Marketing gets a bit of a bad rap when it comes to the advertising done around events such as tragedies, movements and naturally, the current pandemic. Why? Because business can also be utterly tone deaf to the world it’s surroundings and even the overall cultural context it is in when it comes to promoting its message.

A recession is a special time for marketing because spending is reduced on many consumer goods and non-essential services, yet the business needs to survive. And while you’d expect that a small business without research capabilities or a marketing department would be the worst offender, often it’s the larger companies that mess up at times like these.

So first, I’ll address the first question that is asked when it comes to marketing in a recession. Should I stop advertising during a recession?

What we learned from the most recent recession

In the last US recession around 2008, advertising dropped by an overall 13%. But what was most telling was that newspaper advertising dropped by 27%, radio dropped by 22%, yet online advertising only dropped by 2%. This showed that, even more than a decade ago the writing was on the wall when it came to what marketing media were seen to be most effective, and what was seen to be most disposable. The radio industry went to the wall. The newspaper industry went through much of the change that we are seeing in Australia today. Small town and regional newspapers that had been in business for nearly a century dropped like flies. The country’s biggest radio network lost so much revenue that today it’s in so much debt that it may never recover. We’re seeing similar cracks appearing in the radio industry here in Australia today as well with our biggest radio network downsizing its workforce significantly after massive revenue losses this year. Even in television, Network 10 has laid off a large chunk of it’s workforce as it’s earnings dropped by a record amount.

But this doesn’t mean that you should stop advertising. While print, radio and television are crumbling during this current recession, Facebook posted record revenue and profit. Google, while dropping slightly, still made massive revenue and profits. To stop advertising is death, but to stop advertising on old-school media is generally the right thing to do for a small business. Unless of course, you have measurable and inevitable assurance that your TV, radio or newspaper advertising is really driving people in the door to your business.

So now that you’ve probably got some idea of the marketing environment, you need to look at the market environment you’re in.

What kind of economic environment are we in?

In the Northern Territory, during the last electoral term, 21,000 jobs have been lost. Half a million people lost their jobs in Australia in April this year. A further 221,000 lost their jobs in May. And while government subsidies are holding back the tsunami of job losses to a degree, it’s expected that by March 2021, that neary 1.65 million people could be out of work.

That means that household priorities are changing en-masse. Brands, luxury, experiences and premium services will crash in demand as money will flow towards the safe, the familiar, the inexpensive and the reliable. Your premium service, luxury alternative product or high-end experience will struggle to find new customers. So should you stop advertising?

Should I stop advertising?

As the old adage in marketing goes, “When times are good you should advertise. When times are bad, you must advertise.” So how do you swing from highlighting the luxury, the feeling and the premium features of what you’re selling, when the world is in a recession? You turn toward the Two-Stage Recession Marketing Strategy. It involves a “What’s in it for me” stage and a “what I am replacing so I can have this” stage.

What’s in it for me?

First, any advertising for any product or service should be already running from lists of features and specifications. The logical brain is missing during social media, TV or radio time. The emotional brain is in full power mode. So you appeal to that part of the brain. The part that just wants to feel important, listened-to and coddled. That premium cosmetic range isn’t about the organic ingredients, lack of animal testing, and unique combination of moisturising and sun-blocking properties. It’s about ingredients that feed your skin what it needs to look beautiful, keep you looking younger for longer and feeling better about your purchases. That luxury lodge by the beach isn’t about having 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and a big freezer. It’s about being able to have that “away-from-it-all” me-time with space for the kids to do their thing and for you to do some serious relaxing with a cocktail in one hand and book in the other.

This emotional angle isn’t so much manipulative as it is highlighting what is literally in it for the person who wants to get away from it all. It’s giving them reasons why they should do this – and helping them out by painting the picture in their head of why this is good for them.

Justifying my desire to buy

The second stage is about justification. Once the emotional mind is set on buying your thing, now the logical brain kicks in to try to justify the decision they’ve already made. This is the stage where the consumer will look at what they want, see what they have to spend, and work out what they need to forgo to get what they want.

For example, the weekend getaway at the beach will cost them close to $600. If they’re saving up, then they know that they can’t take too much from that, so they will need to cut down elsewhere.

This is where tactics such as “for just a cup of coffee a day, you can have the bed you’ve been wishing for.” Or “for the same price as a dinner for two each month, you can have a world of entertainment at your fingertips.” Actually laying out something that the consumer can picture themselves giving up in order to have the thing the want allows them to justify wanting the thing they want.

Now they have made an emotional decision, you have provided a logical way for them to get what they want – and justify their emotional desire for that thing they want.

Remember this in your next campaign

So to recap. Present your marketing in such a way that your potential customer can see themselves with your product or service. Not by listing features and specifications, but by describing what’s in it for them. Then, once they have an interest, present them with the logical means to justify their decision to shop with you by showing what your price actually means in their real life, in small pieces.