Research Shows That Marketing Through Recessions Pays Off

By Jesse Ciccone

Decades of Research-Based Results Prove That Marketing Through Economic Uncertainty Is the Best Way to Stay on Top.

Matter EVP and PR veteran Tim Hurley recently shared 7 Reasons to Maintain Your Marketing Program in Uncertain Times. In full disclosure, we were supposed to tag-team the topic in a two-part post, but Tim nailed it in one! After reading his points, my first reaction was, “I’m not sure I have much to add.”  

But it quickly dawned on me that, while I 100% agree with Tim’s perspective on why leaning into PR and marketing during tough times is beneficial for long-term brand growth and success, we could hardly be considered unbiased on this topic.  

Fortunately, for decision-makers facing pressure to trim their PR and marketing budgets, there’s plenty of evidence to support these claims.  

Client Success Story – Blue Yonder

Before diving into all the studies that prove boosting marketing efforts while competitors scale back is a smart move, one close-to-home example is long-standing Matter client Blue Yonder. The company didn’t just maintain its PR and marketing program as COVID hit — it  expanded its efforts and saw business thrive in 2020 and 2021

Yes, Blue Yonder is a supply chain and fulfillment technology leader, so it’s easy to say that pandemic-related supply chain disruptions were a driver for its business. That’s fair — but due to the marketing and senior leadership teams’ brave conviction to double-down, they were able to fully capitalize on turbocharging the company’s growth and market position during challenging times. 

Too anecdotal for you? Well, we’ve got plenty of research, too. Below are articles and research through various recessions that prove the business value of maintaining marketing investments during periods of economic uncertainty: 

MarketSense Study

The 1990s research (see infographic link at end of  blog) concluded the best strategy for coping with a recession is to balance long-term branding with promotion for short-term sales. This study shows brands like Jif and Kraft Salad Dressing experienced sales growth of 57% and 70%, respectively, after increasing their advertising during the 1990-1991 recession.

McGraw-Hill Study

A number of sources – including this Wharton School article – point to a McGraw-Hill Research study that looked at the performance of 600 B2B companies in 16 industries between 1980 and 1985, a timeframe that includes the 1981-1982 recession.  

The research reveals that many companies maintained or increased their advertising spend during the recession while others reduced or cut it completely. The result? Those that maintained or increased advertising spend saw 256% higher sales post-recession than those who cut or reduced budgets. 

The Strategic Planning Institute Study

This article cites a study by The Strategic Planning Institute, which concluded that “bold marketing in a downturn resulted in strong performance while tepid marketing had undesirable consequences. In addition, the higher marketing investments did not hurt profits for the short-term.” 

Meldrum & Fewsmith Research

The above studies are cited again here, along with additional context from a series of six studies conducted by the research firm Meldrum & Fewsmith. The studies “showed conclusively that advertising aggressively during recessions not only increases sales but increases profits. This fact has held true for all post-World War II recessions studied by American Business Press starting in 1949.” 

If, like me, you believe that history proves the stock market always goes up in the long run, then you’ll enjoy this infographic of nearly a century of recession marketing research, which shows that marketing always pays off. 

Making the case to maintain or increase marketing spend in the face of a potential recession is daunting. But as the examples and research above show, “invest and thrive” will always be a winning mantra — especially in an uncertain economic and business environment.