Marketing During a Recession


Economic questions abound and impossible decisions are being made based on projections of the length and pervasiveness of the recession. Regardless of what your projection is, though, why would you alter what works for your business at a time when you most need to protect revenue?

Opinions are Everywhere

Articles, white papers, blogs, and even podcasts are telling you how to recession-proof your business by changing what you do. There have been recent white papers by email service providers telling you that sending inexpensive emails to your buyer list is the way to keep costs down. A public relations firm wrote an article stating that PR is "the most effective tool to weather the (economic) storm." And finally, a Search Engine Optimization expert wants you to focus on – you guessed it – SEO to make it through the recession.

The one thing they all agree on is that study after study has concluded that firms that continue marketing during recessions not only outperform their competitors, they also continue to outperform them once the economy improves. You can see the impact on sales of not cutting back on marketing in a McGraw-Hill study of the 1981-82 recession below.


Study of recession
Source: McGraw-Hill Study 1981-82 Recession


All of the above marketing tools are effective, as long as you send press releases that are relevant to your target, do not overuse email, and have the expertise and budget to complete SEO effectively. But is an economic downturn really the time to experiment with unproven marketing methods? If you have the budget and the nerve, yes. If you don't, you need a cost-effective solution to make your established marketing practices more effective. One proven way to achieve this is with customized promotional products.

Promotional Products – Proven Results

Call them what you will: Imprinted Products, Advertising Specialties, Freebies, Giveaways, Premiums. The fact is they produce results. We've all received, used, and kept them – at least the useful ones – and that is the key. I've received engraved business pens, pads of paper, printed travel coffee mugs, water bottles, branded key chains and, of course, my favorite, screen printed logo t-shirts. I've used most of the promotional products I've received, but the one item that I use nearly everyday is something that had nothing to do with the company that gave it to me. A local Direct Mail printing and fulfillment shop gave me a Visor Sunglass Clip. Every time I put my sunglasses in the clip I'm reminded of them and how pleasant they are to do business with. But let's face it; I work in the industry, so I know of many good direct mail services firms. Without the sunglass clip, this particular firm could have easily slipped my mind.

I'm not alone; a 2004 study by L.J. Market Research found that "76.1% of the respondents could recall the advertiser's name on the (promotional) product that they had received in the past 12 months." That is a 43% higher recall rate than those who could remember a newspaper or magazine advertiser. Not only do promotional products prompt your customers to remember you, 33.7% of those questioned in the study actually had the item on their person. How many of your clients carry around your catalog, menu, or pricelist? Very few. But they may love those golf balls with your logo on them. A better question may be this; how many of your clients are carrying an imprinted item with your competitor's name on it?

Repeated Exposure

One of the hardest portions of a marketing plan is the number of impressions you need in front of your customer. That's why you wouldn't generally run an ad in a magazine for just one month, why you would never run a television ad one time, and why direct marketing is a science of timing. So how can you increase your marketing impressions and lower your cost per impression? With customized promotional products.

Why can 76.1% of prospects recall an advertiser's name on a premium? Because, according to L.J. Market Research, 73% of them use the product at least once a week and 45.2% report using them a minimum of once per day. When you consider that more than half of those receiving them keep them for at least one year, that's at least 365 impressions on the customer for a relatively low initial cost.


How Long are Promotional Products Kept?
Source: L.J. Market Research, 2004


There's one catch however. If you want to continue to leave impressions on your customers the product you give them must be useful. 75.4% of those who keep promotional items did so because they were useful.

More Effective Marketing – Proven with Promotional Products

Trade Shows

Trade shows are usually one of the most powerful tools for generating new business. Perhaps you've noticed that shows have been less fruitful recently. Many companies are cutting back on travel, which means fewer visits to your booth. This trend has probably left you questioning your continued investment in attending shows. But is it a good idea to discontinue exhibiting at trade shows during a recession?

No! Instead, you should make your trade show exhibit more effective with the proven power of promos. In 2004 Georgia Southern University conducted a study in which they divided trade show attendees into three groups before a show. The first group received a postcard asking them to stop by a vendor's booth. The second group received the invitation and a promotional refrigerator magnet while the third group was sent a postcard offering them a corporate t-shirt if they brought the postcard to the vendor's booth.


Tradeshow Booth Visitation
Source: Georgia Southern University research, 2004


As you can see in these results, 78% more potential customers from group three visited the booth than from group one, and 57% more prospects from group two stopped by versus group one.

Become the booth that the other vendor's are jealous of with promotional products of perceived high value.

Direct Mail

Direct Marketing is the king of marketing due to its effectiveness, customizable nature, and trackability. Expenditures on direct marketing activities have been increasing annually because, in today's fragmented media world, targeted messages are vital to cutting through the fog. However, in these days of reduced response rates and increased postage, paper, and creative costs, direct mail can begin to look unattractive to marketers.

Should you discontinue your direct marketing during a recession?

Absolutely not! For many companies, just a .5% increase in response or lead generation from a direct mail campaign can dramatically improve profits. What if you could improve your response rate by 50%? Or even by 400%? The following research by the Silver Marketing Group shows you can do just that when using promotional products with a sales letter, or as an incentive to simply respond.


Response Rates
Source: Silver Marketing Group


As you can see, including the premium in the package with the sales letter can result in a large increase. However, holding the premium back and sending it only after the customer responds dramatically increases your response rate and lowers your cost per response.

Other Marketing Benefits

  • A PPAI and Incentive Performance Center study showed that an appeal letter with a promotional product incentive resulted in 500% more customer referrals than an appeal letter alone
  • Promotional products help build goodwill with prospects, with a majority of customers stating that their impression of a business had improved after receiving an item
  • Using a premium as part of an offer can help drive faster response
  • Using a premium can help raise your average order size (i.e. "Get a free football when you sign up for two years instead of one")
  • Buying imprinted pens to hand out to customers can actually be less expensive than buying those same exact pens without your logo at an office supply store


Remember, even if you choose not to incorporate promotional products into your marketing mix, many businesses can not afford to cut back on advertising during a recession. Your survival once the economy rebounds can actually depend on your level of marketing now.

Once you consider the low cost and high perceived value of quality promotional items, you're sure to see benefits of using them in conjunction with other proven marketing methods.