

Once you have a good idea of where your customers fall into these groups, it’s time to take the next step and adjust your products’ marketing message accordingly.

Consider your offer

Now it’s time for some practical tips for marketing in a downturn. How about marketing lower-cost options and opting out of prestige items? Or think about practical, alternative uses for your products. In other words, advertise what you have that is relevant and will sell – not what you want to sell.

Ask yourself:

  • Is it the right offer and product for the current climate? Is it time to roll out new products more fitting to their needs? During an economic downturn, they’re likely to keep spending but might try spending less often.
  • What are your customers thinking about now? Think about ways your business can respond quickly and nimbly to the new reality.

Campbell’s Soup recently did this in a big way. Their television ads, called “The Perfect Pair,” and “BFFs Forever,” have featured the tried and true standbys of childhood comfort food – Campbell’s tomato or chicken noodle soup served up with a grilled cheese sandwich.

Campbell’s brought out a simple, mainstay product because they understand how food is a comfort and soothes people when they’re stressed and uncertain.

Personalize with direct mail

When it comes to which strategy best helps a company reach their consumers, direct mail could be the answer. Direct mail can be targeted to select audiences with highly personalized messages. In fact, unlike facing a crowded email inbox (statistics show that an average American receives a whopping 605 emails each week), we actually look forward to getting something in the mail.


  • Up to 90% of direct mail gets opened, compared to only 20-30% of emails.
  • On average, Americans receive 16.8 pieces of mail each week.
  • According to the USPS, 98% of people check their mail daily and Americans spend upwards of 30 minutes with their mail on a single occasion.

Variable data printing, or personalized marketing, does this by changing the text and/or image on each piece to make a better personal connection with the recipient. When direct mail is personalized with our name, the right product, and an offer that feels as if it were hand-selected just for us – well, it’s like receiving a gift.

Connecting the right customer, with the right offer at the right time is the magic of direct mail.

Personalization magic happens with colors and variable custom images that meet customer preferences and expectations. A recent study showed that customers expect and appreciate personalized offers.

Use interaction, too

When you combine personalization with interaction, you’ve just upped your chances of hitting it out of the park with your offer because interactive mail is proven to generate more conversions.

Clear interactive envelopes and mailers involve the recipient in unique ways. First of all, an EnvPak clear envelope will stand out in a pile of mail because they allow content to show through. The mailer looks and feels different from everything else. Combine an EnvyPak mailer with vibrant, full-color printing, and you’ve created an experience.

For more on direct mail interaction, read “Irresistible Interactive Mail”

When an EnvyPak clear interactive envelope is opened, the recipient takes an active part in making the action/movement happen. The mailer “changes” before their eyes. A certain type of magic happens when the contents and envelope are designed to work together to create a unique, interactive experience. This interactive “magic” simply cannot be delivered by other traditional direct mail envelopes.

“I was asked what I thought about the recession. I thought about it and decided not to take part.”Sam Walton, Wal-mart Founder

In summary

Although we can’t predict what the rest of 2020 may hold, businesses that stop marketing will have a much harder time making a comeback later. Earning new customers later is much harder than working now with the ones you already have. Try and walk in your customers’ shoes. Show them you “get it” by offering relevant information and products in a personalized, thoughtful approach.

About EnvyPak

When you’re ready to try direct mail, let us help. EnvyPak, a division of Univenture, is based in Ohio, and manufactures the best-looking and best-performing clear polypropylene direct mail envelopes and packaging products in the marketplace.

We help large and small businesses develop direct mail programs that complement their branding message. Contact us today with questions – we’re happy to help! or phone 877-835-3052.

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