As we all know, the now-inevitable Covid-19 recession will be unlike anything we’ve seen before. It’ll be the first in recorded history that’s brought about by a global pandemic – and consumers will feel bruised, wary and perhaps even fearful of their new reality.

Traditional ways of marketing may have to be reconsidered. Tone and sensitivity will be key… and those who get it right (and wrong!) will be remembered long after the crisis is over.

So how best should businesses navigate it? It’s clear that past market downturns hold some clues. But do we need to take some new approaches too? Let’s look…

1/ What can we learn from past downturns?

Don’t ‘go dark’


While it may feel counter-intuitive for businesses to continue spending during downturns, history shows us it really can make sense.

Have you heard of Post, the cereal brand? Nope, us neither. But during the 1920s Great Depression, Post was actually a leader in the new ready-to-eat cereal market.

When the downturn hit, Post drastically slashed their marketing spend. Meanwhile, Kellogg’s doubled their budget and heavily promoted a new product called ‘Rice Krispies’. By 1933 Kellogg’s profits had risen by 30%… and they became the global household name we know today.

So it’s all about keeping your share of voice high, even if your share of market is modest. It’s not enough to just ‘be there’; you need to keep actively promoting your brand with cost-effective easy-to-manage engagement… especially if your competition goes quiet.

Increase your focus on customer experience

Slashing prices during a recession has long been hailed as *a bad thing*, leading to long-term damage to your brand. Instead, many businesses have benefited from zeroing in on their customers, and creating all-round better experiences.

Take Starbucks for example. During the 2007-9 recession, their returning CEO, Howard Schultz, saw the need to reignite an emotional connection to the brand. So he revamped the stores, making them a welcoming hub where customers would want to spend time. He also introduced ‘My Starbucks Idea’, a community-based crowdsourcing platform which saw real feedback turned quickly into real results.

Move on a decade, and technological advances now make it easier (and more measurable) than ever to collect customer feedback and actionable ideas – through surveys, quizzes and interactive promotions, via dedicated platforms like Promotigo.

Innovate  – and power through the pain

1920s Prohibition in the US was the ultimate downturn for booze brands. But Bacardi found a wickedly clever way to build their profile. They shut their New York bottling plant and focused on their Cuban distillery and Havana bars – so much so that Havana ultimately became known as the ‘unofficial US saloon’ in Havana.

In a brilliant early example of brand promotion, Bacardi produced postcards which romanticised Cuba, and invited key ‘influencers’ of the day to visit (hey, who wouldn’t want to hang out with Errol Flynn and Bing Crosby?). They created an air of hedonistic glamour around their brand… and were perfectly placed for when Prohibition was lifted in 1933.

Think global (but do it cost-effectively)

During the 2007-9 recession, Lego’s profits soared an incredible 63%. This was the result of exploring new global markets; at the time, the US toy market was stagnant, and the brand used the opportunity to expand into Asia and Europe.

Of course, these days technology makes it easier than ever – and more cost-effective – to reach new markets and demographics across the world. As the crisis eases in different countries, it could be beneficial to create marketing campaigns and roll out promotional activity on a global scale.

In fact, at Promotigo, we’ve seen first-hand how brands benefit from the fast deployment of multi-country, multi-language activity, with centralised reporting and one single, secure ‘vault’ for their customers’ data.

2/ OK, but this time around… what are the differences?

People may be wary of returning to their pre-pandemic habits


As restrictions begin to lift, and we all head towards a ‘new normal’, how willing will customers be to throw themselves back into their pre-pandemic ways? Will non-online retailers and leisure outlets experience a kind of ‘anxiety’ hangover?

Messaging may have to be tweaked, and aggressive methods re-considered. Brands will also want to find new ways to reach out to consumers in their homes, in fun, appealing ways.

Engaging customers in social media dialogue is one route (and something that wasn’t available in any meaningful way during the last recession) – as are promotional activities like prize draws, instant wins and games. These give your brand personality and an ongoing presence in customers’ minds and phones. Here at Promotigo, we see good competitions and engagement activity get impressive consumer uptake, often simply through making it fun to share.

Big data is now your friend

Harnessing big data is a secret weapon that was largely absent during the last recession. Brands can now gain more in-depth insights into their customers than ever before – and accessible technology lets them shed light on previously hard-to-measure ROI, or pre-tune any kind of campaign or promotion to ensure they work across categories, demographics and even geographies.

And at Promotigo, our huge dataset of prior client activity (plus years of experience) can give you a head start on planning what’s going to work for your customer – wherever you promote and whatever you sell.

Let Promotigo help you navigate ‘the new normal’

So while there are plenty of ideas and principles we can all take from previous downturns – we have to also acknowledge the unprecedented nature of the times we’re now in.

The economic and social landscape has changed, and brands need to be focusing more than ever on their customers, building relationships and finding out as much as they can, through engaging with them via savvy marketing and promotions. Prepare now, and when those green shoots start showing again, you’ll be more than ready to bounce back.