How to Help Your Team Do More with Less in an Economic Downturn

For any marketing leader faced with economic headwinds, these 5 tactics are your key to devising a recession-proof marketing strategy.


important mindset shift


tips for repurposing content


recession-proof tactics

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In times of abundance, we dream big, we explore, we challenge, we experiment. But when the purse strings tighten up, we narrow our horizons, drive focus, prove worth, and kill most dreams. That’s not a great headspace for you or your team to be in when you’re devising a marketing strategy that builds both short- and long-term success.

Given the uncertainty of the economic climate, we’ve seen companies react with layoffs, budget cuts, and an endless stream of “strategy” meetings where you must validate that the money you’re spending is efficient and yielding results. This guide is for any marketing leader faced with hard decisions or struggling to support their team through the tough times ahead. We’re determined to help you weather the storm and become better marketers in the process.

The #1 thing every marketer needs during a recession

First of all, if you’ve lost colleagues through downsizing or you believe you will soon, take a moment to grieve that loss and, more importantly, take a moment to process the strange feeling of still being there. That’s the part most people don’t talk about: the guilt around being the “lucky” one who gets to keep their job and the stress of knowing you’ll now have more work on your plate with your coworkers departed.

Once you’ve done that, it’s time for a new spin. We don’t mean a new channel or a different campaign. We simply mean a positive outlook of what an economic downturn could do to your business. This can feel incredibly awkward, given the gravity of slimmer budgets and smaller teams, but your framing of the situation is going to determine how well you navigate the uncertainty. What are the hidden advantages to a recession? How could this help your company emerge stronger?

The good news is you’re already a spin wizard. You do it on a daily basis: come up with an angle that turns the disadvantages of a product or situation into benefits. Apply that same concept here.

It’s not a slashed budget, it’s a more focused approach to double down on what’s working. It’s not a “we can’t do that big campaign, sorry guys”; it’s a “let’s break this idea down to its parts and test the MVP version first.”

Use this strength of yours to help your team and the rest of the company see through to the other side.  This is absolutely critical to the success of your org. While scrappiness can breed innovation, it can also breed a scarcity mindset, which has been scientifically proven to alter neural processing, impact decision making and lower your IQ by up to 14 points. Don’t let that happen to your team.

The best strategy to counteract scarcity is to put an opportunity-minded spin on what’s happening around you. Take a moment to reframe the recession and its impact on your marketing strategy. Write down all the bad things. Then put on your marketing hat and draft a different angle.

Doing more with less: 5 highly effective tactics

Let’s say your budget has been cut by 20%, you’re understaffed (and let’s face it, you’ve been understaffed for the past three years), and in spite of those limiting factors, the board wants you to drive towards the same revenue growth goal as last year.

It’s easy to feel completely doomed and demoralized. This is a time to grab that pint of ice cream, adopt your new spin, and put in play a few tactics you know will work. These tried-and-true techniques are all centered around the idea of using what you already have, so they work beautifully during times of constraint.


Tactic #1: Find the bread and butter.

What’s your top source for new acquisition? Is it organic, is it social, is it a specific ad channel or campaign? This is what we will call your bread. If you haven’t identified your bread yet, take a look at your funnel, examine your analytics, and review your CRM or CDP until you’ve found it.

Your bread is the one thing you must protect from all the budget cuts. It is the most foundational, critical component to your recession-proof marketing strategy. It’s your stay-afloat game plan. You must, above all else, keep pouring more love into this source.

Look for ways to move some of your resources into your bread source. For example, maybe SEO is your most important asset, and you’re also sinking a few thousand dollars into a Google search campaign that rarely converts. Could you reinvest that money into contracting with an SEO wizard or revamping your content or writing new pages? Do you have someone on the team that spends an hour a day on a task that could be better spent making more improvements on your bread?

Sometimes, your bread has been so well established that it can feel like there’s absolutely nothing else you could do to grow it. It does what it does – what more can you expect? In these cases, you have to dream big. Pretend that you had millions of additional dollars to spend on people, tools, and other resources. Is there anything at all that you would spend towards your bread? Get resourceful and see if there are any ways to do those same or similar actions on a much tighter budget.

