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Getting the Most Out of Your Marketing Budget During a Recession: Small Business Strategies

A recession is a double-edged sword for small businesses. The economic impact makes it hard for them to pay the bills, and hard for customers to make purchases that help to pay the bills. It then becomes even more important for businesses to reach potential new customers and to do so in the most effective way possible. In a recession, small businesses must rely on effective marketing. In this article, we’ll provide business owners with a detailed overview of how to get the most out of the marketing dollars it spends. 


Assessing Your Current Marketing Efforts

The first step in improving your recession marketing efforts is to examine what is currently being done and how it can be improved. This can start with taking a look at what the most effective marketing channels are, and then examining how well your current marketing methods are paying off. By combining that information, a new marketing plan can be formed. 

As we make our way through the article, many of the steps will involve measuring key performance indicators or tracking customer demographics. If you don’t already have the infrastructure in place to track these analytics, getting one set up should be a high priority. 


Identifying the most effective marketing channels for your business

Let’s take a look at the first step in greater detail. In addition to marketing assessment tools, the methods listed below will help a business determine which channels its ideal customers are most likely to be visiting. 

Analyze your customer demographics – Different marketing channels appeal to different market demographics. For example, you’ll find a lot of professionals on LinkedIn, but are less likely to find stay-at-home parents. By examining the demographic data of your existing customers, you’ll get a better idea of which channels will help you find future ones.

Review your website analytics – Your customer demographics may reveal some poor choices in your existing marketing strategy, and some better choices you haven’t thought of. But chances are, several of your ideal marketing channels are already a part of your strategy. Using tools like Google Analytics, you can see how well each of these performs.

Conduct customer surveys – The direct approach can also provide useful information. Ask your existing customers how they found out about your business and what channels they use to interact with your brand. If any stand out as being a dominant source, consider spending more on those channels and testing the return on investment (ROI).


Evaluating the cost-effectiveness of your current marketing strategies

RankPay Ad Evaluating Cost 1

The next step is a more detailed version of reviewing your website analytics. For each marketing channel you’re currently using, follow the steps below to rank it in a list of your top-performing channels. 


  • Calculate your cost per acquisition (CPA) – Determine how much it costs to acquire a new customer through each of your marketing channels.
  • Analyze your ROI – Use your CPA and other metrics, such as conversion rates and lifetime value, to calculate your ROI for each marketing channel.
  • Compare your results – Compare the ROI of each channel to determine which ones are providing the best return on your investment.
  • Prioritizing your marketing efforts based on impact and cost.


Now it’s time to take a look at the rankings and see which channels should be prioritized. While you don’t want to rely on only one channel, those that perform significantly worse than the others should be cut off so more money can be spent on those with a better ROI. There may be channels you identified as potentially good options, but aren’t already using. If so, try replacing the budget of the poor performers with these new options.

When the data from the new channels come in, repeat the process and rank your options based on the ROI they provide again. This will be a continuous process, as the performance of various channels may change over time. When channels become particularly poor performers, either allocate their budget to the better performers, or to new options you’ve discovered. Then repeat the process again.


Utilizing Low-Cost Marketing Channels

It’s always important to get the most value for your marketing dollar, but that’s especially true during recession marketing. The best marketing is that which is free or low cost. The more people you can pull into a marketing funnel through organic search, word-of-mouth, or other non-paid avenues, the lower your customer acquisition costs will be and the further your marketing dollars will stretch. Let’s take a look at some ways to take advantage of low-cost marketing channels.


Organic Search 

When a potential customer is searching for the product or service you’re offering, and they find you naturally in the search results, you get free advertising to a highly targeted individual. It’s one of the best ways to make your marketing dollars go further. Bringing in more people through organic search typically involves a two-pronged approach: create more content that can be indexed by search engines, and optimize that content of search.

Content marketing is a big deal, and should be a part of any business’s strategy. Content marketing refers to the creation of content on your website that will be indexed by search engines and hopefully drive visitors to the top of your sales funnel. You may have noticed that almost every business has a blog now. Content marketing is why. Visitors find useful information on the blog through search and discover the company and its offerings as a side-effect.

Search engine optimization is a big part of the content marketing strategy. Your page should have the keywords that users will be searching for, otherwise, search engines won’t know that it matches a given search. It should also be highly informative. Search engines want to link to content that their users will benefit from, and their algorithms are good at detecting which content is valuable. One way they do this is by seeing whether you link to, and are linked to by, other valuable sites. Try building relationships with other trustworthy sites that will link to yours.

