It’s time to talk about digital marketing during a recession and tough times – what should you do and what do you need to avoid to keep your business afloat and ready for future growth? Does your business have what it takes to stay strong and adapt in trying times, or will you be left behind by those who embrace strategic thinking and long-term investment?

As we enter a new financial year, there is no doubt that NZ businesses face another tough year, coming off the back of 3 previous tough years. The crippling effects of pandemic lockdowns and restrictions are still being felt, coupled with a global recession, high inflation and low consumer spending. Hawke’s Bay businesses are also dealing with the unprecedented destruction from Cyclone Gabrielle and it’s easy to become overwhelmed when looking to the future of your business.

Looking back to the global financial crisis of 2008, we at MRD have seen firsthand which factors played a part in separating the strong businesses of today from those that have disappeared over the last 15 years. We will look at the 4 main strategies these businesses followed and how they implemented these into their digital marketing strategy.

1)  Embrace cost-effective marketing channels – audit your website and search engine optimisation (SEO)

When budgets are tight, it’s important to audit where your marketing time and efforts are being spent and channel this into the right places. There is always a strong urge to cut marketing in difficult times, or spend your limited budgets on short-term solutions (i.e. sales promotions or too-good-to-be-true radio ad deals).

Businesses who adopt a longer term strategic focus during tough times are able to reap the rewards when business starts to grow again (and it will!). While all of your competitors are cutting costs and pulling back on their brand exposure, take the opportunity to gain the market share that they are losing out on by building your brand awareness. Focus on cost-effective channels that give you a good return on investment and will build your long-term presence in the market.

Websites and SEO as a long-term investment

Websites are the best form of long-term marketing investment for your business. They will fill the role of a sales rep, customer service rep, cashier, marketing communications officer and so much more – all while you get on with the day-to-day running of your business. Set up correctly and optimised with the right information and a good SEO strategy (that’s the stuff that goes on behind the scenes that helps people find your website online when they are looking for what you offer), your website should be generating leads and making sales in the background at all times.

When business is slow, it’s a great time to reevaluate your website. Is it doing all the work you need it to or could it do more? Here are just some ways your website can do your work for you:

  • Strong landing pages – extra service pages give you more chances to be found in online searches e.g. if you are a plumber and a gas fitter, have a page for each so you have a better chance of showing up for both search results.
  • Detailed product pages – more detail about your products could be the difference between a purchase and an abandoned cart. Specs, benefits and customer reviews go a long way to helping a purchase decision.
  • Calls to action – a contact form can mean you don’t lose leads out of business hours.
  • Answer common questions – an FAQ section can save you time on the phone explaining to people what you offer.

Investing in your website during a recession means you will be ahead of your competitors when work picks up again, and you won’t have to work so hard to get new leads and sales in the future.

2)  Target the right audience – keyword strategy and your online presence

Going back to marketing basics, precise targeting of customers is crucial in recessionary times. Take a step back and ask yourself:

  • Who is my ideal customer?
  • What are their needs and are these changing over time?
  • What benefits can I offer over my competitors?
  • How do my ideal customers find me?

Answering these questions allows you to look at your marketing and channel your time and efforts into reaching out to your ideal customers, rather than wasting spend on marketing to everyone.

SEO, Google Business Profiles and Google Ads

Knowing who your ideal customer is means that your general online presence can be highly targeted. Let’s say for example that you are a plumber based in Napier, Hawke’s Bay. You get some business from surrounding areas, but 85% of your business is from Napier. Taking the time to optimise your marketing channels to help Napier residents find you online is a great way to reduce wasted time and spend. But how do you do that?

  • SEO keyword strategy – optimising your website for local keywords is crucial. Use SEO page titles and descriptions, on-page headings and copy and even image names to make it clear to your customers and Google that you are a Napier plumber. This will help Google match your website to local searches rather than showing your website to customers in Dunedin or Auckland. It will also put you ahead of your competitors in local search if they have kept their targeting generic.
  • Google Business Profile – these are a great way to get seen in the search results and the best thing is, they are free! With the ability to add photos, maps, customer reviews, services offered, products for sale and posting updates – as well as your address, phone number and business hours – these profiles are crucial for local businesses. Be sure to choose the very best category as this is how Google defines your business. E.g. don’t just choose Plumber, but specify you are a Plumber in Napier.
  • Google Ads – knowing your ideal target market is critical to not wasting spend in Google Ads. Formerly Google Adwords, this marketing platform is data-driven, so feeding it the most correct information is the best way to achieve cost-effective results. E.g. if you know your ideal customers are aged 25-50, live in Napier and regularly visit TradeMe, you can create an audience of people to target.


3)  Leverage data-driven insights

Analysing metrics for your business such as website traffic, conversion rates and customer engagement is also important when trying to maximise your marketing return on investment. Understanding where your best customers are coming from and what their behaviours are, makes it easier to work out where to get the best bang for your buck.

Google Analytics 4 and Search Console

Linking your website to Google Analytics 4 and also Google Search Console allows Google to get a clear picture of your business and helps it to match potential customers with your website. As well as details about the location, devices and acquisition channels of your website’s users, these tools also help you uncover things that may be damaging your online presence. E.g. pages taking too long to load, broken links, or issues with the mobile-friendliness of your website.

Using downturns in business to take the time to understand the metrics behind your digital presence will help you to optimise and improve what you are currently doing to get your business in a better position for future growth.

4)  Foster customer relationships

In times of business turmoil, doubling down on the relationships you have with your current customers is key. You have already spent the time and budget to acquire these customers, so marketing to them should be much easier and cheaper than acquiring new ones.

Content strategies and email marketing

Digital marketing is a great way to communicate with your customers with helpful content, special offers, and even to get their input into what you could be doing better. Creating content for your website, email newsletters and social media platforms can also help with your long-term organic digital presence, as linking back to your website as often as possible is a great way to boost your website’s ranking with search engines.

Strategic business thinkers will put an annual, quarterly or monthly content plan together to reach out and form those strong customer relationships. Creating these bonds will foster loyalty and it’s these reliable customers that will get your business through the difficult times. Reach out regularly to let them know you’re there, remind them of your services and listen to their feedback when they tell you about their changing requirements. The ability to adapt to your customer’s changing needs will set you up for long-term success.

Whilst a recession presents many challenges to business, the survivors will be those who take a long-term approach and view their marketing as an investment and not just a spend. Embracing cost-effective marketing channels, targeting the right customers, leveraging data-driven insights and fostering customer retention will be the defining strategies of the businesses with the best chance of growth in the upcoming years.

The knowledgeable and professional team at MRD are ready to help your business get set up for digital growth. Call us for a chat today.