Why you should rethink slashing your marketing budget during a recession

It is understandable that professional service firms would want to cut or downgrade their marketing spend in difficult financial times. Most of the time these cuts are to protect short-term profitability in lieu of long-term strategy, but is this the right time to throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater?

Most professional firms think it best to reduce marketing spending during recessions, especially on marketing items that may be easier to cut (certainly relative to payroll). After all, spending big on marketing can seem counterintuitive when clients are spending less, and revenues are down. That is when, on the surface, big marketing budgets can become difficult to justify – even for the biggest of firms.

Interestingly enough research show that professional service firms that have bounced back strongly from previous recessions did not cut their marketing spend, and even in some cases actually increased their marketing spend – but they did change what they were spending their marketing budget on and what they were communicating to the wider market.

In difficult economic times, we need to adapt, show agility, and show your target audiences your firm’s ability to respond to the difficult economic situation – it has a lot to do with perception management. These difficult times are usually the best time to understand where your target audience is active and to meet them there – with an adapted content strategy!

So, the big question exists, is cutting or downsizing your marketing budget during a recession or difficult economic times the right thing to do? Is this tactically and/or strategically the right move to make? Let us have a look.

Reason 1: A Window of Opportunity

A recessionary market can provide a huge opportunity for professional service firms to build a greater share of market through aggressive marketing activities. Understanding this pattern can help firms gain a competitive advantage when planning their marketing strategies during difficult economic times. It stands to reason if competitors will be marketing less to pursue short-term savings, this provides a crucial window to increase your brand positioning and awareness levels to showcase your offering with significantly less competition. In short, marketing activities become more effective with less competitive noise. Now is the time to take advantage of marketing opportunities, more than ever before, and meet your clients and the wider market exactly where they are.

Reason 2: Gain Competitive Advantage

By shifting your focus and content strategy during difficult economic times, different marketing objectives can be achieved much quicker than is normally the case, especially with a positioning strategy where perception management is at the order of the day. Traditionally branding campaigns take much longer to achieve results as it is a long-term investment that gradually grows in strength and momentum. We all know it takes time to build a reputation.

Brand positioning, in short, is the process of positioning your brand or professional firm in the mind of your customers and clients – compared to other competing firms. Positioning is more than a tagline or a fancy logo, brand positioning is a marketing strategy used to deliberately set your business, and its professionals, apart from the rest.

With fewer competitors actively marketing during difficult economic times, it is the best possible tactic to boost high-value differentiation and position your firm as the “firm of choice” or the “professional of choice” in the markets you serve. Without the clout of your competitors marketing their services, gain as much field as possible in order to strengthen the position of your firm and capitalise on the benefits thereof. Gain strong grounds here and take the leading position!

 Reason 3: Marketing Needs Momentum

“Consistency is King” is a golden rule to abide by in professional services marketing. Marketing takes time to gain momentum and results. Other than retail marketing and advertising that sheds immediate results (actions and sales), professional services marketing requires a different and long-term investment and approach. It requires a gradual process of managing and increasing awareness levels and brand positioning. It needs time to create a “wave” and momentum to achieve strategic results.

Drastically cutting or downgrading your marketing efforts during difficult times will shed more problems and losses holistically than wins and will incur higher investment costs to re-activate and gain the same momentum before cutting or reducing the marketing efforts. Continuing or ramping up your marketing efforts during these difficult times can potentially be the “cheapest” investment which can offer the highest form of return in the long and the short term. Once the economy is on an upswing, you will appreciate not having lost months — or years — of progress. Don’t stop the momentum you have built up over a long period of time!

Building awareness and positioning of a professional firm are like the height at which an aeroplane flies. Marketing spend is the power in the engines: while the engines are running, everything is fine, but, when the engines stop, the descent eventually starts. Aeroplanes burn huge amounts of fuel to gain their height, much more than when they achieve the ideal height to cruse on. Rather keep the aeroplane in the air and keep it at the same height it was flying before the difficult times.

 Reason 4: Top-of-mind Awareness

Why is it so important to keep brand awareness high during periods of turmoil? Creating continuous awareness of your brand and your services or solutions is probably the most important marketing activity of all. If you don’t have a fishing line in the water, how must the fish know of your existence? Your fishing rod needs to be in the water at all times!

When businesses cut their spend on marketing, customers or clients gradually grow disengaged and distant from brands that do not reach out – and tend to replace them with more communicative counterparts that ARE actively furthering their awareness levels. Another critical factor in brand perception is the potential spread of rumours that can negatively inform or change customers’ or clients’ views of brands. When the brand goes silent, it is immediately perceived as failing, which accelerates the decline of brand image and reputation and disengagement.

