The marketing metrics that matter most in a recession are the ones that connect most clearly to revenue—but it's hard to know which is which. Marketing must focus on activities proven to drive conversion, and consider reprioritizing "softer" metrics.
Everything’s on fire, everyone’s getting burnt. The era of easy money is over for many industries, and budgets and heads are getting slashed. Those who remain are looking nervously at the chopping block—it’s put up or shut up.
The direness of the current corporate hellscape has not eluded creative marketing teams; many of whom have already said goodbye to plans and colleagues. Being the soft science that it is doesn’t help marketing either, as it’s famously hard to quantify in dollars whether something is “working”.
What’s a creative marketer to do? What numbers prove worth, while keeping the gears running and the lights on for stressed teams? What comes first for creative marketing teams in a downturn?
In a fire, you save the essentials. In a recession, most of us prefer to narrow creative marketing’s focus to what helps meet the bottom line. Therein lies the problem for us soft-scientists—what drives sales isn’t always clear.
For instance, “vanity” metrics like social engagement are in some way indicative of an ad’s performance, which determines how that ad converts, which determines how many sales dollars marketing lays claim to, etc. You don’t know what’s most important. You just know that, were you to shut down marketing completely, the company wouldn’t make it to the end of the year.
Miles DePaul, Director of Demand Generation at Superside, qualified that tactics will vary by team. “Generally speaking, your core marketing metrics should be based on your go-to-market model, and your ideal customers buying journey,” DePaul said. “Those sometimes change during a recession, or sometimes you need to be paying attention to leading indicators of proxies to better understand how market conditions are affecting your GTM model.”
Below, you’ll learn what marketing metrics tie best to revenue. Keeping it, securing it, making enough of it to stay above water or—pending your strategy—thrive.
For an established company, ads should typically earn more than they spend. How much you’re putting into your ads vs. how much you’re getting out of them is the first note you should be making during a recession.
DePaul said a recession can present unique opportunities for advertising. “You might have less competition on your go-to ad platforms (e.g. Facebook, Linkedin, Google, TikTok) and therefore lower costs,” he notes. “Pay attention to trends in ROAS across channels and platforms, as you’ll likely also have less competition on channels that you've never pursued before.”
Brock Andony, Demand Generation Manager at Superside, “Monitor any impact on your lead volume, and then monitor the cost of generating a lead in each channel. Metrics like this also contribute to your overall customer acquisition cost (CAC).”
DePaul offered an example: “If OOH or TV was too expensive last year, perhaps the changing market landscape presents an opportunity to experiment with new channels and find previously untapped positive ROI channels.”
Getting bang out of your pinched buck comes down to two things: Creative quality and quantity. Smart, brand-aligned creative, and a ton of it. Returns only happen when a prospect converts, and conversions only happen when attention is rapt.
An ad or landing page’s ability to succinctly encapsulate your customer’s woes and offer a cure is, quite literally, the only thing distinguishing it from another block of text. This is where many creative marketing teams turn to Creative as a Service (CaaS): Design partnerships that afford overworked/under-resourced design teams (most of them) the power they need to not only build such assets, but produce them at a rate that keeps the company fresh and constant in prospects' minds.
How much time and money you’re spending trying to hit prospects where they are is equally important.
Andres "Andy" Levinton, Director of Growth at Superside, emphasized the need for hard numbers during a downturn. “Metrics like CAC or CPA (Cost Per Acquisition, for actions that you can tie back to revenue) become more important during recession,” Levinton said. “They’re important for everyone, but they should have added visibility during a recession, while ‘softer’ metrics may be relegated.”
Levinton noted CAC and LTV (LifeTime Value) as must-haves on the shortlist. “Typically, CAC is going to increase during a downturn, as fewer customers have money to spend on new products/services,” Levinton said. “Obviously, you want to mix up your marketing efforts in an attempt to decrease CAC, but an increase in CAC can also be combated by dedicated effort to improve LTV. A longer LTV gives you more room to invest in acquisition.”
Marketing and design are some of the finest tools for driving down customer acquisition costs. The more a prospect sees of you, and the more familiar they become with your brand, the less legwork and money needs to be spent bringing them across the goal post.
Having an endless repository of strong brand assets is how many creative marketing teams bring down their CAC (and costs in general). When creative is abundant and able to be properly, frequently distributed throughout a multitude of channels, it’s easier and less expensive to move the needle.
In a down market, people don’t make decisions without mountains of evidence. How compelling is your offer?
“In a recession, buyers are looking to decrease both costs and risks,” said DePaul. “To decrease perceived risk, you should be focused on things like social proof. Metrics you can track are the number of referrals generated, the number of positive reviews received (G2, Google, Yelp, etc.) and the conversions from landing pages/ads with testimonials or case studies.”
