5 Tips for Strong Media Planning During a Recession

Advertising Strategy

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Is a recession in our near future? Maybe? Fear not, advertisers. Here's how to keep your media planning on track for continued growth.

Article originally published on Search Engine Land.

By now, we’ve all seen the headlines warning of a downturn in the economy. Some advertisers have preemptively reduced marketing expenses to prepare for this downturn, and other brands have even paused their budgets altogether. 

But despite all the negative news and apprehension, digital advertising is still growing! In fact, unlike the recession in 2008, digital advertising is expected to grow 13% in 2022 and remain strong. 

A forecast like this outlines opportunities for brands to reach their marketing goals. Being conservative during a shaky economy isn’t unheard of. But, we’ve heard many stories about brands falling from grace after playing it too safe by hunkering down for the storm. 

And we can’t forget the epic accounts of businesses rising to permanence for taking calculated risks and remaining steadfast. It’s cautionary tales like these that make it important to remember:

ROI during a recession is achievable, especially when strong media planning is in place. 

More than ever, staying focused and agile for innovation and opportunity is essential. If you’re willing to ride the wave, here are five tips to keep your media planning on track for continued growth.

1. Be the voice of reason

First, don’t get swept up in the barrage of headlines. One of the beautiful things about digital advertising is its ability to turn on a dime. These two principles remain true:

  • If your digital advertising is working, keep it going. 
  • If you’re observing softening campaigns, then act accordingly. 

The adage, ”If ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” still applies. Don’t let looming fear guide your marketing strategy. Instead, use data and agreed-upon tolerances as your guide.

Getting everyone on the same page now about when to pull back is essential. Proper alignment will prevent knee-jerk reactions later on. Your team should strongly consider the following:

  • What is the trigger for pulling back on marketing spend? 
  • When marketing spend is pulled back, where will it come from? What will the impact be?
  • What is the trigger for resuming normal marketing spend?

Establishing tolerances with your internal team or agency of record will ease apprehension, tension and concern when fluctuations or critical events occur during a campaign. Have these honest conversations up front to establish clear boundaries and expectations to avoid trouble down the line.

2. Instrument proper tracking

It’s more critical than ever to ensure you have proper tracking. This means tracking every conversion action across every ad and keyword throughout all stages of the purchase funnel. And this means tracking profitability, lifetime value and repeat customers at a granular level. To prepare proper tracking, execute these tasks:

  • Run a tagging audit to make sure pixels are firing correctly.
  • Use dynamic URL parameters to track each ad and keyword. After, pass those parameters into your CRM system.
  • Leverage platform integrations with your martech stack to pass valuable data back to ad platforms. Some of our favorite integrations include Salesforce, Marketo, Calendly, Intercom and Invoca. 

Proper tracking is even more critical during a recession. Consumer behavior tells us that people take longer to make key decisions during economic decline. As a result, conversion rates further down the funnel drop. If you’re only tracking the initial lead and ignoring how it performs in the long term, you could be in for a surprise. 

3. Keep frequent updates

With accurate tracking in place, the next step is gaining visibility of the most updated data. Instant access to instrumental data is a must-have going into a recession to respond to trends quickly. 

To set up processes for timely and relevant data, implement these activities in your workflow:

  • Automate the data flow to ensure data updates at least 1x per day.
  • Set up alerts to trigger if conversion rates or other metrics deep in the funnel start to slip.
  • Don’t respond too quickly. One day does not make a trend. And remember, digital ad platforms often rely on machine learning which can adjust to trends with fine precision. 

4. Get rid of waste now

Now is the time to review your marketing spend and identify any areas of weak performance. Be honest with yourself about the performance of each channel. Ask the questions to guide your next steps:

  • Is each channel living up to its purpose in your media plan? 
  • Are there any channels with inconsistent performance week to week?

Also, remember that a test budget is not a wasted budget.

Educate those in your company that testing needs to continue even during a recession. Silo a test budget so ongoing learning can continue. Your campaigns and stakeholders will thank you later.

5. Take advantage of gaps left by competitors

And with any economic headwind, marketing is usually one of the first expenses to be scrutinized and cut. But while some companies pull back on marketing, others double down and find massive efficiencies left by gaps in the market.

Brands that wish to close the gap and gain market share should prioritize competitor research. Typical activities include, but are not limited to:

  • Review competitors’ media mix to identify opportunities.
  • Set up competitor alerts to quickly pinpoint when competitors’ spend has changed and be prepared to take advantage of the opportunity with a budget.
  • Use tools like Pathmatics, SEMRush and Adbeat to identify other gaps left by competitors.

The key takeaway

When the economy looks like it’s headed for turmoil, it’s difficult not to pull back on spend. However, re-engaging might be challenging and more costly after the dust settles and when competitors have redrawn market share.

To ease worries, adhere to the following media planning principles during economic headwinds:

  • Always prepare and inform your stakeholders
  • Establish tolerances early to form alignment when issues arise
  • Trust the process and platform algorithms to do their job
  • Prioritize relevant and timely data to guide strategic decisions
  • Eliminate waste from poor-performing campaigns and allot for testing

Strong media planning is mission-critical for the days to come. Brands that value reasoning, tolerance, preparation and optimization will make continued growth a reality, even in the most uncertain times.


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