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Navigating a Recession: Optimising Your Marketing Budget for Long-Term Growth

In times of economic uncertainty, businesses often face the challenge of making strategic decisions regarding their marketing budgets. The prevailing belief is that reducing marketing expenditures during a recession is a prudent move to cut costs. However, history and data have shown that businesses can gain a competitive edge by counterintuitively sustaining, or even increasing their marketing budgets during downturns.

What does the history of recessions tell us?

Throughout history, several recessions have provided valuable insights into the importance of increasing marketing budgets. By examining past recessions and studies, we can draw valuable lessons to guide our strategies during challenging economic times.

Roland Vaile’s Study

Roland Vaile, a Harvard graduate, conducted a study during the post-war recession of the 1920s. He analysed the performance of 250 major U.S. companies and found a clear trend: businesses that increased their marketing budgets during the recession experienced a sales increase of 20% compared to pre-recession levels. In contrast, those that reduced their marketing spend saw sales drop by 7%.

Studies on the Recession of 1990-1991

During the recession of 1990-1991, McKinsey & Company conducted a study involving nearly 1,000 U.S. companies. The research focused on companies that continued to invest in marketing during the economic downturn. The findings revealed that these top-performing companies achieved long-term growth and outperformed their competitors who reduced their marketing budgets. They recognised the potential for gaining market share and building brand loyalty during the recession.

The 2008 Financial Crash

During the global financial crisis of 2008, many businesses faced substantial challenges. However, some companies stood out by maintaining or increasing their marketing budgets. Research conducted by leading consulting firms revealed that these businesses achieved remarkable success during the recession and positioned themselves for long-term growth.


For instance, a comprehensive study of 3,900 companies worldwide found that companies that continued to invest in growth during the 2008 recession achieved a compound growth rate of 17%. They focused on cost containment while strategically allocating their marketing budgets to high-return tactics. One notable example is Samsung, which rebranded itself as an innovation company and saw a significant increase in brand value, positioning itself for future success.


Should my business increase its marketing budget in 2023?

The examples above provide compelling evidence that increasing marketing budgets during a recession can yield significant benefits for businesses long term. They are a reminder that running a business is a marathon and not a sprint. However, it will all come down to affordability and risk evaluation. The economist who predicted the 2008 financial crash says to prepare for a ‘long and ugly’ recession that will go beyond 2024. Consider the following factors when determining whether to increase your marketing budget:

Financial Stability

Assess the financial stability of your business and its ability to withstand the challenges of a recession. Review your cash flow, profit margins, and access to capital. If your business is financially secure, you may have the opportunity to invest in marketing initiatives. This can allow you to come out on top amongst your competitors post-recession.

Industry Insights

Evaluate the specific dynamics of your industry during the recession. Some industries may experience a decline in demand, while others may see new opportunities emerge. Stay informed about market trends, and consumer behaviour. Most importantly, evaluate your competitors’ strategies to identify potential gaps or red flags.

Customer Needs and Communication

Assess how the recession is affecting your target audience and their needs. Adapting your marketing strategies to address these evolving needs can help you maintain customer loyalty and attract new customers. Effective communication and engagement with your audience during uncertain times can build trust and enhance your brand reputation.

Digital Opportunities

Explore cost-effective digital marketing channels and strategies when optimising your budget. Digital platforms offer cost-effective measurable results, so you can ensure you’re seeing a return on your ad spend. We think businesses should particularly focus on three key areas during a recession:

  1. Brand Awareness: Building and maintaining brand awareness is crucial during a recession. By consistently promoting your brand and maintaining a strong presence in the market, you can ensure that your business remains top-of-mind for consumers when they are ready to make purchasing decisions. This can be achieved through various marketing efforts, including advertising campaigns, public relations, content marketing, and social media engagement.
  2. SEO: The long-term effect of SEO makes them a key area to focus on during a downturn. SEO campaigns are an investment that will catapult your business to new heights in the post-recession era. Implementing effective SEO strategies during a recession ensures that your business remains visible; relevant; and competitive in the online landscape, setting the stage for future growth and success.
  3. Customer retention & loyalty: During a recession, nurturing customer relationships becomes a lifeline for businesses. Remember, everyone feels the impact of economic downturns. Show empathy, put your customers first, and foster unwavering loyalty. Implement personalised communication strategies, create irresistible loyalty programs, and deliver exceptional customer service that sets you apart. By prioritising customer retention, you build a solid foundation for stable revenue streams and long-term business triumphs.

Measurement and Analytics

Finally, establish clear metrics and analytics to track the performance of your marketing initiatives. Regularly monitor key performance indicators (KPIs) such as customer acquisition costs, conversion rates, and return on investment (ROI). Data-driven insights will help you identify the most effective marketing tactics and optimise your budget allocation accordingly.


The lessons from history are clear. Reducing marketing spending during a recession is a perilous decision for businesses long term. To position themselves for success in 2023 and beyond. Companies should consider embracing a counterintuitive approach and remain aggressive in their marketing efforts. As Henry Ford aptly stated, “Stopping advertising to save money is like stopping your watch to save time.”

By leveraging the insights gained from past recessions. Businesses can seize the opportunity to outperform their competitors, build brand loyalty, and emerge stronger in the post-recession era. Remember, a recession is not a time to retreat, but a time to strategize, innovate, and connect with customers in meaningful ways. Let this be your guide as you navigate the uncertain economic landscape and make marketing decisions that will propel your business to new heights.