Myths on marketing in recession

This week saw 7 posts on whether or not brands should maintain/increase marketing spending during the current recession in my newsfeed (see links at the bottom of this page), so I can think of no better topic for my blog than reviewing the evidence:

  • Is it true that cutting marketing spending costs you in the long run on average?

This point is made by Byron Sharp, Mark Ritson, AdAge, Analytic Partners, Engagement Labs (for B-to-C brands) and B2B’s institute Peter Field (for B-to-B markets) but questioned by Robert van Ossenbruggen with the argument the evidence is mostly based on comparing across brands, which differ in many ways from each other.

It is CORRECT, based on tens of studies as reviewed by Profs Marnik Dekimpe and Barbara Deleersnyder in this 2017 JAMS ( https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11747-017-0542-9), many of which use time series data and thus show that, for a given brand, it is typically better to maintain or increase marketing spending in a recession. Not included in this review is our study of launching new products for 60 years in the automobile industry, an acid test because vehicles are high-budget, often bought on credit (which runs low in recessions) and whose replacement is easily delayed. We find that new products launched in recessions have higher long-term survival changes, but also that this benefit evaporates in severe recessions and when the new product is launched too early in recessions. https://www.msi.org/reports/to-launch-or-not-to-launch-in-recessions-evidence-from-over-60-years-of-the/ Historically, recessions last 4-5 quarters, and pandemic-based downturns tend to be V-shaped: when restrictions are lifted, we can expect a collective release of pent up demand (Peter Field). The best launch timing would be a quarter or two before the end of the recession, and your business has to make sure it can meet the demand.

As to marketing communication, both the academic articles and the mentioned blogs give plenty of reasons WHY it is a good idea to spent during financial recessions. Do they hold in the current, pandemic-based recession? Peter Field argues that most do hold, and that maintaining your Share of Voice (SOV) is crucial, while excess SOV is likely to benefit the brand in the long term, just as it did in past recession. For the current situation, consider the evidence by Engagement Labs that your advertising helps consumer talk with positive sentiment about your brand, while such sentiment drop double as much when you don’t advertise, as worried consumers and journalists focus on the bad news and may associate it with your brand  https://lnkd.in/fydTqYf

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  • Is it true that price promotions are less effective in a recession?

This point is made by Byron Sharp and is CORRECT. If you can cut the regular price, please go ahead and do so if your consumers are price sensitive and you can sustainably stomach the lower margin. If you can’t however, beware consumers will be more upset than usual when you return to the regular price. In a recent paper, we showed this for 2,178 brands sold in 742 stores operated by 110 retail chains across 50 U.S. markets. Price promotions are most effective when a promotion focus (‘growth mindset’) dominates in the market, as most consumers enjoy the exploration and increased quality benefits a price promotion provides, while not being very upset by a return to regular prices (which they may well be able to afford in boom times). In contrast, when unemployment becomes problematic, the market tends to shift toward a prevention focus (avoid bad outcomes), which we showed yields less sales gains from the temporary price cut. Below figures shows the % peanut butter sales change for a 10% price change along the continuum of low labor market resilience (on the left) to high labor market resilience (on the right).  In markets where the labor market is in trouble (left side), the price decrease lift sales by less than it does in markets where the labor market is resilient (right side).

Screen Shot 2020-04-10 at 9.48.12 AM

We do observe interesting differences across product categories. In the New York City data, for instance, tortilla snacks, condensed soup, tonic water and napkins showed the lowest sales benefit of price promotions, while liquid laundry detergents, diapers, whole milk and toilet paper showed the highest in the last financial recession.

  • Is it always optimal to maintain marketing spending in a recession?

That is INCORRECT. As I’ve shared before, your optimal spending on any marketing action is the multiplication of:

  1. Your product’s contribution margin x
  2. Your expected (baseline) sales x
  3. Your marketing effectiveness (how much % sales increase for a 1% spent increase)

Many of us don’t know the latter, but we don’t have to in order to decide how to CHANGE our spending in a recession. Because your contribution and expected sales typically decline, the simple rule is that you should REDUCE your marketing spending unless your marketing effectiveness goes up. The several reasons this may happen:

  • The same budget gets you higher share-of-voice as your competitors cut back;
  • The same budget gets you more impressions as the cost per impression drops;
  • Your brand’s offer is especially appealing

When I was hired in 2008 to consult a large conglomerate in 6 businesses over 7 countries, I led the senior managers to assess exactly that in the absence of any past data to calculate marketing effectiveness. We decided to cut back dramatically in situations where the recession was thought to be severe and long lasting (e.g. Romanian banks) and increased spending where our brands could now gain cheap access to better marketing media (eg TV ads for apparel brands in Russia). Our bets paid off.

How usual is that? Analytic Partners studied over 700 brands in over 45 countries, and found that the majority saw ROI increase in the last recession.

This leaves the questions: which brands should increase spending and which message  should they spend their money on? Peter Field distinguishes products in high demand during COVID-19, whose managers should spend on both sales activation and brand building, from products that have supply chain issues, whose managers should focus on brand building. Such messages can use emotions and humor, but should above all focus on humanity and generosity: ‘how can we help?’

Links to the blogs:

Mark Ritson, Marketing Week:

https://www.marketingweek.com/mark-ritson-marketing-spend-recession-coronavirus/

Byron Sharp, Ehrenberg-Bass Institute:

https://byronsharp.files.wordpress.com/2008/07/recessionbyron.pdf

Engagement Labs:

https://blog.engagementlabs.com/to-communicate-or-not-to-communicate-marcomms-in-a-time-of-coronavirus

Peter Field, B2B Institute:

https://business.linkedin.com/marketing-solutions/blog/linkedin-news/2020/advertising-in-recession-long-short-or-dark

Analytic Partners

https://adage.com/article/analytic-partners/dont-panic-adapt-strengthen-your-brand-recession/2248501

Ad Age:

https://adage.com/article/cmo-strategy/history-shows-marketers-who-keep-spending-during-downturns-fare-much-better/2247946?utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook&utm_term=ad%20age&utm_content=8e8ea218-3763-4295-9d6e-c2e6c388a0ac

Robert van Ossenbruggen:

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/keeping-up-your-advertising-budget-time-crisis-aware-robert/?trackingId=2%2B6emegETmSGV%2FO8ROFbRg%3D%3D

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