Measuring your results

Now it’s time to once again break out the analytics we talked about earlier. You can measure the success of your SEO efforts by monitoring a number of key metrics. You can track where your pages rank on top search engines to see if they are trending upward. You can also look at the source of your own web traffic. If your SEO efforts are paying off, hits from organic searches will increase. 

Leveraging social media platforms for cost-effective marketing

RankPay Ad Social Media 2

You’ve already performed an analysis on which channels your ideal customers are likely to come from. If you aren’t already on a given social media platform, customer demographics can help you match a platform with your customer base. Create a profile on some of the top candidates for where your customers will be. Be careful not to overextend though. An infrequently updated social media presence can make your business seem inactive. Stick to platforms you know you’ll have time to invest in updating.

Once you’ve decided which platforms you’ll be active on, focus on building engaging content that your followers will want to share and interact with. This ties in nicely with the content marketing strategy discussed above. The blog posts or other content you create to drive traffic from organic search also make ideal candidates for sharing on social media. This becomes another source of traffic to your site and encourages your biggest fans to share your content with their friends. 

Measuring your results

Remember, data is king. Especially during recession marketing, you want to make sure your time is spent on channels that are paying off. When tracking your efforts for social media marketing, look at how your follower count is growing. Your website analytics will also tell you how many visitors are coming from your social media links. By tracking conversions from these visitors, you can put a dollar value on the ROI.


Incorporating email marketing into your strategy

Ethical email marketing remains a strong contender in the low-cost marketing department. Sending unsolicited emails is a bad idea, but building a targeted email list of people who want to hear from you provides you with a direct line to people highly likely to make a purchase from you at some point. Often, companies will give away something for free in exchange for an email. This is often an ebook with information that’s valuable to the target customer. This gets the email address and also establishes your company as a subject matter expert that’s already provided value to the potential customer. 

When you send your emails, be sure to do so intelligently. By segmenting your email list into your different customer segments, you can send more relevant emails to each segment. Marketing automation tools will also help you make your emails even more personalized, to further increase the chance of converting them into sales. Remember, people can unsubscribe at any time, so the content you send should not only be relevant, but valuable. Take time to develop a thorough email strategy.

Measuring your results

As with the other items, there are a number of key metrics you can keep track of with your email marketing efforts. If your open rates are low, you might need to improve your subject lines to make them more catchy, or maybe you’re just sending too many emails. Track your click-through rates as well to see how many people actively engage with the messages after opening them. Again, you can use this data to track conversions and measure ROI.


Utilizing local partnerships and community outreach to expand your reach

Working with local businesses that complement your own can be a great way to build a successful marketing campaign. For example, you can work with other businesses to develop joint promotions or discounts. This allows you access to each other’s customer base and the customers access to products and services they may be interested in. You can also engage directly with the community by participating in or hosting local events.

Today’s customers have the opportunity to be pickier than ever. Online businesses have given them the opportunity to step far outside the local community and shop from vendors all over the world. One way to build loyalty with your customer base is to volunteer for local causes that will resonate with them. 

Measuring your results

With some creativity, community outreach programs can be tracked just as well as exclusively digital actions. After an event, you should see an uptick in your website visitors, sales, and social media engagement. 


Creative Marketing on a Budget

The previous section was filled with some tried and true methods that most businesses try. In this section, we’ll talk about some creative ways to boost recession marketing efforts.


Using storytelling and creative content to engage with your audience

The first step to using storytelling to engage an audience is to build a brand story. This includes identifying your unique selling propositions and understanding who your target audience is so you can communicate those propositions to them using a tone and language that will resonate with them. 

Once you have a brand story in place, outline the types of content that will engage with your audience. Blog posts, videos, infographics, and social media posts are all common ways for brands to engage an audience and tell their story. It’s important that you make these pieces of content interesting and keep them consistent with your brand story.

Measuring your results

You may notice that at this point, using storytelling is an enhanced version of some of the methods discussed in the last section. It’s merely a combination of content marketing and social media marketing. You can measure the success of your storytelling efforts in the same way you learned to track those.


Utilizing influencer marketing to reach new audiences

Influencers are people with a large following who can help promote your products. To get the most value out of an influencer relationship, you should pick people who are a good fit for your brand, and whose audience is likely to overlap significantly with your ideal customer. As a small business, you can’t afford high-dollar celebrities. Start by approaching smaller influencers until your brand is big enough to attract and afford the more popular ones.

