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Managing marketing strategies and budgets in a downturn

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Photo by Corinne Kutz

As you’re looking to cut costs and find ways to stay afloat during these difficult times, your first thought may be to eliminate your marketing and advertising budget. That’s a short-term solution that can decrease expenses right away and help your bottom line, but there are many reasons marketing should be an expense you keep for the good of your long-term viability. 

In a March 2020 survey from Kantar, 75% of consumers said businesses should show customers how they’re handling the Coronavirus situation, and 77% said they want to hear how businesses will be helpful in the “new normal” landscape. Businesses can use targeted and specific marketing efforts to help communicate those messages to an audience that is more alert than ever.

Less advertising = less visibility = less business 

As one would expect with cut or halted advertising, traffic will decrease across the board, from visits to your website to business transactions. This can harm the brand recognition that you’ve built, while others who continue to advertise are more likely to stay top of mind for consumers. Even just a small continued investment in advertising and marketing will allow you to maintain marketplace visibility and customer trust.

The U.S. Small Business Association advises that savvy marketers can increase sales and market share, even during a slump: “Studies have shown that those maintaining or increasing ad outlays during slowdowns wind up outselling rivals who cut back.”

You always have a message to share

Now more than ever, communicating with your community is crucial, according to HSMAI: “The most immediate priority for hospitality marketers in times of uncertainty is to communicate facts and do so routinely and liberally.”

With things changing constantly, there is always something new to be shared with your audience, from basic business information to bigger operational changes. Sharing consistent messaging with those updates is key to spreading the word about your business, resulting in higher engagement and sales. By continuing to market and advertise, you can communicate your message clearly in the places where consumers are specifically looking and direct them right to the action you want them to take.

When curating your message, Harvard Business Review suggests the following:

  • Present with empathy and transparency
  • Use media in more agile and diverse ways
  • Associate your brand with good
  • Track behavioral trends and proactively build scenarios
  • Adapt to new ways of working to keep delivering

Spread your message across all channels—everything from printing signage for the front windows of your business to updating your website with a banner that points customers to your latest offer. Be sure to display and repeat your message across your free and paid social media channels and update your Yelp Page and Ads. There are new Yelp page features to help you communicate business changes during the Coronavirus, as well as a customizable COVID-19 banner to share important information about your business.  

There’s less competition 

During a slowdown—or with these current times, a halt—cutting back on advertising spend is a thought that has run through the minds of most business owners. And this is a time when your competitors are likely following through with those thoughts and adjusting their advertising dollars. According to Forbes, the “noise level” in a business category can drop when competitors cut back on their ad spend. This gives advertisers more space on the floor to reposition a brand or introduce a new product.

When you are able to continue advertising, it provides an opportunity for you to gain more awareness and build consumer trust in your brand with less competitive noise. Your message is more likely to be noticed with less ads in the market, and when everyone does start advertising again, you’re more likely to be remembered. 

The cost of advertising is lower during a downturn 

There’s an opportunity to gain market share through cost-effective advertising, and right now prices are at an all-time low. Even with the huge increase in online activity, digital channels across the board have lower prices. Take cost per click rates for example. As businesses with planned budgets decrease or cancel their programs, the average cost per click rate decreases—by 15-25% on certain platforms—giving you more bang for your buck. 

There are also a plethora of companies offering free trials and new features to support small businesses during these challenging times. Some include:

  • Yahoo Small Business is offering “Business Maker” free for a year which includes a .com website, domain, and five email addresses, along with resources to support website building
  • Mailchimp is offering a free .com for up to five years in addition to their free website builder tools
  • Yelp Connect is free for select business categories through May 25 and allows you to send business updates and information directly to your customers
  • Social media management platform Hootsuite is offering free access to their Professional plan until July 1

Advertising expenses can feel like a nuisance of a bill that should be quickly eliminated during an economic downturn, but weathering a storm successfully requires maintaining brand awareness. Continuing to spread your message and guiding consumers to spend and interact with your business can not only generate and increase sales during a tough time, but set you up for success in the long term and when things return to normal.

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The information above is provided for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice and may not be suitable for your circumstances. Unless stated otherwise, references to third-party links, services, or products do not constitute endorsement by Yelp.