Defense Might Win Championships, but Offense Wins Customers in a Recession

Budget cuts across the marketing lineup may feel necessary in a recession, but they ultimately result in a loss for the business. 

According to ​Forrester​, “less investment in marketing undercuts brand and customer experience. It weakens companies’ ability to connect with customers at a highly uncertain and emotional moment. It puts sales teams at a disadvantage through diminished lead volume and quality and lack of pipeline nurturing.”


It Pays To Play Offense

To survive and thrive in an economic decline, companies should go on the offense and make the customer experience the winning play for their businesses. A historical look at previous recessions shows there is strong evidence that it pays to maintain—and in some cases increase—marketing expenditures during a slowdown. 

In fact, studies show that companies going on the offense with a sustained marketing presence throughout a downturn, recover faster, are more resilient, and are better positioned to grow their way out of the crisis.

Bain & Co.studied nearly 3,900 companies worldwide during the last recession and found that winners diverged from losers, with winners growing at a 17 percent compound annual growth rate during the downturn, compared to no growth among the losers. Among other tactics, the winners were proactive in their game plan by reinvesting selectively for commercial growth—including maintaining marketing while competitors cut back. And they focused on improving the customer experience, making it more simple and personalized through investments in digital capabilities.

It’s not surprising that winning brands ranking high in customer experience often are bolstered by a highly effective and personalized email marketing program. The ROI of effective email marketing is unparalleled—organizations ​gain $42 for every $1 spent on email​. In challenging times and when budgets are tightening, it’s a no-brainer for marketers to double down on reliable programs that deliver the best ROI, help them achieve their business goals, and support customer care.


Drill Down The Fundamentals

Much like an athlete who tirelessly drills the fundamentals to get better at her sport, it’s time to get back to marketing basics, drill the fundamentals of better email, and put email first in your overall marketing programs mix. As you go on offense with an email-first strategy, there are three fundamentals you should make sure are in your playbook: be authentic; get personal; and create experiences.


1. Be Authentic

Creating meaningful connections starts and ends with authenticity. Your emails need to strike the right empathetic tone, meet the moment, contextualize how you can help readers, and engage in a responsible way. This means you need to comply with digital privacy laws like GDPR and CCPA, ensuring that everyone on your send list has opted in to receive your communications. 

Remember, they’re inviting you into their inboxes and trusting you to deliver relevant insights and memorable experiences, while providing the highest levels of privacy and security. Make sure all of your martech vendor partners align their security practices and policies with proven industry guidelines such as ISO 2700x and the Information Security Forum’s Standard of Good Practice for Information Security, and that they have successfully completed a SOC 2 examination.


2. Get Personal

Regardless of whether you are a B2B or B2C company, the most effective customer communications are H2H—human-to-human. Firmographic segmentation is table stakes in a digital world. Your customers expect you to go beyond their first and last name and understand what they care about today and into the future. How much time did they spend engaging with your last email campaign? How do you know if the content was relevant and valuable to them? On what devices was it viewed? What percentage of the recipients viewed your email in dark mode? What did they do with your email when they finished reading it? What new information did you learn about them? 

The key thing is to know where customers are along the buyer’s journey, where they are trying to go, and how to bring together data, technology and advice to drive higher engagement and stronger retention, and create loyalty-inspiring experiences.


3. Create Experiences

Winning brands are easy to remember and even easier to forget. Your goal isn’t to win customers today, but rather to create customers for life by delivering on your brand promise. An effective email marketing program empowers you to cultivate and nurture relationships, provide valuable insights that help customers achieve their goals, and celebrate their successes, creating an unparalleled experience that turns one-and-done customers into shout-it-from-the-rooftops advocates.

As part of this, it’s important to treat every touchpoint as the single most important touchpoint in the customer journey. From an email perspective, you should test every email—even transactional emails—every time on relevant browsers, devices and operating systems. Imagine the poor experience if you send an email without first testing for dark mode rendering and discover that 40 percent of your subscribers view their emails in dark mode. Imagine the missed opportunities if a critical link is broken or your email lands in the spam folder.

An email-first approach creates a multiplier effect by providing powerful insights that can be easily applied to improve your complete marketing mix and enrich the entire customer experience. For example, if you see great engagement on a new topic, you can quickly and easily harness these insights into a relevant thought leadership series, a new paid media campaign, and a virtual event, creating a post-click customer journey that is far superior and more memorable.

In an environment where the world is changing on a daily basis, making accurate predictions is tough. Based on what we know today, the winners who play offense and invest more in their MVC (Most Valuable Channel)—like email marketing—can emerge stronger on the other side. 

  • Originally published October 15, 2020