Recession. It’s all anyone is talking about. Yes, the predictions are foreboding. But, for savvy marketers, this actually presents a huge opportunity to not only master your marketing during the recession but emerge even stronger after—if you focus on nurturing one thing: your brand.
There’s a common adage in the fitness space that says 20% of results come from the gym, 80% come from the kitchen. (In short, you can’t out-exercise a bad diet.) I apply that same philosophy to companies looking to beat their competition in marketing. It doesn’t matter how much content you create. If you don’t have a strong brand foundation—core beliefs, strong messaging, and a solid strategy—you simply can’t produce good marketing.
You can’t out-content a weak brand.
So with a recession looming, now is the perfect time to take a good hard look in the mirror. Double down on what’s working, taper off things that don’t produce results, and shore up what needs to improve. This starts with taking a critical look at your brand—something that influences so much more than your marketing alone.
How Your Brand Can Help You Through the Recession
A recession poses so many more threats to a company than customer base attrition. Your industry, your reputation, and your recruitment efforts are all vulnerable, too. And if you don’t make the right moves to navigate these pain points, you will lose long-term. Fortunately, investing in your brand during this time makes you bulletproof in five key ways, all of which are crucial if you want to win your market when the economy recovers.
1) A good brand strengthens your marketing.
During a recession, marketers are often asked to do more with less. That means every piece of content you create needs to make an impact. If your existing brand is not as clear or resonant as it should be, your marketing and sales teams have to work harder. (During a recession, that is a particularly challenging uphill battle.)
Conversely, the clearer and more aligned your brand is between your business goals and your clients’ needs, the more resonant your marketing will be. You’ll reach the right people who are enthusiastic about buying from you, and you’ll even transform sales into the art of facilitating a purchase with bought-in believers.
But that all starts with fine-tuning your brand: articulating your brand heart, clarifying your brand strategy, and creating strong messaging.
- Reassess your positioning to ensure you’re playing in the right market with the right product/service and targeting the right people.
- Tighten your messaging to create stricter criteria for storytelling, ensuring your marketing only delivers the most compelling stories that convert.
- Realign your content strategy to maximize your impact (e.g., update content, identify the right cadence and volume, optimize your production process, etc.).
Each of these actions can pay off tenfold in downstream marketing improvements. Remember: A strong brand gives you clarity and a clear direction, letting you spend the rest of your energy on strategizing the most effective ways to create good marketing as effectively as possible.
(Find out more about how to translate your brand into strong storytelling that resonates.)
2) A “slower” time is the ideal time to do the brand work you’re too busy to do.
One of the biggest mistakes companies make (especially in SaaS) is viewing brand as a “nice to have” or a luxury during good times. These are the same folks who think of a brand as only a logo, the people most likely to shoot down a legitimate push to update said brand in good times. But a brand is not fluff. In bad times, it is your lifeblood.
The silver lining of a recession is that leadership’s mindset often shifts from “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” to “what changes can we make to survive this?” If you’re in a brand or marketing role, my best professional advice is to reframe this time as an awesome opportunity to become your ideal brand. If business is slowing down and you have fewer campaigns and initiatives, you can do the deep work now to become the brand buyers flock to in the future. (In some cases, this may be your only opportunity to take the time to do this work—consider it a “once in a decade” opportunity).
Use your CEO/C-Suite’s desire to “make shit happen” (often fueled by wanting to show their team or investors they’re not operating passively) to get the buy-in you need.
(If you need some backup, learn more about why you should ditch growth-hacking and focus on brand-building.)
3) Clients are less likely to cut ties with strong brands.
During periods of recession, businesses make cuts to everything that isn’t considered mission-critical. Thus, your product or service may be on the chopping block.
The more commodified your brand appears (especially if you’re spamming B2B buyers with desperate-looking flash sales), the less perceived value it has, so it is much easier for customers to go without.
