Value-adding content helps build trust and confidence during times when customers are more careful about their spending.
Most businesses seek to cut expenses during a recession, and the marketing department is often the first in line for the budget cuts. The way work ebbs and flows in sync with the economy is of course something that content marketing writers like myself are all very familiar with. In this post, I’ll explain why that might also be a problem for our clients.
Many of us are prone to kneejerk reactions when faced with economic uncertainty, whether on a personal, business, or macroeconomic level. We quickly switch into survival mode, scaling back on our expenses and hoping to weather the storm for however long it will last.
Sometimes, prioritising survival – and the budget cuts that typically come with it – is the only reasonable choice, as it was for companies in sectors like catering or tourism during the pandemic. Naturally, content marketing is no exception. In this article, I’d like to explain why that’s often not the best idea.
How much is content worth during a recession?
The answer is, of course, it depends on the content. While content marketing is now almost universal, particularly in the B2B sector, some business leaders still underestimate the value of high-quality content. They probably know they need content to increase brand visibility, but they might not think beyond SEO. As such, they’re more likely to turn to AI as a way to keep churning out content at scale and at much lower costs. In another article, I explained in detail why that’s a bad idea.
Low-quality generic content is worth little to nothing, regardless of whether there’s a recession or not. It might help businesses gain some traction in the search results, but only for a time. It might even get your website visitor numbers up too – along with your bounce rates. After all, it means nothing if you have 10,000 visitors per day but only a handful of conversions. Poor content can actually damage your brand, just as having a dishevelled storefront is hardly very conducive to getting customers through the door.
Quality content, crafted by someone who understands not just how content marketing works, but is also familiar with your field, is worth a lot, regardless of economic conditions. That’s because it’s not just about visibility. It’s about branding, and branding is about getting people to remember you. It’s about building relationships, trust, and industry authority. It’s not a quick way to make a return, but a way to build a sustainable marketing programme that will pay dividends in the longer term. How much is that worth to your business?
Does your content solve problems?
As damaging as they can be, recessions can also bring opportunities. While other companies scale back on their marketing budgets, new opportunities arise for those focusing not only on survival, but also growth.
A defining characteristic of any recession is the erosion of customer confidence. People are reevaluating their purchase decisions, and they want to know whether they’re getting the best possible value for the money they’re spending. That’s especially the case in today’s service-orientated economy, where businesses and consumers alike often have multiple subscriptions eating into their monthly income.
To stay relevant and thrive during a recession, companies of course need to focus on adapting and improving their product to continue delivering that value. However, they also need keep communicating that value. That’s where value-based content comes in.
Value-based content is an essential part of any customer-centric marketing strategy. Unlike traditional marketing, it doesn’t centre on extolling the virtues of the brand behind it. Instead, it puts the customer first by directly addressing their pain points and helping them solve their problems.
Let’s look at HubSpot, for example. The industry-leading marketing software suite provides a wealth of useful resources that help customers get more out of their software while building industry authority. At the same time, they have a steady stream of high-quality content for the search engines to index and advertise in email newsletters and social media posts. It’s now become a top resource for everything marketing.
Admittedly, many people, including myself, regularly read HubSpot’s content, but don’t use their products or services. However, because it’s a go-to resource for inbound marketers, people like myself regularly recommend it as such. In other words, I don’t actually need to use their services to know that they’re worth recommending to business who could benefit from them. The value and relevance of their content alone makes them worthwhile recommending.
Another strength of HubSpot and other companies with strong content marketing strategies is that they continuously adapt their content to address the new and emerging challenges that their audiences face. That way, they keep in touch with current needs and, most importantly, stay relevant during a recession. They know how their audience has changed and, because of that, they know what their readers want to hear and when they want to hear it.
Understanding where to cut back
Cutting marketing budgets is rarely a wise decision. After all, it’s counterintuitive, because you need marketing to get more sales. And who doesn’t need more sales during a recession?
Understandably, it’s sometimes unavoidable, particularly if your industry has been particularly severely hit by a recession. That said, it’s vital to know where to cut back, as well as where to spend more. That’s why every business decision should be data-driven, and marketing communications of any sort should be targeted and consistent.
The most important thing of all is to prioritise quality over quantity. This cannot be overstated. Recent months have seen many businesses turn to ChatGPT and similar tools to automate their content strategy – either in part or in whole. The result is a practically infinite supply of surface-level content that will only damage the brand in the longer term. The result is that the trust deficit widens, and the damage to the brand can be very difficult to repair.
I’d go so far to say that it’s better not to invest in content marketing at all than to try to automate the entire creative process. After all, you can’t automate creativity, and you should never underestimate the growing importance of a genuinely human touch.
If content marketing budgets are for some reason unavoidable, then it’s better to scale back by publishing less, provided you’re focused 100% on value-based content. For example, it’s much better to publish just a couple of high-quality blog posts per month than it is to publish a hundred pieces of AI-generated spam.
For companies that offer multiple related products or services, another option is to promote them synergistically rather than separately. Doing so tends to work out cheaper too. For example, a company that offers software engineering and managed services might want to focus on the end-to-end nature of their services. After all, developing software is just one part of a much bigger process – software also needs hosting, maintaining, and updating. Especially during a recession, many customers prefer consolidated offers that help them keep their own costs more predictable and manageable.
Fortifying and growing your brand
Every product or service aims to address a need and, in doing so, deliver value to customers. The secret to success in marketing is communicating that value in a way that addresses pain points. And, let’s not forget, customers tend to have even more pain points during a recession.
Above all, it’s important to remember that content marketing is meant to be a long-term thing. A robust yet adaptable strategy can help you continue growing sales during a recession, not to mention emerge from one stronger than those among your competitors who scaled back by slashing their marketing budgets.
A recession is also a good time to consider outsourcing, particularly when you consider how much it costs to hire new employees. Although it’s important to have a consistent publishing schedule, there will be times when you’ll want to ramp up your content marketing efforts, such as ahead of certain holidays or new product launches.
Quality content is always worth investing in, both to support existing customers and to maintain a steady stream of new leads. There’s already enough uncertainty during economic downturn, but projecting that uncertainty onto your existing or potential customers with a greatly reduced output of decent content will most certainly damage your brand.