Then there’s the butter. The butter is what makes the bread taste better. Butter can take two forms:

Butter can be something that must exist or else the bread fails. For instance, your incredibly successful SEO might actually be bolstered by having a strong brand and great word of mouth. If you only focus on the SEO piece itself and you neglect the brand that helps make that SEO strategy fruitful, you’ll start to see results diminish over time. Make sure that your bullet-proof plan to get you through the recession encompasses the bread and the butter, with initiatives split between the two.

Butter can also be something that makes the bread infinitely more effective. For our SEO example, this might be the conversion rate of your landing page. If you keep tweaking and running new experiments, you can incrementally improve your conversion rates and ultimately have a higher chance of hitting your goal.

This form of butter is more like low-hanging fruit. You might not be doing these activities currently, but if you start them up, you can drive slightly better results from your bread. If you’re already doing this, then make sure you don’t stop due to budget constraints.


Tactic #2: Drop the box checking

If your company is fairly established, your marketing strategy likely follows suit. Over time, you’ve built comprehensive marketing programs that check all the boxes. Blog? Check. Social media? Check. Email? Check. Website? Check. Events? Check. The list goes on.

But not all of these activities or initiatives are created equal. Some, like your bread and butter, bring outsized results to the level of effort put in. Others contribute to the greater good, but they likely aren’t going to drive as much attributable revenue.

Go through your many marketing contributions, write out the intended outcome of each (acquisition, customer loyalty, brand awareness, etc.), and note how successful that contribution has been at achieving the intended outcome. From there, you can determine which ones fall into the bread and butter category and which ones are more of check-the-box activities.

Some check-the-box activities might still make a lot of sense to keep going depending on your goals, but we guarantee that a few of those could be stopped so that you can refocus time and energy on your bread and butter. Pick a few – preferably ones that have real costs attached to them – and quit them.

Quitting can feel really great. Maybe you no longer have to come up with content for Facebook. What a relief! How amazing does it feel to not have that hanging over your head every other day?

Once you drop the box checking, you can reinvest your efforts elsewhere. If this feels incredibly scary (What if you pick the wrong thing? What if it contributed more than you thought?), keep in mind that you can always pick these initiatives back up in the future. It’s more about taking this opportunity to be intentional about what you’re choosing to do and what you’re choosing not to do to drive meaningful results.


Tactic #3: Upcycle and repurpose

You have already produced a ton of content. There are blog posts, videos, graphics, photography, illustrations, case studies, landing pages, and ad creative.

If you have a centralized system where these documents live, take a quick inventory. If your content lives in several different systems, spend a few hours sifting through your tools and recording what’s in there. This audit doesn’t have to be perfect or include every single piece you’ve ever made, but familiarize yourself with what exists today

We bet you have incredibly valuable videos or other assets that got promoted once or twice and then shelved for months or years. This is your moment to bring them back to life. Think of how many stories live in those assets, just waiting to be retold.

It’s quite possible that you don’t need to create anything new from scratch this year.Repurposing your existing assets is much more cost effective and helps maximize the value of your marketing efforts.

Here are a few repurposing principles that we’ve seen help marketers derive the most benefit from this strategy:

    1. Rethink your content into different formats. Rather than taking a video and reposting it as is, we’ve seen more success leveraging video content as motion-based graphics for social media, email, or ads. Take a short clip, layer in text and graphics, and voila, you’ve got yourself a new visual. AdPipe makes this incredibly easy, especially if you don’t have a video editor or motion designer on staff, but you can also adopt the same idea on your own. This also applies to other forms of content. Blog posts can become LinkedIn carousel posts. Old visuals made for social can be repurposed into new email campaigns.
    2. Break apart your old content into smaller chunks. Rather than thinking about one video in its entirety, you can manage the task faster by creating a collection of mini moments. Take your five top videos and cut them into different clips. That gives you a clip library to pick from so you can create new ad creative or other content quickly in the future. The same with blog content, you can grab little nuggets of wisdom or quotes from old posts to populate your social media calendar. Having this type of broken down material on hand makes all of your existing content more accessible and ready for its new life.
    3. Think through the story you’re telling first. We’ve often found that a certain video segment, coupled with new messaging and no audio, can tell a completely different story than what the original video was communicating. So when you’re building out your repurposing strategy, do not be too literal with the existing content. Develop your new idea or message first, and then refer to your collection of mini moments to find something that tells that story effectively. This will ultimately drive much more impactful new variations of your old content and feel more natural than just reiterating an old message again.

