Jim's Marketing Blog

Marketing ideas to help you grow your business

Marketing in a recession

Last month, I interviewed some business owners, who not only survived the last recession but actually grew their businesses; whilst those around them saw their businesses shrink or go broke.

I wanted to know what their secret was, so I could share it with you!

It became apparent very quickly that there was a single, common thread, which was shared by each of the successful businesspeople from the last recession.

Here’s what they told me

The successful businesspeople continued to invest in the key areas of their business, whilst their competitors stopped investing in those same, key areas!

Marketing lessons from past recessions

During the last recession, many of the businesses that went backwards or went broke, decided to invest as little as possible in anything.  They chose to hunker-down and wait for the recession to finish. As a result, they cut back on things like service contracts for their cars, office equipment etc.  They also stopped most or all of their marketing.

Even in a good economy, a business with creaking infrastructure and no marketing is really going to struggle. In a recession, that approach is going to make it almost impossible to survive!

Recession marketing

During the recession, your prospective clients / customers are looking for the best value for money possible.  This requires super-effective marketing, as you will need YOUR message to stand out and then convince people, more powerfully than your competitors, that YOURS is the best value for their money!

Your existing clients / customers will be hurting financially too.  They will be looking for better deals and for ways to reduce their outgoings.  You need to make sure they don’t go to a competitor or simply drop your service, thinking it will save them money.

This is clearly not the time to forget about your marketing.

Marketing opportunities

I believe 2009 will present some amazing opportunities.  The months ahead will be a time of great change and those with the vision and courage to adapt to these changes, will get the rewards.

Use the challenges of the year ahead to position yourself in your marketplace as a provider of answers. During times of flux, people want answers and we are attracted to those who we believe have the answers we need.

Listen to what your marketplace is saying to you.  Keep in regular dialogue with your clients / customers and also your prospective clients / customers.

Find ways to match the benefits of your products or services to their changing needs and ensure that you and your business are an essential resource for them!

Let's grow your business: I can help you build a successful business, make more sales and boost your profits. To find out how, read this.


  1. Absolutely Jim! Recovery from this recession falls squarely in the hands of marketers. But, just doing ‘more of the same’ won’t work. As you mentioned, marketers need to demonstrate value and return on investment. Finally, customer service will be the new marketing in 2009. Watch for it.

  2. Great advice Jim! Another piece of advice for everyone (business owner OR employee) – during a recession is the best time to invest in yourself. Learn a new skill or get a new degree/certificate in order to make yourself more valuable to your customer/employer. Great post! Thanks!

  3. Always useful information Jim, but the advice I like best is communicating with your clients and perspective clients and looking for ways to adapt to their changing needs. I appreciate the person who tries to identify with where I am.

  4. The definition of “Insanity” is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

    I sent my customers a newsletter today with the topic “What will you do differently in 2009?”

    Jim, you consistantly remind us of what’s important in business and I appreciate it!

  5. Enrique Garcia-Salgado

    January 2, 2009 at 16:17

    Very true! I sometimes tend to thing that in difficult times, people tend to cut expenses first on entertainment/advertising/marketing. Still, as you clearly explain, there are major conceptual differences and it sure is important to talk to you client and explain the importance of this crisis/key moment. Nice!

  6. Well said. Reminds me of one of Warren Buffet’s principals of investing, “Be scared when others are greedy and be greedy when others are scared.”

  7. This is the perfect time for businesses re-assess their marketing budgets and follow where the consumers/buyers have headed: online.

    A powerful online presence should be on a lot of company’s new year’s resolutions!

  8. I couldn’t agree more, Jim! 2009 is definitely shaping up to be a watershed year for Marketing.

    The widespread adoption of Social Media is going to give those businesses who regularly converse and develop relationships with their customers a huge leg up on the competition.

    I am also happy to see so many predictions for the growing importance of communication and Customer Service in the coming year.

    People tend to trust other people more than sterile, uncommunicative corporate entities and “companies who care” are going to be the companies to beat.

  9. Carri,

    I agree that customer service is going to become even more important; as customers realise their value and demand service excellence from providers.

  10. Very true Jim. As I heard somewhere before “Trying to do business without advertising, is like winking at a girl in the dark. You know you’re doing it but nobody else does”.

  11. Tom Volkar / Delightful Work

    January 3, 2009 at 13:26

    Agreed. Opportunities often increase in times of economic distress. It’s all how you look at it. Most often when I tell folks that I had my best fourth quarter in five years – they are shocked. Why do positive exceptions shock folks?

  12. Steven Paul Matsumoto

    January 3, 2009 at 22:10

    It’s amazing how truths are so absolute. I have blogged about this very topic several times since mid-October when the world and the media lost their bloody minds. Half of the presumed challenges businesses are facing are fear based and not fact based.

    If you want to gain market share this is the ideal time and place to do it. Through a thoughtful, planned out approach to social & traditional media. Well done Jim you got another subscriber in me.

  13. Scott Mahler-Datex Media

    January 3, 2009 at 22:11

    I own a website development business, and I believe the best marketing you can do is provide your clients with the best service, attention and results as possible. Doing this doesn’t even have to add to your company’s bottom line, so it’s recesson proof. Creating a loyal customer base, will carry you through the tough times and raise you to the stratosphere during good time.