Keeping your brand top-of-mind through difficult times will increase the likelihood of attracting new business further down the line. Studies show that being the most recognisable brand within a specific market has a direct impact on revenue growth. By contrast, those that fail to maintain a continuous brand presence will find themselves on the back foot when they decide to step up their marketing efforts months later.

Reason 5: Critical Communication Channels

A marketing communications channel, also sometimes referred to as a media channel, is a delivery vehicle to communicate with your customers, your clients and the wider market. Marketing is not just expense activities that sell your services, it is a vital communication channel that can be utilised to communicate with target markets in good and difficult times.

We drastically need to see this for what it is and to recognise the importance and critical benefits of what these channels offer. Combined with your messaging and the angle of your approach, your message can resonate with your clients and benefit your clients to do business with you. If we really understand the difference between marketing communication channels versus marketing activities at an expense, we will never cut or downgrade these channels. The ideal is to rather change our message and our approach and utilise these channels at their best.

The content of these channels during recessions must reflect the challenges that your clients and the markets are encountering. Clients, in a downturn, want to see brands show solidarity. Successful brand communication during a recession not only injects humour and emotion, but also answers for consumers the question: How can we help?

 Reason 6: Refrain from Abandoning Your Clients

In difficult times we need to stay closer to our clients than ever before. Times when turmoil is experienced is not the time to stop any marketing efforts. It is the time for us to be even more strategic in implementing them. Just be sure to adjust your strategy so that you are meeting your clients where they are now – at home and online. Your business can still thrive if you are willing to try new ways to connect with your customers and clients – and to show compassion and empathy.

By cutting or reducing your marketing infrastructure and spend will be a sure way to cut ties with your clients and open opportunities for your competitors to move into your position. One of the main objectives of a marketing strategy is to get closer to your clients and the wider market and strengthen your relationship with your audience. Stopping these efforts will offer more negatives than positives. A reduction in your budget can leave your customers and clients wondering where you went — or worse if your business is in jeopardy of shutting down.

You will, of course, be there for your audience in a different way during a recession. Your messaging will focus on how you’re taking care of customers as the tides change. Marketing can tell your audience what you’re doing to keep their best interests in mind, strengthening their trust in your brand.

 Reason 7: Keep Your Audience Engaged

Marketing is all about client engagement, especially digital marketing. When the brand goes silent, it is immediately perceived as failing, which accelerates the decline of brand image and reputation and disengagement.

Customer engagement is the means by which a professional firm creates a relationship with its client base to foster brand loyalty and awareness. This can be accomplished via marketing campaigns, new content created for and posted to websites, and outreach via social media and other digital platforms. The purpose is to get and keep clients as close to you as possible.

Digital engagement is important as it can help manage customer and client expectations, improve the client journey, and lead to more and deeper conversions. When your customers are engaged throughout their journey down the sales funnel, they are more likely to align with your brand and share additional information. A disengaged client can be detrimental to future sales and referrals.

Proactively engaging with customers online via effective marketing campaigns helps reassure them that they can expect the same level and/or high-quality of service they have always received.

Reason 8: Adapt Your Expectations

When we adopt our marketing efforts and campaigns during difficult times it is very important that we also adjust our expectations with regards to results or potential results. The new marketing objectives for the adapted strategy are to remain or bump up our awareness campaigns, differentiate our firm from our competitors, strengthen our positioning with our clients and the market and engage our clients as much as possible in a suitable manner and with a suitable message. Retention, engagement, and the channelling of critical information are our primary focuses.


Marketing in a recession will never be easy, largely because it often involves going against instincts and standard operating norms. During difficult economic times, our clients’ and customers’ behaviour undergoes profound changes – reflecting changes in their circumstances and needs, which may even be traumatic. In this environment you must accompany your customers on their new, different journey, shifting your message and even re-engineering your value proposition. This is a time not to stop spending money but a time to change how you spend it. It is also an opportunity because firms who are willing to be what customers need in a recession get to keep many of the new customers they get — and cement the loyalty of those they already had. We need to rewire our thinking and learn to view marketing as much as a non-negotiable as making sure your office has internet, or your product is market-ready, or that your yearly taxes are filed. It is not a nice-to-have; it is a necessary “investment” of engaging in business today! Without marketing, you do not exist and you will not be an option…are you willing to take the risk?

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein.