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  • Writer's pictureBlanq & Co.

It’s Coronatime to Understand Your Marketing During a Recession, Depression or Pandemic.

By Magdalena Wolak - Managing Director

We don't yet know the full scope of the impact which the COVID-19 outbreak will end up affecting businesses, the economy, and our personal lives. This is a time of cataclysmic shifts and leaps when it comes to how customers and companies talk to one another. 

There are, however, a few hard pillars of information that no amount of virus-induced fear will shift. 

Here at Blanq, we wanted to talk about what a volatile market can DO for your company to make sure it comes out the other end alive and stronger than ever. 

These are not quick-fix tips, but as you probably already realized, trivial tidbits are more often than not a scam, and we’re here for good, wholesome content that will actually help you. 

Here are 9 points BLANQ thinks you should keep in mind and remember whenever a financial panic looms near (it happens more often than you think). 

1. Make sure you know who you’re marketing to. 

It always blows my mind how many businesses do not have a clear idea of who their target customers are. Hint: it’s NOT everyone. 

Take the time to dig through your data and really pick out who the majority of your customers are, or who your perfect client would be. No, it’s not always whoever pays the most. Check out a decent beginner’s points of profiles here.

Imagine a perfect customer. Who is s/he? Does the person work at home? Remotely? In an office? Do they have kids? Are they stressed? How do they travel to work or for other reasons? Does that have an affect on your product? Is the person a high-stress buyer, discount-shopper,  or a low earning individual who saves up for quality? 

There are so many things to consider. Try to imagine a film character. Think about their secret fears and desires, not just their income, location, and demographic age group (TIP: age group targeting is often overused and overhyped; no matter what you hear, no one behaves as a horde and people are more nuanced and complex). 

Get a good company to help you hone in on your customer profile. Those of us who know what we’re doing will help you craft a perfectly well-balanced profile that will be inclusive and helpful. 

2. Reassess what people are thinking – customer profiles may change slightly. 

Your client is most likely undergoing the same stressors and financial questions you do. The clients you have now may change their behaviour. Perhaps they are being more frugal, more discerning of brand behaviour or less interested in ethics vs. cost or perhaps your customers are unaffected financially. Either way, everyone is affected by Coronavirus on some level. 

Knowing how your people behave during hard times is key to managing your marketing strategy. You have to figure out what the shift is, and do NOT restructure into a different customer profile. Understand that your current one is undergoing changes and pivot to those with the idea that normal behaviour will return once the outside stressor is removed again. Harvard Business Review does a really good job of separating your customers into three groups: slam-on-the-breaks, pained-but-patient, comfortably well-off. The trick is to pivot your language accordingly for now, and not trying to find a whole new world of customers.

3. Increase your ad spend.

It’s a relatively well-kept secret that when there’s an economic downturn, you should be spending more money on your advertising. You’ll notice most companies do the exact opposite, choosing to shift their budget somewhere else. Do not be that person.

Nonetheless, there have been a number of studies going back nearly one century that point out the advantages of maintaining or even increasing ad budgets during a weaker economy. Those advertisers that maintained or grew their ad spending increased sales and market share during the recession and afterwards.” Forbes

The trick to remember is that when your competition pulls back preparing for a hit, your company will be on the front lines and subconsciously on people’s minds. In simple terms, if you’re out there when your competition isn’t, you’ll do well. Grant Cardone, in his book, “If You’re Not First, You’re Last” explains this train of argument in more detail. While his points may sometimes be a bit blunt, the overall argument holds true. In times of financial instability, it’s easier to get ahead and reap the rewards later. All you need is patience. 

Remember these two points by the Advertising Specialty Institute:

  • Your message is more likely to be noticed due to fewer ads in the market

  • Your business is more likely to be remembered when everyone starts advertising again

4. Don’t cut or put immense pressure on your marketing team –

You want people to know they are safe and trusted; they will perform better and not make fear-based decisions.

Let's go for some obvious, and not often said out loud advice. Don’t punish the people who spend every day helping you engage with your customers and market your product. Trust me when I say this will backfire on you. Sometimes it happens by accident, tempers and stress run high. If you’re a business owner, you’re in the best position to prevent this from happening. Take a minute to think about how your language and expectations are affecting the people who work for you. 

People under stress make mistakes, they panic. If you trusted your marketing team to get you results before, then you should trust them now just as much. Use the budget you prepared to tide you over, continue with your strategy, and do not dramatically shift course away from your message or customer base or expect increased results by any means necessary. It will take away focus and waste energy and time, often resulting in wasted money, angry staff, and customers who can smell the fear and desperation from a mile away; that will lose you sales and trust.

