9 Aug 2022 Strategy

Things you can do now when marketing in a cost-of-living crisis 

[17/08 09:24] Paul Ince

The news seems unavoidable and, when you see it, there’s a temptation to feel an impending sense of doom about inflation, the cost-of-living crisis and the general impact on the economy. To a certain extent, it’s easy to talk ourselves into a catastrophe that isn’t there but, equally, burying your head in the sand isn’t going to help your business push through any downturn, if there is one. Marketing seems to be one of the first ‘costs’ that gets reviewed and dumped. That’s an extremely negative action and one that does nothing to help. This article will show you ways in which you can market positively for the benefit of your organisation while being mindful of budget limitations. 

If your senior leadership is pushing for a cut to your marketing budget, you’ll need to counter the argument with activities that deliver better outcomes and value for money. Having that plan in place now will help keep your marketing on the front foot. Cutting marketing is usually not the answer to a company’s financial problems. Of course, I would say that, wouldn’t I? In my experience, though, reducing activity that promotes a business isn’t going to help you sell more of the things you need to sell. 

Reviewing your existing plan 

First things first: it’s time to review the current marketing plan. What are you already committed to? What contractual spend do you have? Understanding when funds are less tied up can help you navigate tumultuous times. I’m not advocating dropping contracts like a stone. More that some will generate better value than others. Think about software subscriptions that perhaps you aren’t utilising fully or events you have planned that are not as relevant as they were. Personally, I’d avoid cutting spend on education or personal development for you and your team (a false economy), but perhaps there are virtual events you can attend, reducing travel and accommodation costs while still gaining from the knowledge. 

Once you know what you are still committed to and what you have available, check the existing plan for the products and services you are planning to promote. Are the campaigns still the right ones or are some products and services likely to be more popular because of the times we’re in? For example, the high-ticket offering may be less appealing to your market when other people and businesses are evaluating spend just as you are. Maybe your mid-tier service will appeal more right now. Or even your entry level set is the one to place the focus on. Just consider how some of the supermarkets are currently emphasising ‘price locks’ or ‘price match’ – they know their customers are primarily concerned with price and, in the case of the larger supermarkets, want to stop people moving away from them towards the budget stores. 

Reviewing your offering 

Review the products and services that you offer. If you sell physical products, you may well have commitments to stock levels. Can you renegotiate this? What are you likely to sell less or more of going forward? Do your services fully meet the needs of your target customer still or do they need a review in themselves? If your customer needs more value, what value can you add to the service? You’ll need to articulate this. 

Reviewing your target audience 

While we’re mentioning them, let’s review that target audience. What’s happening with them? What are their concerns in the current climate? Are they cutting spending or are they not really affected by the economy? It’s certainly not the case that changes in the economic environment affect everyone the same. Indeed, if you are selling luxury items to people with high wealth who are not exposed to fluctuations in costs, it could well be that your business can continue as usual and your plan can remain as it is. If your audience is affected, how are they likely to adapt to the situation? What do they need help with? What are they thinking about? How can you address this in your product/service offering, messaging or both? 

Reviewing tone of voice 

Another thing to review is your current tone of voice. At the start of the pandemic, there was a huge shift towards human-centred language: care, sympathy, camaraderie, community. I think it’s unlikely we’ll see that again here. Take what you learned from the last few years and apply it once again. Acknowledging the situation and being mindful of people’s and businesses’ struggles is more likely to open a door to a conversation than brashly ignoring how they are doing or how they may be feeling. This doesn’t mean leading every social media post or email with a gloom-laden missive, it simply means reviewing what’s being said to ensure it’s not completely tone deaf. 

Reviewing choice of marketing channels 

If you’re freeing up budget and being more mindful of where spend is going, consider which channels can deliver a more agile marketing message. Email is a fantastic tool to communicate directly with an individual, allowing you to offer that appropriate, personable tone and have a one-to-one conversation. Social media allows your organisation to adapt to changes quickly without lots of planning, in ways that a contracted billboard campaign or print advertisement does not. Utilising these tools is a smart use of resources. Again, we saw in the spring of 2020 many companies drop costly ad campaigns and replace them with ads filmed by their team at home. Use your experience of these tools to create better content that speaks to how your target market is operating. 

Of course, just as a downturn doesn’t affect everyone, there is opportunity here for you potentially. Is there a way that you can start to offer new products and services to a new market or switch your focus to that group of people and businesses that still maintain good spending power. A friend of mine recently reminded me that there’s always money somewhere, you just have to find it. 

Remember to still focus on results 

Regardless of how you adapt to a change in circumstances, you’re still going to need to demonstrate how your actions are delivering results. It’s a good opportunity to review which KPIs show your marketing is working. Sales is still the number one metric for most companies. It may be that a reduction in sales is expected, so other statistics may be helpful to include: audience growth, impressions/reach, engagement levels, customer retention. It’s easy for those working in marketing to hide within metrics that sound impressive but don’t deliver value for the business. As challenging as it may be, remember to still focus on the objectives that your organisation has and show how your revised strategies are continuing to contribute to its success. 

A reminder of the key elements of adapting to this time: 

  • Become more agile in your strategic approach and be flexible to meet the needs of your target market 
  • That may mean changing your messaging and/or your products and services 
  • Choose channels that allow you to adapt over time and create content for these that is appropriate for your audiences 
  • Continue to focus on contributing positively to the overall organisation objectives 
  • Never stop marketing 

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