DePaul advised there may also be subsegments of your customer base that are using the downturn to their advantage. “Maybe their product/service is recession proof, or solves the unique issues that recessions bring. This is why it's important to not only look at reasons why you're losing sales, but why you're winning sales.” To suss this out, he suggests segmenting your new customers based on industry, end users, or even custom segments like "recession proof companies".
“Then look at what campaigns, strategies, and content is actually performing well within this segment,” DePaul said. “What are the segments and personas with growth in revenue and conversions? Sometimes in a recession you need to diversify, but sometimes you need to double down on what's working.”
While figures like referrals and reviews depend more on the customer’s personal success with your business, making ads and landing pages that convert are in marketing’s realm. How you go about getting your customer testimony is up to you, but no one’s going to engage with content that doesn’t immediately grab their attention.
Stopping a prospect's scroll is wholly reliant on the thoughtfulness of your marketing team’s creative. As with RoAS, CaaS is often the weapon of choice here. Scroll-breaking design is always within reach, and it’s often used to pump up dry-but-crucial assets like testimonies and other forms of social proof.
“That’s product’s job, isn’t it?” For the most part, yes. And in a recession, there’s only so much any team can do to keep their base. But there are ways for marketing to help retention that most aren’t aware of—more on that shortly.
Though it’s not known for being a marketing metric, Andony insists nothing’s more important than retention in a downturn. “Better retention means a faster payback period, which means more money that can be reinvested into acquisition channels,” said Andony. That’s where marketing comes in: “I would also note that activation is probably the most important contributor to retention. It's more important than ever to get new customers engaged and forming those habits early so that you don't churn new customers.”
For most businesses, retention is too big a deal to be just one department’s problem. CAC for B2B and B2C brands has risen by nearly half over the past five years, and the trend is only accelerating.
Creative marketing teams can help reduce churn by offering “stickier” experiences to existing clients or previous customers. Marketing doesn’t end the moment your prospect signs the proverbial contract. It’s a plant that requires periodic watering. Ask yourself, what could your creative marketing team be doing to sweeten the pot or reduce friction once they’re onboard? In B2B world, think of the client-facing resources you could be offering: Guides, eBooks, videos and other creative assets can help your new customer solve the challenges that brought them on board in the first place. For B2C businesses, personalization is all the rage, and requires a similar cache of tailored brand content.
Most design and marketing teams don’t have the capacity to be producing high-quality content that isn’t meant to lead to a first-time sale, and it can leave them feeling significantly less activated than when they came in. This is another reason creative partnerships are catching on for marketing teams—it allows them to cover the bases they couldn’t otherwise have covered.
How often do the conversations you start (figurative and literal) lead to conversion? How often do those conversions turn into sales? According to Andony, examining the line between points A and B can tell you what’s working and what isn’t.
“There needs to be some kind of pipeline metric to assess whether or not you're doing a good job of closing new leads. Looking at your lead-to-close ratio will help you determine if your pipeline marketing/sales tactics are working, and if you're still effectively able to convert leads to paying customers.”
If your leads aren’t turning to sales, it’s an indicator that your messaging may be off. A lost lead frequently means the prospect didn’t see what they saw in your marketing when they walked in the door. The brand was enticing enough to attract them, but didn’t fit with the product or service you actually offer.
Having brand creative that properly reflects the finer elements of your company’s products and services is the work of creative marketing teams. The better aligned your branding is with your business’ true values, the stronger your leads will be.
It’s not always clear what marketing does that closes sales. We make our best guesses, but human psychology is fickle and unpredictable. Yet, if there’s anything to glean from the above metrics, it’s that activities that strengthen the brand are what yield results for creative marketing. The brand is the constant, and it’s the only thing marketing professionals have control over.
Our goal in these times is to drive revenue by concentrating the brand’s essence in every piece of content that meets our wary prospect’s eyes. Distilling the problem and solution in a succinct, attractive package that prompts further investigation is the best way marketing supports the company in a downturn, whatever state it’s in. It’s no light task, and not one most businesses have the resources for in a time of abundant scarcity.
That’s why Creative as a service (CaaS) partners exist. Without adding heads to creative marketing teams, they support those teams with brand-aligned, just-in-time creative that lets them meet the high demands of the market. Achieving the brand ubiquity necessary to stay top of mind for prospects is easy, as is generating forward-thinking creative that pulls prospects down the marketing funnel with no touch required on marketing’s end.
Focus on being the loudest, boldest voice in your field. Let product and sales worry about the rest.
David is a Senior Content Marketing Specialist at Superside. A former journalist with bylines too numerous to enumerate, he brings his love of storytelling and semantics to the marketing world. Recognizing the sizable gaps in the creative-as-a-service (CaaS) sector, he jumped at the chance to fill the creative void for ambitious brands. In his off hours, he enjoys loud music, making vegan meals and being made fun of for making vegan meals. He’ll gladly talk to you about any of the above on LinkedIn.
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