Marketing during a Recession: Top Tips from the B2B Marketing Expo

Taking place amidst gloomy economic forecasts and industry jitters about the impact on budgets, marketers gathered at ExCeL London for the B2B Marketing Expo. Panellists and presenters countered the pessimism with advice for marketers. LEAP’s Jen Reznick reports back.

What should marketers prioritise during a recession?

Keynote theatre at B2B Marketing Expo

James Keating, Chief Marketing Officer of fintech provider Pleo advised that in an economic downturn, businesses need to focus on customer retention, reduce churn and increase conversion.

Kirsten Cox, VP of Marketing EMEA at ServiceNow echoed that most revenue comes from existing customers, so she recommended using thought leadership and relationship marketing to retain customer loyalty.

How can marketing help with customer retention?

James suggested that marketers should make sure their customers see which of your services they are currently using and help them discover the other services you offer.

Kirsten suggested that facilitating workshops, how-to sessions and peer-to-peer story exchanges were effective ways of showing customers how to get the most value out of services you provide.

Looking back to the 2008 recession, demand spiked for highly engaging, credentials-focused video presentations. Advertising and media agencies needed a snazzy showcase of previous work paired with effectiveness data to impress existing clients. Reinforcing your value to clients will be an important message for 2023. (Our Film and Post team are ready to lend a hand.)

What other marketing challenges should we prepare for in a recession?

Antonia Wade, Global Chief Marketing Officer for PwC warned marketers to expect the decision-making pipeline and purchase-making process to slow. Economic unease sparks the need for additional caution; more buyers become involved in purchasing decisions. The result is an increase in time for ultimately tighter capital.

Is it possible to speed up the pipeline to win more sales?

Digital Marketing Theatre at B2B Marketing Expo

Alice De Courcy, CMO at Cognism suggested ditching the conversion mindset. As she pointed out in her ‘Top Lessons from a First-Time CMO,’

you do not move your buyers in market; they move themselves.

Moreover, they want to feel like they’re being independent in their research. Only 1-5% of the market is ready to be captured now, so you need to educate your buying audience to come to you.

Antonia from PwC also reminded marketers to create future demand to create future customers. They may not be ready to buy in 2023, but you still need to create the demand. She added that events are useful for speeding up the decision-making process as well as for lead generation.

How else can marketers use events?

Kirsten from ServiceNow advocated hosting your own rather than taking part in third-party events. Organising a round-table discussion or a dinner allows you to come up with a strategy that is based on your audience, its size and where they are on their customer journey. You have more control over the budget, data, process and results.

It’s worth noting that the multinational organisations were keen to go solo with events. Smaller companies may be concerned about resources and scale needed to net a positive ROI. Testing the waters with a third-party provides opportunities to build thought-leadership credentials and tap into new audiences under the umbrella of sector relevant business associations or conference organisers.

Can marketing communications drive sales in a recession?

Sales Innovation B2B Marketing Expo

As ever, marketers need to consider their audience. Carol Howley, CMO at Exclaimer company reminded marketers to think about personalisation by putting the customer’s voice at the heart of their business. She emphasised communicating with empathy and delivering value through communications. Understand what’s resonating, what’s working, and get feedback.

Antonia from PwC urged marketers to be consistent with the topics and themes they put their brand behind to make themselves more memorable across all the channels they use – whether they’re owned or external.

Carol and Antonia’s advice ties in well with earlier tips about customer retention and creating future demand, but James from Pleo went even further and asserted that the key audience for recession marketing is the customer’s CFO and finance team.

He explained that content marketing needs to target and appeal to those with control over purchasing decisions. He urges marketers to talk about how their offering can help customers adapt to the economic situation and allow finance teams to gain greater control and oversight. Showing how you’re saving your customers’ time and money maximises appeal.

This is also good advice for in-house marketing conversations as Alice from Cognism demonstrated. Marketers need to be comfortable speaking the different languages of the various C-Suite personnel. The CFO, CEO and VP of Sales need information, requests and progress reports communicated in different ways consistent with their areas of interest and concern.

Any final words of wisdom for marketing in a recession?

When financial pressures intensify, there is often talk about cutting marketing budgets. One speaker instructed marketers on ‘how to score when the economy sucks’ by reminding that some companies will choose to retreat and hide or even fail, thereby reducing competition for those who show up and lead.

And if the collective wisdom of the B2B Marketing Expo fails to convince, it’s time to rollout the data from business analysts showing how companies that maintained or even increased marketing spend during economic downturns fared better and bounced back quicker.

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