PRE-RECESSION MARKETING: Why you need MORE before economic downturns

By: Adam Voss / Echelon Design / September 2019

Historically, every period of economic downturn in the United States has been preceded by a telltale sign: an inverted yield curve in the bond market. The present continual yield curve inversion—coupled with U.S. based corporations removing job listings, and President Trump’s escalating trade war—is starting to make markets, investors and businesses around the world whisper an unnerving word: RECESSION!


Still, the U.S. economy is an enigma. The basic benchmarks of a strong economy are in place: a booming bull market, low inflation and unemployment numbers, rising wages and, according to the Commerce Department, a growth rate that expanded at a 2.1% annual rate from April through June. But as whispers of recession grow to murmurs, and murmurs persist to panic, the country’s fortunes hinge on a single factor: the almighty consumer.


As pre-recessionary anxieties swell, consumers (and companies alike) are likely to become more cautious in where they spend and what they buy. Now, more than ever before, marketers need to send a clear and compelling message about how their products add value—and why they differentiate from their competitors. Beyond simply stating a strong value proposition, marketers must promote a values position—reinforcing what their companies stand for in honest narratives that rise about the noise. Click To Tweet


While reassuring customers (a la, “we’re going to get through this together”) is a vital ingredient of successful marketing during a recession, creating authentic connections with customers before a recession occurs is absolutely essential to surviving one. In order to generate real loyalty, companies must double down on values-based marketing—increasing focus on the quality and frequency of inspiring stories and unique experiences they create for customers. Beyond simply selling products, services or solutions, companies must connect their customers to a genuine sense of shared purpose and passion.


Over the past five years of 12 for 12, our production teams at Echelon Design have talked with innovative new startups and Fortune 500 brands. Here are our top six recommendations for marketers tasked with the daunting task of preparing 2020 marketing plans:

Get to know your customer better than ever.  

  • Don’t cut your market research budget, increase your spend.
  • Involve fans by creating genuine dialogues. Real fans build lasting brands. Let them be a part of yours.
  • Don’t take advantage, add value. Make your business better by asking for feedback.
  • Consider crowdsourcing. It’s a great way to connect to your fans with your products.
  • Hire fans. Your biggest fans can, and will, be you best employees.

 Tell more honest and simple stories.

  • Be real, not fake real. Authenticity is everything, and today’s consumers know the difference.
  • Don’t sell, just tell your story in your voice. Don’t plagiarize!
  • The world’s best brands execute a simple idea—very well. Take your stories as far as your products.
  • There is a fine line between clever and stupid, but don’t be afraid to be a little edgy. Show customers that you are not afraid to say FUCK IT and have fun.
  • Keep your quality consistent. Never lose the human touch and always apply your brand’s voice—because key values should never be compromised.

 Create amazing experiences.

  • It’s all about the experience. Period.
  • Be it in-store, online, at a trade show, a music festival activation, or a virtual room wearing haptic gloves. Experience is the most critical component to winning hearts and minds.
  • Ask yourself if you’re really creating end-to-end experiences that blow your clients away. If you’re not, don’t be afraid to try something new.
  • Find more opportunities to connect with your customers, 1-to-1, in the flesh (trade shows, activations, events, pop-up, parties, etc.) AND online (social media, blogs, contests, etc.).

Be both digital and physical.

  • Even if you only sell analogue products in brick and mortar stores… digital is the future.
  • Every business must be a digital business. But successful brands exist simultaneously in both the digital and physical world—via social media with #, @, and likes, as well as at trade shows, conferences and in face-to-face moments that matter.
  • Embrace innovation. For example, enhance your brand with augmented reality, automation or a better CRM. Regardless of the technology, be open to evolution.
  • Take your online community… offline: face time, live events, pub-crawls, meet & greets, etc. are critical to connecting with customers.

Increase paid media and advertising spend. 

  • The 6-12 month period before an economic downturn is not the time to cut marketing and advertising spend. Instead, increase the efficacy of ROI with tactics that provide more immediate sales impact.
  • Brands that increase advertising during a recession, when competitors are cutting back, can improve market share and ROI at lower cost than during good economic times.
  • Promote shorter and more snackable content—but increase the frequency of ads.
  • Spend smarter: shift from 30-to-15 second advertisements, substitute radio for television advertising, or increase the use of direct marketing.

Remember, passion is power.

  • Emphasize and celebrate your core values.
  • If you love what you do, your customers will love it too.
  • If you’re passionate, work won’t feel like working or selling, it will feel like fun.
  • Pro-Tip: clients want to be where the fun is.


Marketers should fasten their seat belts for an interesting 2020, to say the least. Even if the economy manages to hang on, it’s still an election year. The pressure for proven returns on marketing expenditures will likely increase, especially as budgets start to get cinched. The key is not to panic. Instead, harness that energy to add value to your customers and share your stories with those new to your brand. Whichever way the wind blows, just remember: successful companies don’t abandon their marketing strategies in a recession; they adapt them. Or as we like to say at Echelon, just ‘make it, ‘til you make it.’



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