  14. I agree with your view on 2009’s opportunities. Taking advantage of your edge is easier in uncertain times, when the fat and slow worry instead of changing. Will keep following you on Twitter, thank you for the good article.

  15. Thanks so much for this post – I’ve been preaching this over the last couple of month, unfortunately mostly to no avail :-(
    Quotes: “The people aren’t spending much in our field of business, and we’re not making so much money anymore, so why waste money on advertising?” … “everybody else is also cutting down on advertising…”
    These are my replies: “Are you making money to advertise or are you advertising to make money?” … “If you do what everybody else does you’ll just get what everybody else gets!”

  16. Jim, great comments! We have to take ownership of our results and not fall victim to the circumstances. I’ve just recently discovered you and your blog and it is full of valuable info. After exploring further I learned a thing or two about blog etiquette too — in terms of what is considered spam. Forgive me if my previous posted comment. I’m an “old media” learning, still learning the ropes of this new frontier.

  17. I could not agree more.

    The economy right now has thrown people out of their comfort zone. When people get thrown out of that zone they go looking for new things. These are the opportunities that anyone with a business has to jump on.

  18. Jim,

    Great post. I was talking to a very successful chamber member recently that had been through several ups and downs. He was optimistic because he new some of his competition wouldn’t be around after the recession and he would make higher than usual profits. He was watching his pennies just in case the recession lasted longer than normal but he continues to invest in his core business.


  19. These are excellent points. I sell Mercedes-Benz automobiles and one of my clients is a consultant. We were talking last Friday and he said that although they had a great year, the last quarter he could see a pull back on orders. This year will tell the tale but I think like you that this is the time to fine tune your efforts and increase your market share, rather than shudder the doors and protect what may or may not be yours in the future!
    Thank you Jim!
    Timothy C Burns

  20. Our company has a unique capability and a (rare!) sustainable competitive advantage. Also, we are focused on education (math and science), which tends to ddo OK in a downturn.

    We will make it through this, marketing extra heavy as you suggest, and our competitors, who have more me-too solutions, may not.

    There is a silver lining to every cloud.

    Thanks for this post!

  21. market smartly not heavily. that’s a mistake of the past. smart marketing allows u spend more money effectively. gotta agree catherine ford with developing news skills. especially if its slow

  22. Very interesting article Jim. If you are a retailer this is a fantastic time to buy new, quality stock at throw out prices and run special campaigns and still make a small profit. If you buy right you can maximise this and have regular specials to keep those customers coming in the store.

    Stock could be bought from wholesalers by negotiation, from auction houses where shops have closed down or from shops themselves who have put up a ‘closing down’ sign. All these contacts would be good for a negotiation deal – they too want money!

    Years ago I had a large local grocery store. All the people from the estate had to drive past to get out of the estate and the shop did very well. But there was a time when roadworks on a nearby main road redirected traffic past my store. I bought sacks of potatoes and with huge signs out front sold them for $4.50 each. As we were in a family area, this brought new people into the store by the droves. No way did I have to go to the gym for weight lifting exercises!! as we had them on display on the pavement in front of the shop.

    This is just an example of how to attract new customers, and then of course you need strategies to keep them coming back.

  23. Focus on services that cut your customers’ costs or increase their revenues. That’s all they’re going to pay you for in a down economy.

    All my marketing is based on increasing profits for my prospects and customers. That’s the bottom line (so to speak).

  24. Barby Zuniga Ward

    January 19, 2009 at 15:58

    Jim, you def have a gift for encouragement and positive thinking! Our company has had to transition and become leaner and more efficient. We write custom software applications for small to mid size companies, and we feel that the current situation is actually a great opportunity to strengthen our niche. These companies need to save money, and for a very reasonable investment we can help them. We have had to streamline and become more focused by eliminating some of the other services we used to offer, such as on site support services. Now all we do is write custom software, and of course support it. Keep up the good words!

  25. There’s an article which agrees with you in December 2008 Harvard Business Review: “Protect Strategic Expenditures”, by Robert S. Kaplan and David P. Norton

    Other advice in the same issue includes keeping your current governance structure, using downtime to develop skills, helping employees manage stress (not giving it to them) and focusing on emerging customers.


  26. Jim I agree with what you have said about innovative marketing. However,at some point one must be realistic, and determine if during this economy ones business will have a ROI. In my home furnishing store, I realized after, cutting overhead to a minimum and downsizing my space to 5,800 sf, that I would have to close my store after 32 years. Yes it was painful. But life goes on, and you must find other ways to be a success in life.

  27. Jim,

    This is a great post, and it seems like everyone here agrees with you. My question is, how do you get others to by into this? I’m involved in a local art gallery where my partners only see the dollars they are spending, not the revenue they are losing. Any ideas to get them to realize the value of an investment?

  28. Sorry for the misspelling. “Buy” into this.

  29. Excellent post. Now’s not the time to slash your marketing budget. In fact, you should increase it if you can in areas where you can measure your results and account for every precious penny spent. As for hesistant clients, show the success you’ve had with past direct response marketing efforts. That might help you win them over.

Comments are closed.