Is Your Brand Recession Ready? Seven Ways To Prepare

Roger Hurni, co-founder of Off Madison Ave, a behavioral marketing agency, & Lighthouse PE, a marketing automation software for mobile apps

My father was a big history buff. And while I’ve come to appreciate and enjoy history immensely, I wasn’t so fond of it as a kid. I remember my father repeating this one phrase: “Those who don’t understand the past are doomed to repeat it.”

I’m not a kid anymore, and I have my own history to look back on. I came into the workforce during a recession, started my company before another recession and worked through it only to face (and work through) the Great Recession of 2008. Each time, I’ve been able to come out stronger and better positioned for the future. So now I understand just how valuable those words my father used to repeat really are.

History can serve as a lens through which to analyze the current business environment. Here are seven things you can do now to prepare your organization and strengthen your brand’s position should any type of recession—mild or not—come to fruition.

1. Deliver Value In Meaningful Ways

The idea that consumers don’t spend money during a recession isn’t necessarily true. What is true is that consumers shift how they spend their money. They pay much closer attention to the value purchases bring to their lives. Ordering pizza can be about more than just dinner. Framed properly, pizza can be about saving the time it takes to plan, shop and prepare a meal—time that can instead be spent together as a family.

Luxury brands don’t necessarily need to cut prices during a recession. Instead, they can add small additional perks that increase the perceived value of an experience, like a welcome cocktail at check-in or an upgrade to a larger room. Analyze your own business and look for ways to provide additional services or products that align with the value-driven customer mindset.

2. Reward Loyalty

Another phrase I once hated but now love is “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” meaning it is easier to get a current customer to buy more than to get a new customer to buy once. Tap into your base of current customers and reward them for their loyalty. Survey them to find out what they love or what’s causing them friction. This information is a gold mine for ways to alter your products or services. Bump up their points in your reward system so they feel the benefits of loyalty more quickly. By examining your audience’s behaviors, you can shift to rewarding them for the actions that best benefit your business.

3. Be Authentic When Things Go Wrong

More often than not, brands will take the position that everything is fine and that there’s nothing to see here. Consumers aren’t that easily fooled. In times of crisis, communicate early and often. Brands that demonstrate a high level of trust and authenticity in their communications with customers reap the rewards of better brand loyalty. Those that try to hide or skirt issues lose in the short and long term.

This kind of preparation is generally covered in a crisis communications plan, which is something you should have before a crisis ever hits. For example, one of our clients in the meat production industry encountered a series of challenges during the early days of the pandemic. But because they had both a crisis communications and operations plan already in place, they knew the steps to take to correct the issues. In turn, we knew how to communicate about them to their customers and the media. We were able to communicate early and often, helping control the narrative and minimize consumer confidence concerns with their products.

4. Reexamine Your Channel Mix

To prepare for a recession properly, take a hard look at your marketing mix and stop doing things that aren’t tied to direct and specific metrics. That doesn’t mean jettisoning awareness-driving marketing efforts. But it does mean recognizing where and how your brand best connects with consumers. For some brands, high-cost channels like outdoor boards directly affect their business. For others, they don’t. Recession-proofing is the time to focus your efforts on the specific channels you can measure that affect your bottom line.

5. Cater To Passions

There’s one thing I’ve learned about consumer psychology that transcends every recession: If someone is passionate about something, they don’t usually turn their back on it. If anything, they lean into it even more.

There are ways to connect your brand to a customer’s passion. For example, the cost of going to the movies has steadily increased over the last 20 years, so during a recession, it is natural that some people may cut back on how often they go. But they probably aren’t watching fewer movies; they’re just watching them at home. To recapture the in-person moviegoer, movie theaters can find a way to deliver a heightened experience like a character meet-and-greet with a photo op. A chef at one of my favorite restaurants spends nearly as much time visiting with guests at the restaurant as he does in the kitchen. It makes for a unique dining experience that brings a lot of value. Connect to the people, and you’ll connect to their passion.

6. Do Some Recession Research

Review your industry’s history during previous recessions. You can learn a lot by looking at what others in your industry have done and finding lessons you can apply yourself. Picasso is often quoted as saying, “Good artists borrow; great artists steal.” If a brand did something before that worked well, steal the idea and make it your own.

7. Monitor Customer Behaviors

There is no finish line for being prepared for a recession. What’s important is to be ready to adjust and pivot accordingly. Monitor and analyze your customers’ explicit behaviors, and their implicit ones too. Consumer motivations shift often in a recession. That may change how they support and interact with brands. So pay close attention to their attitudes and spending habits. This will give you clear insights into what you will need to do next.

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