Marketing in an Economic Downturn: Mistakes, Challenges and Opportunities

July 3, 2008

This article is included in these additional categories:

Brand Metrics

Some 60% of American Marketing Association member marketers say halting or reducing spending on key marketing programs is the biggest mistake marketers can make in an economic downturn, according to (pdf) a recent AMA survey.


Focusing on short-term tactics and sticking to the status quo are additional missteps, marketers say.

In all, 66% of respondents to the May survey say the current state of the economy is having an impact on their marketing plans. Marketers most often say it is a challenge in this economy to…


  • Demonstrate the value of marketing when sales are decreasing
  • Realign marketing strategies to match businesses’ changing objectives
  • Focus on longer-term brand strategies

The AMA offered four strategies to enhance marketing plans in a downturn – shape the message, don’t slash the price; focus on whom not to target; stand apart from the crowd and invest in innovation; and sustain the brand:

1. Shape the message, don’t slash the price

Only 3% of American Marketing Association marketers say it is important for marketing functions to adjust pricing strategy to help sustain and grow business during an economic downturn.

Implications for marketers: Conduct research to understand your competitor’s positioning and your target audiences’ perception of the economic environment; hone and refine your messages; highlight the value of your product or service, rather than slashing the price.

2. Focus on whom not to target

Some 67% of AMA marketers say it is important to mitigate the impact of an economic downturn by refining target audiences.

Implications for marketers: Assess which segments of potential customers you do not want to target; don’t market to inappropriate market segments (simply stated, some customers are more costly to serve than to lose); focus marketing strategies on customer segments that will produce the greatest ROI.

3. Stand apart from the crowd and invest in innovation

Most AMA marketers, 66%, report that they would take the same amount or less risk with a new product and/or service innovation during a time of economic uncertainty.

Implications for marketers: Differentiate through innovation with a product or service that performs in a faltering economy; invest in R&D now to ensure that your company is in a position to compete when the economy rebounds.

4. Sustain the brand

63% of marketers say they can lessen the impact of a downturn by investing in brand building as part of their marketing plan.

Implications for marketers: Establish access to executive officers to understand ongoing shifts in business strategy; realign marketing strategies to match business objectives quickly to demonstrate a commitment to the bottom line; qualify and quantify results quarterly to establish an ongoing dialogue with executive officers.

About the survey: From May 6, 2008 through May 16, 2008, the American Marketing Association conducted online interviews with 244 AMA members in the continental United States.

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