Recession-Proof Your Budget and Protect Brand Relevance With These 3 Strategies

Deprioritizing marketing spend can have significant consequences

During times of economic unease, there can be a knee-jerk reaction to slash the budgets—especially in the marketing department.

However, there’s also a long track record of how risky this approach is. Deprioritizing marketing erodes brand share and relevance. It can make it that much harder to make up for lost ground when markets bounce back.

Marketers know this already. But, occasionally, others in the company need more convincing. And a powerful rationale is one that anticipates concerns, addresses reality and sets everyone up for success on the other side.

By following these three marketing strategies—and making the right case to finance—you can protect your budgets and improve their impact.

Double down on unique audience reach

It’s critical to grow your base and acquire new customers during tough economic times, especially as your current customers may change their spending habits.

One of the best proxies available for new customer acquisition is unique audience reach. It’s a deduplicated metric that counts individuals instead of frequency, regardless of which device they’re on. Without deduplicated metrics, your ads may rack up thousands of impressions but only reach a relatively small audience.

When you want to broaden your audience—especially during a recession—it’s critical to know if you’re actually expanding your reach or just targeting the same folks over and over. By following unique reach, you can continuously optimize ad placements and select the media partners that deliver fresh eyes.

At the end of the day, you can’t convert new customers if you never reach them. In fact, a 2022 Nielsen study of 15 brands and 82 digital campaigns in the U.S. revealed that campaigns with strong target reach consistently delivered better sales outcomes.

Define your audience, then dig deeper

Audience targeting is, arguably, the most important tactic for global marketers during a downturn. As the C-suite looks everywhere to cut spending, you don’t want to use budget to reach an audience that wasn’t going to convert in the first place.

If you consider your audience to be fairly broad—such as millennials living in mid- to large-sized cities—you may need to focus on a smaller niche, like single millennials between 28 and 35 living in the 20 largest metro areas who bought a sedan in the last five years and are now looking for an SUV. The pool of potential consumers may shrink, but your ad should resonate with more of them.

This kind of refined reach allows you to put your message in front of your ideal customer as they go throughout their day, follow them as they cruise the internet and retarget visitors who come to your website.

Consumers are likely to change their behavior during a recession. So, your concept of the ideal customer may have to transform as well, and traditional demographic data may not be enough to identify your core audience. A simple solution is to augment those data sets with psychographic, behavioral, purchase-based and media consumption information.

Always be ready to adjust on the fly

Marketers need to create a feedback system spanning all their campaigns that allows for real-time adjustment, experimentation and optimization. Because here’s the unfortunate truth: It’s easy to throw dollars at the wrong people.

In fact, brands waste nearly 40% of their digital advertising on the wrong audiences, and 29% of connected TV (CTV) ad spend reaches off-target audiences.

The potential for wasted spend is higher during a recession when whoever we’re targeting might be in a constant state of flux.

There are two great ways to spot and capitalize on advertising opportunities. The first is using in-flight metrics. Ideally, you’ve got a single tool that analyzes reach, frequency and gross rating points across platforms and delivers data daily, regardless of the size of the campaign, the platform or even the device.

The other is by owning your marketing performance data. When you don’t, you’re dependent on outside firms that likely don’t use transparent measurement systems that you can access whenever you need them.

It’s difficult to predict consumer behavior when bad economic news abounds. So, despite all your best efforts, a campaign might flounder—and isn’t it better to cut your losses and move on before tapping your budget?

As GM of digital audience measurement at Nielsen, Ameneh Atai is responsible for leading all digital and advanced TV commercial strategy, sales and client services teams in the U.S. Atai brings diverse knowledge to the ad- and mar-tech space, as her previous roles were director of solutions architecture and director of artificial intelligence solutions.