You don’t necessarily need to pay the influencers in cash, especially when you’re working with the smaller ones. They may be willing to work for incentives, percentages of the sales they generate, free swag, or mutually beneficial collaborations. You also shouldn’t jump right into asking them to promote your brand. Engage with them on social media and build up a relationship with them first.

Measuring your results

Influencer marketing is just community outreach on a larger scale. Many of the same metrics you used to track your success in that arena can be used for influencer marketing as well. After your relationship with the influencer begins, you should see an uptick in website traffic, social media engagement, and sales that correspond with it. If you’re giving your influencer a cut of any sales, you’ll have a built-in way of tracking how much they’re earning for you. 


Hosting events and promotions to engage with customers

Your community outreach programs don’t have to be limited to participating in events and causes hosted by others. You can host your own events to increase brand awareness, as well as customer engagement and acquisition. The nature of the events will depend on your business. You may offer a class in something your business has expertise in. Or you may put on a charity event to earn money for an important local cause. 

Whatever event you choose to put on, make sure to pay appropriate attention to detail when planning it. Before doing anything, decide how much you’ll spend on the event and try to stay within budget. Once you know what you can spend, identify potential venues and book one well in advance of the event. Start promoting the event early enough that people can make plans to attend and build anticipation.

Measuring your results

When hosting your own event, all of the same community outreach metrics you used when attending the events of others still apply. In addition to those metrics, you should track attendance at the events you host. It can be especially useful to track attendance over time if you make your event a regular thing.

Utilizing Data and Analytics to Measure Effectiveness

Throughout the article, we’ve talked about the importance of using data and analytics to measure the results of your marketing efforts. We’ve provided you with some ways to track the effectiveness of the various techniques we discussed. Now let’s take a closer look at how the process works. 


Tracking and analyzing the results of your marketing efforts

You can’t track your results if you don’t know what you’re tracking. For each technique discussed, we mentioned some of the metrics you can track. The list we provided wasn’t exhaustive, and the exact metrics that are beneficial to track will vary based on the specifics of your strategy. For each strategy you’ve chosen, make a list of the metrics you want to track.

Next, decide on an analytics platform that you’ll use to track your progress. Learn how to track each of the metrics you’ve chosen using your platform of choice. Many analytics platforms allow you to customize your dashboard to provide you with the metrics that are most important to you. From the full list of metrics you’ve decided to track, pick the most important to be front and center on your dashboard.

With your analytics platform and its dashboard set up, you’re ready to begin tracking your progress. As you begin your marketing efforts, pay attention to the metrics over time to see if they are trending in the direction you want them to be.


Making data-driven decisions to optimize your marketing strategy

We’ve discussed how data can tell you which channels and techniques are most effective. However, that’s not the entire story that data can tell. Just because a particular marketing strategy doesn’t work in the initial time frame measured doesn’t mean it never will. A/B testing allows you to try different approaches to your marketing. For example, you can test two different versions of an ad copy.  Tracking the success of your efforts and making minor adjustments to get the data trending in the right direction will result in a much more efficient marketing effort over time. 

It’s important to remember that this isn’t a one-time process. You can’t simply find what works and then stick with it forever. For one, there’s always the possibility that a better option exists. Continual refinement and testing will keep you moving in the direction of increased effectiveness. The marketing landscape also changes over time, you want to continually refine your marketing efforts so they evolve along with changing market dynamics. 

Regularly assessing and adjusting your marketing efforts for maximum impact

In addition to refining specific techniques and your budget allocation per channel, you should also take a broader look at your marketing efforts. If a particular technique provides a significant ROI, perhaps you could spend more on it to increase those returns. Be on the lookout for new channels and techniques you can add to your budget and evaluate. 



Recession marketing can be stressful, but it’s an important part of keeping a small business afloat when the economy is down. While you may be reluctant to spend money on marketing when times are tight, a solid marketing plan is the best way to get profits moving in the right direction and allow you to weather the storm of a poor economy. 

Small businesses in particular must be in a state of continuous assessment and reevaluation of marketing efforts. Not only do smaller businesses have less room for error in their marketing expenditures, but they are in a position to grow more quickly than larger companies. As the business expands from successful marketing efforts, or contracts from the impact of a weak economy, marketing strategies, and budgets must adapt. 

The best way to get the most value out of your marketing money is to work with an experienced professional. The experts at RankPay know how to quickly optimize a marketing strategy and make sure that it stays on a course of solid performance. To learn more about how we can help your business, contact us today.

Austin Kruger
I'm a data-driven marketer with a passion for crafting engaging content and optimizing campaigns for results.
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