But if you present yourself as a differentiated brand with a respected reputation, you appear more reliable and sustainable, making your customers trust and want to keep your product/service because they view it as a worthy investment.
Remember: Your brand is the story you tell your customers—and the story they tell themselves and others about your company.
If your customers can’t tell you apart from your competitors, you’re not gonna make it. A strong brand strategy is the key to differentiation—and a powerful way to form meaningful relationships with your customers (if you share values, goals, etc.). Those relationships themselves can help you make it through the winter.
84% of B2B buyers would buy from a supplier who they had a great relationship with—even if the terms of business were less preferential.
—Sana 2022 B2B Buyer Report
Fortunately, if you haven’t done much brand work before this recession, all is not lost. As they say, “The second best time to plant a tree is now.”
(For more guidance, see our tips to differentiate your brand.)
4) You can become the market leader after (if you adapt and others haven’t done this work).
Buying behavior often changes in a recession, and then again when there is a recovery. The market needs and wants change. Sales cycles evolve. If you hope to keep riding the wave that brought you success pre-recession, during a downturn, and then afterward, you’re smoking hopium.
During a recession, no one is coming to save you.
But if you invest in your brand, you have a solid foundation and a North Star to grow, evolve, and adapt at every point. Your Brand Heart helps you stay true to your principles and make the right business decisions for your people and your customers. Your brand strategy guides your moves in the market. During recessions, best-in-breed brands that are able to adapt well consolidate their position as market leaders and actually get stronger, even if the recessionary period represents some down years. When the market turns back up, they tend to grow first and grow the most, leaving others in their wake.
Brands that do not adapt quickly find themselves struggling for relevance and often witness their lunch being eaten by their nimbler competitors, including upstarts that see changes to the marketplace as opportunities to exploit and leverage.
The best leaders know it pays to be front-footed, and C-level folks will be impressed if this is framed as an opportunity to do just that. (See point 2 re: investing in your brand now.) Strengthen your brand foundation and you can be decisive and pivot quickly, emerging as a clear market winner.
(To outshine your competition, find out how to tell stories they can’t.)
5) You can achieve brand singularity that will sustain your business long-term.
Your success is not only dictated by your customers. Your employees are an equally valuable asset, and creating a brand that attracts the best talent is one of the best ways to future-proof your business.
While recessions prompt many companies to freeze hiring or cut headcount, the reality is that it’s your people, their resolve, and their decisions that will determine your ability to adapt.
As lines blur and people want their personal brands to align with their employer brands, and their employer brands to align with their public-facing brands, brand singularity is the holy grail. Thus, it’s more important than ever to create a holistic brand that resonates with your employees (and future employees), as well as the marketplace.
Whether your company grows during the recession or stays in a holding pattern until the rebound, you’re going to want to update your talent brand as part of your larger brand efforts.
Note: During the financial crisis, this was still a somewhat foreign idea to most companies, but today, with the advent of job and company review sites like Glassdoor, building an intentional employer brand is becoming table stakes in the mission-critical art of recruiting, assembling, and retaining a world-class team.
Even if you already have a strong public-facing brand, investing in this aspect of your brand during this recession will pay you dividends in the long run.
(Find out more about why building an employer brand is crucial to compete in the market.)
How to Strengthen Your Brand Now
If you do the work now and play your cards right, you can walk away from this time as the Recession MVP of your market. But you need to get started ASAP.
- Download our free brand strategy toolkit to work through every key component of your brand.
- Use our free employer branding toolkit to identify your employer value proposition, strengthen your culture, and share your brand across channels.
- Look for ways to turn your brand values into compelling content that attracts the right employees and customers.
That said, this is deep work that can’t be accomplished in a vacuum—or overnight. If you need expert help to guide you through the process, see our tips to find the right creative agency for you, take a look at our brand strategy FAQs, or reach out. We’ve helped the world’s best brands find their brand and bring it to market. We’d love to do the same for you, too.