Tactic #4: Focus on who you already have

Sometimes in spite of your best efforts, purchase behavior begins to shift with the economy, and acquiring new customers suddenly happens at a much slower rate. The best thing to do in these moments isn’t to double down your efforts or try harder, it’s to focus on the people you already have: your customers.

When was the last time your customers heard from you? If you’d be afraid to share that answer with your boss, then it’s time to come up with an outreach plan. You want to be personalized and relevant, so as you develop a strategy, keep those two principles in mind.

Being personalized and relevant requires knowing your customers intimately. Gone are the days when putting their first name in the email suffices for personalization. What pain do you solve for them? How could you alleviate more pain? What are they looking for that your company is uniquely qualified to give them?

You need to understand their past behavior and their current needs. This is where some degree of data digging will be essential. You’re looking for tidbits of information that a) indicate that it’s time to purchase again, and b) provide insights into what interests them.

For instance, if you’re a machinery manufacturer, what’s the average amount of time that goes by before a customer’s new machinery needs service? Use that to set up an automated campaign that sends an email featuring your service offering around that time. If you’re a food and beverage retailer and you know someone bought a caramel macchiato three times two months ago but hasn’t in the last month, set up some retargeting ads or send an SMS promoting caramel macchiatos.

Some companies have such untrustworthy data that these more behavior-based triggers could lead you in the wrong direction. Instead of seeming personalized, you end up coming across as aloof. Not to worry – there’s still one trick up your sleeve. You can ask. Run a quick survey to get a sense of what they’re interested in. Pick up the phone and call them. Do whatever you need to do to get closer to your customers and make small progress towards creating smarter campaigns for previous buyers.


Tactic #5: Tell a story

Great marketers come to marketing for a love of stories. They are creative dreamers, deep thinkers, and curious explorers. The stories they tell connect us, they speak universal truths of humanity, and they prompt feelings we seldom explore.

At a time when every company is making hard decisions, storytelling often gets lost in the shuffle. It becomes less about how to capture and share the spark of your brand and more about how to keep your head above water.

This is exactly the right time to tell a great story because it will differentiate you from all the other companies out there who are paralyzed after deep cuts to their marketing team. Tap into your insatiable curiosity and search for a story to tell. Maybe it’s an employee who built their own car from scrap metal, or that one product that’s handmade in the Cambodian countryside by some of the strongest women in the village, or revisiting the park where your company planted dozens of trees in 1982.

You may be thinking, “This isn’t my bread and butter activity, there’s no way I have budget.” That’s fine. Start small.

Start with a micro story repurposed from an existing video. Test it. Tell more micro stories. If it doesn’t work, kill it. Be a brand that tells great stories through words or video, and we promise you that the results will come, through more engagement, higher referrals, better conversions, and more brand recognition.


What's next?

A few months back, one marketer said to us that all her money goes to concealer because there’s so much work to do and she’s so overburdened.

She is not alone. Marketers are constantly forced to change creative, change channels, and change strategies to keep up with the endless supply of rotating objectives and market trends. During an economic downturn, marketing teams are also forced to squeeze more juice out of an already very squeezed lemon.

We want you to get that juice. Our five tactics are designed to do just that: propel impactful results, improve your ROI, and do more with less. If it’s too much to do all at once, pick one and start there. Focus on bread and butter activities, stop any marketing efforts that are simply checking a box, repurpose your existing content in fresh ways, get closer to the customer, and tell differentiating stories.

Sometimes, it’s helpful to have a partner to drive accountability, keep up the momentum, and add to your productivity without consuming more time and resources. We’d love to help you repurpose content in a format that’s been proven to yield higher engagement and conversions. Get started here.