Four strategies for marketing during times of economic uncertainty

Last updated January 5, 2023
  1. Introduction
  2. Startups in a recession
  3. Tips for launching, marketing, and growing in a time of economic uncertainty
    1. Explore economic impacts to your audience segments
    2. Rethink your brand story
    3. Refine your marketing experiences
    4. Measure your performance—and act on what the data tells you

For much of 2022, there has been ongoing debate about whether the global economy is heading for a recession. At the end of July, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that the country’s economy had contracted for a second consecutive quarter. Whether this indicates a trajectory toward a recession is still unclear, but for businesses, that uncertainty requires strategic management.

For businesses operating amid this constantly evolving environment, it’s difficult to know where you stand. How does a business adjust strategy when facing the possibility of a recession? In such an unpredictable atmosphere, how should startups approach marketing?

For startups contemplating marketing today, there are a number of best practices—from simple tactics, like adjusting your messaging, to more complex undertakings, like rethinking your buyer’s journey. There are also a variety of steps you can take to bolster your company’s recession strategies and general preparedness.

In this article you will find tips and strategies for navigating marketing—and strengthening your business—during times of economic uncertainty.

What’s in this article?

  • Startups in a recession
  • Tips for launching, marketing, and growing in a time of economic uncertainty:
    • Explore economic impacts to your audience segments.
    • Rethink your brand story.
    • Refine your marketing experiences.
    • Measure your performance—and act on what the data tells you.

Startups in a recession

While recessions affect companies of all sizes, startups face their own set of challenges. In a recession, overall venture funding is down. In Q2 of 2022, global startup funding fell to $108.5 billion, which represents a 23% drop quarter-over-quarter. This is the largest quarterly percentage decline in funding in a decade.

When funding is tight, a common misstep that startups make is to slash marketing budgets. This is a familiar—and understandable—knee-jerk reaction to a challenging period. However, research shows that strategic investment in marketing is key to successfully weathering a recession, and businesses that focus on building strong brands fare better overall.

Tips for launching, marketing, and growing in a time of economic uncertainty

There’s no fixed playbook of tactics that work for every business, but the following strategies can help startups capitalize on marketing during this period of economic uncertainty—and strengthen their business for the future.

Explore economic impacts to your audience segments

Whether or not the economy meets the technical definition for a recession, consumers are trying to navigate conflicting information and an unpredictable economic environment. Following the 2008 recession, the Harvard Business Review published a collection of lessons learned about marketing during an economic downturn. One of the top recommendations was to begin thinking about customer segments according to how they might respond to a recession and not according to traditional demographics like age or income level.

Thinking through the psychology of your customers and how different segments might respond to uncertainties will help your marketing team effectively design messaging that reflects your key audiences’ concerns and priorities during this time. Studies have repeatedly found that for companies of all sizes, empathy is the key to connecting with customers—especially in difficult times. Empathy is also important in establishing trust, which will make your customer more likely to remain loyal and return to your brand long term. Whether your goal is making a sale or generating content for your company’s website, framing your company’s value proposition with empathy is the most effective way to build an authentic relationship with your customer. This will inspire them to trust you not only as a provider of goods or services, but also as a general resource.

Empathy also has tactical implications for brands. Refining your understanding of your core customers’ state of mind and principal concerns is only useful if you translate that understanding into actionable steps on the marketing side. Some questions you can ask:

  • Is your messaging in line with your audience’s current priorities and interests?
  • What about these priorities and interests might be shifted by an unstable economy? What has not changed?
  • How can your brand show up differently to meet these new challenges—and how can you position your products and services accordingly?

Rethink your brand story

No matter what business you’re in, the key to nailing your brand expression is to show up in front of the right audiences and convey the right message. During times of economic uncertainty, the “right message”—one that maintains your brand’s relevance and compels your audience to act and convert—might be completely different from messaging during more stable economic conditions. When thinking about how to move your marketing forward in rough economic times, don’t hesitate to audit your messaging down to the bare essentials. This is an important chance to think critically about the value propositions you highlight, the overall tone and voice of your brand, and how you resonate with customers through your marketing materials. If it doesn’t feel like a fit for the current moment, take the time to make strategic adjustments.

Refine your marketing experiences

Marketers always have a wish list of things they would do with unlimited resources, but within the constraints that come with navigating a period of economic uncertainty, there are still many tools that startup marketing teams can use. The goal is to find high ROI tactics that can be implemented quickly, will integrate seamlessly into existing operations and workflows, and require minimal engineering overhead. Here are a few ideas to try:

  • Add payment links to your SMS marketing
    If you’re already reaching out to customers via text message, Stripe Payment Links is a low-lift way to increase conversion rates on this type of marketing communication. Payment links are easy to create for any product or service your business sells, and you can share them directly with customers to facilitate quick payments. It’s a simple way to boost conversion whenever you text customers about promotions, discounts, or back-in-stock reminders.

  • Refresh your payment pages
    The strongest marketing strategies are those that put as much thought into the bottom of the conversion funnel as they put into the top. If you haven’t taken the time to optimize your checkout experience, periods of economic uncertainty are a useful opportunity to do so. Opting for a customizable, prebuilt hosted payment page solution like Stripe Checkout is a low-cost way to use Stripe’s world-class team of engineers, allowing you to refine the customer experience and minimize cart abandonment.

  • Revisit your lifecycle content flows
    Periods when you have to tighten up your marketing spend might undermine the development of bigger brand marketing plays, but they can offer you the freedom to strengthen the basic foundations of your marketing plan. Take a look at the content you use day to day to attract and retain customers at various stages of their lifecycle and ask yourself these questions:

    • Are you still highlighting the right products, services, and value propositions?
    • Is your bank of content still tracking with the most important use cases and audience segments?
    • What has changed about your business since the last time you refreshed your lifecycle marketing content?

Once you’ve done a thorough review of the content you use most often, you can prioritize and develop necessary updates and additions. Ultimately, you’ll have a battery of content that uses your most updated understanding of your audience to generate conversion.

Measure your performance—and act on what the data tells you

It’s impossible to predict exactly what will happen this year or next, and studying previous periods of economic downturn proves there is no one-size-fits-all strategy for weathering difficult times. However, research shows that remaining steady in your strategy, avoiding reactive decision-making, and planning for the long term will serve your business well. As your business experiments with different marketing tactics, revenue streams, management systems, and even business models, measuring and analyzing your efforts is key.

Building out and maintaining a set of performance metrics is part of any well-functioning marketing team, but this is especially true for startups. As you establish your foothold in your market, gain increasing brand visibility, and drive toward revenue growth, it’s imperative that you continue to gather as many signals as possible from your key audiences that tell you where you’re hitting the mark and where you’re losing customers.

Tracking metrics around engagement and conversion is important during any economic climate, but when the economy takes a downturn, everything you think you know about your audience—and what converts them—is liable to shift. This current period of economic uncertainty means it’s especially important to ensure your performance tracking is effective and that your team is regularly analyzing your data and mobilizing actionable insights. When the economy is unstable, every day is a new day for businesses, and you should use your marketing data to ensure you’re operating with the most current understanding of your audience in mind.

As you track and analyze results, you will be able to adjust your strategies and keep an agile mindset, which is especially important in an unpredictable economy. Whether you’re focusing primarily on your marketing plan, your customer’s journey, or the finer details of your marketing efforts, staying nimble and learning from performance data—and adjusting when necessary—will help you build for the long term.

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