17 April 2020

How to step up during the downturn

Brian Hardie
Written by Brian Hardie

Brian Hardie is Regional Director for The Marketing Centre and specialises in working with small and mid-size businesses. He has over 30 years’ experience working with clients in logistics, media, technology and outsourcing.

Over the past week or so, the UK lockdown seems to have entered a new phase. 

The initial scramble to get people online and working from home has passed. We’ve stopped obsessively reading COVID-related news from around the world. We seem to be settling into things and getting used to this new way of working and living. 

No one can say when life will begin to return to something resembling pre-pandemic normalcy, and businesses continue to grapple with multiple challenges during this unprecedented time. The good news is that even in a recession, there are things that business owners can do to strengthen their hand.

As Andy Grove, founder of Intel, put it: “Bad companies are destroyed by crisis. Good companies survive them. Great companies are improved by them.”

So what can business owners be doing right now to prepare?

Adopt the right mindset

Roberto Rivero, part-time Marketing Director at The Marketing Centre, recently published two great thought pieces on LinkedIn. 

In the first article, he wanted to test the commonly-cited idea that businesses that maintain or even increase marketing spend during a crisis perform better than those that don’t. He did this by rounding up and analysing academic research.

He found that the research supported the claim, with two important caveats. 

Firstly, companies that cut back on marketing spend probably cut back in other areas as well. These kinds of decisions can be self-fulfilling. If you behave like it’s all over, things are more likely to go that way. 

Secondly, the companies that did well didn’t just carry on as before, they evolved. They looked for new opportunities, adapted their business model.

When the market shifts, customer behaviour changes and you need to change with it. Roberto’s research suggests that the right approach is to maintain your marketing investment, but look for new ways to use it that align with your customer’s new reality. In his second article, Roberto gives detailed recommendations about how to put this approach into practice.

Stay competitive

Fortune, as they say, favours the brave. It may seem counter-intuitive, but downturns can present competitive advantages for businesses that are willing to chase them down.

The most obvious advantage is that a lot of businesses, including your competitors, will dial down their marketing. If you maintain your nerve and investment, this will increase your share of voice and may also drive down your media and distribution costs. With demand for digital advertising down at the moment, you may also be in a better position to negotiate these costs. 

If you don’t want to invest in paid media, you can still double-down on content marketing. Creating content and distributing it effectively is a free way to drive awareness of your brand and share your expertise. 

Develop your skills

Downturns are a great time to upskill, so review your team’s knowledge and look for gaps.

Bear in mind that you can do courses on specific skills such as CRM on a variety of platforms. A general overview of a topic can be useful, but a deep-dive on a platform that you use, especially if that platform is central to your marketing operations, may have a more immediate impact.

Modern marketing is highly specialised and while a lot of things can be picked up along the way, there’s really no substitute for proper tuition. The good news is that a lot of e-learning platforms are offering discounts, or even free courses, so make sure you and your team look for opportunities to save. 

The quality of tuition can vary, so pick platforms with a good reputation, as opposed to one you’ve never heard of. 

Look for new opportunities

Crises and downturns can give us the impetus (and the time) we need to innovate.Opportunity

Coming up with new services, products, or ways to reach customers is something that can get deprioritised when everyone has their hands full.  Downturns are a great opportunity to take a step back and ask what else you could be doing. 

Periods of uncertainty or change often lead to new ideas and ways of doing things, so be sure to reach out to your team for their input as they might be feeling creative too. Customers may also be more willing to try out new ideas or even work on them with you, opening up opportunities for co-creation.

Set an example for your team and customers

Very few individuals or businesses will be able to have a big impact on the economic fallout of this crisis, but you can always look out for your team, your suppliers and your customers.

Running a business is ultimately about building relationships and it’s more important than ever to look after those relationships during a crisis. People that feel supported will remember that and will be more likely to stick with you in the long run.

Recessions can be challenging times for business owners. But remember: for every economic downturn, there is an upswing. The hard work and grit that you and your team put in today will pay back dividends when the economy starts to rebuild.

If you’re less concerned about the future and more worried about the here and now, check out our recent post for  practical advice on how business leaders should respond to the current crisis.New call-to-action



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