3 Strategies for Recession Marketing

by | May 18, 2022

3 Tips for Recession Marketing Strategy

Or: “How To Not Get Your Ass Kicked By The Recession (Much.)”
The first time I wrote about recession marketing was in 2008, right at the start of the Great Recession. 

Two months after I wrote that piece, I found myself starting a new business: Aqua Vita! 

In our off hours, Jessica and I had been helping an engineering non-profit – Engineers in Action – to fundraise, build their brand and their website.

The good news is, those donated efforts were super effective, and super satisfying! We raised enough money for them to put in clean water for over 2,000 families in Bolivia. 

Meanwhile, our day jobs cratered. A lot of businesses were feeling the recession at that time, and unfortunately, the company we were working for was in debt and struggling with cash flow. Our department was profitable, but the rest of the company, not so much. 

And so, during a horrible ice storm in January 2009, we found ourselves unemployed. 

I had two choices.

One: I could try to find another job. 

Two: I could negotiate with my old boss to take our clients with us, and start our own thing. 

We started our own thing. In the middle of a recession. With no experience running an agency. 

But as my grandfather once said: “If an opportunity comes your way, and you feel that it’s right for you and you could do a good job, but you lack the skills…learn fast.” 

But I had a lot of obstacles to overcome. 

For example, I was flat broke. I had some debt, I had no start up capital or savings to draw from. 

I was also at the beginning of my career, and largely unknown in the community. So very few connections to give me a leg up. The economy was a shambles. People were being extremely cautious and reserved with their money. (Sound familiar?) 

Thirteen years later, we’re still here! And, thank God, we’re in a much better place now than we were then. 

So how did we survive some of the crappiest market conditions since the Great Depression? 

Recession Marketing Tip #1: Volunteer

To get, you’ve got to give. 

Imagine you have less money for marketing and networking right now. (I know that’s a stretch, but just bear with me for a minute.) 

I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that there are organizations in your community that are hurting right now, and they could use some help. 

Tips for volunteering:

  1. Look around and pick a few organizations in your community that matter to you.
  2. Approach them, express your admiration for what they’re doing and your interest in helping the cause with whatever skills you may have. For example, If you’re in construction, maybe you help your local church or homeless shelter to knock out a few projects they couldn’t afford to take on. If you’re in health care, maybe you help to pack medical supplies for missions or refugees. 
  3. The cool thing about this method is that you’ll meet other generous people who care about the same stuff, and you’d be surprised how often that turns into business later on down the road. If you meet such a person, exchange contact information and set up a time to have breakfast or coffee with them. One of my favorite things in life is to collect the wisdom of good people over an early morning breakfast. It’s the perfect start to your day.

One more note on this one: Don’t go into volunteering with the expectation of getting business out of it. It’s its own reward. But as a fellow hunter once told me: “Always be hunting.” (That means keep your eyes open and be ready.)

Recession Marketing Tip #2: Get Small

Years ago, I listened to an audio series on marketing and networking by Eric Worre. In fact, it was during the Great Recession. 

In it, Eric talked about the need to “Get small. TINY. Itty-bitty,” in order to stay agile in difficult economic conditions.

Ever tried to catch a grass-hopper? They’re small, but those suckers can move. Being tiny makes you fast. It reduces the burden on you, and gives you wings. 

Tips for getting small: 

  1. Create a written budget through the end of the year. I do this every September through the following year. I know. I’m an ultra-nerd. 
  2. Go through your bank statements and make sure all of your expenses are accounted for in your budget. 
  3. Weed out everything that isn’t moving the needle in the right direction.  

Here’s the hard part about that last one: Sometimes, that means people. 

Every organization, over time, picks up a hider or two. A hider is a person who joins a company and finds a nice comfortable armchair out of the way somewhere. They do just enough to avoid getting fired, but they never ring the bell of excellence, take initiative or innovate. 

They’ll follow orders until they run out, and then just sort of wind down like a robot that’s low on batteries. 

I’ve got some tough news for you: Sometimes being a leader means making the hard calls. If you’ve got hiders in your company, you’ve got to let them go. With as much love, dignity and generosity as you’re able, but get it done. 

Recession Marketing Tip #3: Invest

I’m trying to make a sandwich here. Tip #1 was fun, Tip #2 was tough, and if you like the art of business and building wealth, Tip #3 is SUPER fun. 

You’re getting out into the community, making connections and strengthening your reputation. You’ve stopped the bleeding by doing your budget and eliminating waste. And in the process, you may have freed up a wee bit of cash. What do you do with it? 

The Bible tells the story of the Talents (Matthew 25:14–30). In that story, a master gives three of his servants a talent (a measure of gold) before leaving his home to travel. 

The first two men invest the gold wisely, and when the master returns, they’ve doubled what they’ve invested. He’s super happy with them (naturally), and gives them more wealth to manage (also naturally). 

The third guy buries the gold in a basement. 

After the stunning presentations delivered by the first two, the third guy does not look super amazing. The master does not reward him. In fact, um…he says to have that guy thrown into the darkness, where there’s weeping and gnashing of teeth. 

The moral of the story is: Don’t be the third guy. Invest a part of your money wisely. 

Tips for investing during a recession:

  1. Focus on results. Be very clear on what outcomes you’re looking for, and do your homework to make sure you’re the thing you’re investing in has a proven track record of getting those results. Unclear expectations get unclear results. 
  2. Invest in yourself. You are the best investment you can make. Buy and read one awesome business book per month. I recommend anything by Mike Michalowicz (“Profit First,” “The Pumpkin Plan”) for a start. Hire a marketing consultant (wink wink) and talk strategy with them. Test their best ideas and see what happens. Take a class to improve your skills. Grow, grow, grow. When the dust clears, you’ll have a huge advantage. 
  3. Invest in others. To the extent that you’re able to, invest in other people who are less fortunate than you are. Service clubs like Rotary or your local church can point you to the greatest need. By teaching and helping others with what you’ve learned, you’ll enrich your life and be better able to articulate good ideas to others, which is an invaluable skill.

Need help? Stuck in a rut? Reach out. 

I hope what I’ve written here helps you, but if you have any questions hit me up using the contact form on our website. I’d love to hear from you. 

Until next time!