"Most companies, however, do an inadequate job of managing their reputations in general and the risks to their reputations in particular. They tend to focus their energies on handling the threats to their reputations that have already surfaced. This is not risk management; it is crisis management—a reactive approach whose purpose is to limit the damage.” Harvard Business Review

In a situation like the one we are in, trust and brand reputation is the most valuable currency you can gain.

5. Don’t start by cutting your advertising team

A recessionary market can provide an opportunity for businesses to build a greater share of market through aggressive advertising.” Ocreative

I think I’ll just end this section with just that quote. It kinda speaks for itself, doesn’t it? 

Moral of the story: no advertising team = no advertising (and no, you can’t do it yourself). 

Trust us, people try and fail spectacularly all the time. We’re trying to help you be a better business, not an internet meme for a week if you’re lucky, and a joke on some advertising forum if you’re not. Leave the advertising to the professionals or we’ll laugh at you on a closed Facebook group.

6. Life >>>>> Money

Don’t put money over people. Whether customers or workers, be generous when you can – and people will remember it.

There isn’t a way to possibly pretend that COVID-19 isn’t here to stay for a while. We see way too many companies that continue business as usual with their marketing language. People aren’t stupid; remember that they look at what you’re saying and if it’s a touchy situation such as a global pandemic, they notice you pretending it doesn’t exist. 

It can come across as tone-deaf and insightful, and that could be a very important PR move on your part, especially if dealing with younger audiences who take corporations they trust in seriously and to a degree, as personal reflections of their values and personalities. You have to be sincere in your message. 

If you want to tell your customers you’re with them, show them

That may mean anything from a free trial to a sale, or perhaps getting involved in helping communities. It can’t be empty language with nothing to back it up. 

A recession or a pandemic is not the time to penny-pinch. Customers will remember it with a fiery vengeance and will be petty enough to retaliate after the problem is done. 

We’re in the era of the net. Word about you (good or bad) will get around. A bad reputation will bite you in the ass sooner than you think (ex. Unsafe places to work and jacked up prices). Here’s some proof, in case you don’t believe us: 

Here’s a list of shitty behaving companies:

Amazon - 'Jeff Bezos values profits above safety': Amazon workers voice pandemic concern

Disney - Here's what every major company is doing about the coronavirus pandemic

Sephora - A Sephora employee describes the devastating moment she and others in her district were suddenly laid off via a conference call

And here's a few great ones:

KIND healthy snacks - The KIND Foundation and Project N95 Launch the 'Frontline Impact Project', a Platform to Support the People Risking Their Lives to Keep Us Safe

Spirit of York - Toronto distillery shifts from making spirits to sanitizer

Shopify - Shopify is giving employees a $1,000 stipend to buy supplies while they work from home during coronavirus pandemic

7. PLAN ahead for bad times (set a budget) and treat it as a PR strategy.

We’ve touched on some of this already. This is harder to do during a time of financial strife, but it needs to be addressed. During this crisis, we have seen companies crumble left and right. Read about some of the struggles (not just economic ones) here.

Companies that we never thought could collapse within the span of a few weeks have completely gone under or dramatically reduced staff/cut wages/cut teams, etc. This proves that most businesses, no matter how high grossing do not have an even basic safety net built for an emergency. Reuters did a good piece worth reading on why the US economy, so unprepared and with no safety net, is more susceptible to failure. 

This is the age of the internet, both customer reviews and employee reviews are important. Treat people well and you will be treated just as great in return.


1. Someone will notice, and you’ll be an internet hero (ok maybe not a hero, but you have essentially skipped ahead to the ranks of companies that people look up to and those will be hard to forget. 

2. You’ve saved yourself sleepless nights, devastated employees, are most likely being publicly lauded as a fantastic business with the added ability to help the community because you’ve got less pressure on you overall. WIN-WIN-WIN-WIN. 

Start building your safety net now. Usually, it is best in times of good growth, but small amounts even in bad times help and add up. If you can withstand destroying departments, plans, products, and ultimately, the lives of your devoted employees with a plan that can help you behave with normalcy for at least a few months, you should do that. 

One thing the coronavirus outbreak has really shown us is that the capitalist system as it stands right now isn’t working. Money itself will not guarantee you security. Companies are more and more urged to behave in kind, compassionate ways towards their employees and customers, and the best equipped to have that conversation and support their communities will be the ones left standing on the other end of this. We hope you’ll join us there. 

We’d love to help you! Ask us anything and we will get back to you within 24 hours.

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