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What Does the Recession Mean to Online Marketers?

Bill Nussey, Silverpop
by: Bill Nussey (@bnussey)
11 July 2008

A common discussion among business executives these days starts with the question: How is the recession affecting your business? Are you seeing a slowdown in the demand or growth?

For marketers, the question has an unusual level of meaning. Does marketing end up pulling back like so many other parts of the business community? Or, do we seize the opportunity to grab mindshare and keep our budgets the same (or even increase them)?

The trouble for marketers is that our departments usually have the largest discretionary spend in most companies. This means that it’s the easiest part of the budget to change quickly. It’s more palatable than gut-wrenching items like reducing headcount and shorter-term than complex changes like reducing capacity.

Forrester Research recently published a report on this topic called “Marketing Cuts Budgets 3% In A Downturn.” The analyst firm surveyed more than 100 marketing leaders—members of its global CMO panel—about their response to a looming recession.

In a nutshell, about 40 percent said they foresee a budget cut this year in response recessionary worries, and about the same number expect to hang on to their budgets. About one in four said they are bullish and expect to raise their budgets despite any economic crisis.

In aggregate, marketers expect to cut budgets by 3 percent, with the biggest cuts coming in branding, advertising and traditional media spending. But the silver lining is, most marketers said they plan to maintain investments in staffing and training, marketing technology, and research and development—the long-term investments that strengthen the foundation of their operation.

One particularly interesting finding is that the smallest marketers in the survey tended to be the most bullish. Uncertain economic times present a great opportunity for smaller firms to level the playing field by stepping up marketing spend to reach their target audience while larger counterparts dial back.

Of course, the question for every marketer is the same—do we bulk up or slim down in the face of change and near-term constraints? There’s clearly no single, right answer for all companies but I’m hopeful that marketers across the world will be able act decisively and, perhaps, do our small part to make the recession as short as possible.

P.S. If you’re an email marketer and wondering what to do about the recession, my colleagues have been asking our clients and friends and have captured their recommendations in a recent white paper called, “How to Beat the Bear: Seven Secrets to Recession-Proof Marketing.”


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