We’re heading into a recession… Are you ignoring your customers?

Ryan Barry
Image of man cycling

All signs point to an imminent recession. We can bury our heads in the sand and pretend it’s not happening, or we can buckle up and focus on what’s important — which, in my opinion, is simple: our people, our cash and our customers.

On that last point… it worries me that I’m already seeing big companies go from having their three best quarters ever to playing defense. They seem to care more about Wall Street’s perception of them than their customers’ perception of them — solely out of fear of the unknown.

From my point of view, if you don’t prioritize listening to your customers, it'll only make the impacts of the recession worse — and longer lasting.

Here are my tips for driving growth during the recession and setting your business up for sustained success on the other side. (Hint, it starts with staying closer than ever to your customers and prospects!)

1. Don't overreact

First and most importantly, don’t overreact. The more drastic actions you take, the more the market will react. Let’s not manifest this worse than it is.

That includes slashing your research or marketing budget without thinking through the consequences. You should, of course, be prudent and kill things off that don’t add value or aren’t part of your future — but don’t freeze.

2. Double down on listening to your customers

Now is not the time to avoid customer research completely. Consumer behaviors and attitudes have been changing constantly during the pandemic, and we can expect this pattern to continue as we head into the uncertain times of a recession.

How do you know how your customers are thinking about spending and saving right now unless you ask them? How do you know what resonates with them unless you ask them?You won’t know how to respond to these changes if you don’t know what’s changed.

3. Do more with less

That being said, you can get scrappier with your research budget. Now probably isn’t the time for a massive, expensive study. Focus on research that will help you answer your questions now.

When operating in uncertainty, speed is essential so you can react in time. Lean into research technology that helps you save money and move faster — without sacrificing quality — so you can react quicker and iterate to find messages that really land right now. Are you leaning into setting up modern systems across your business? Now is the time.

These days there are credible and proven solutions that are also efficient and economical, like ZappiStreebees, etc., that you can use to validate assumptions and understand customers.

4. Validate your current plans

All of your plans (currently running ad campaigns, existing promotions, soon-to-be released new products) were made pre-recession. It’s time to check whether those things will still land as we head into difficult times.

Test your messaging and innovation concepts again with different audiences to make sure they still resonate and catch any potential missteps you can avoid. You don’t want to end up in the news for appearing tone deaf — so it’s worth getting customer feedback again since circumstances may have changed.

5. Find ways to target a part of the market that won't be hit as hard

Not everyone is impacted equally in a recession. Where is there fluid purchasing power? How can you get there?

Consumer insights data is important here too. If you’re trying to target a different target market with a new product or a new message, you need to know what will resonate with that group of people so you don’t miss the mark.

6. Identify ways to appeal to segments that will be heavily impacted

I’m not suggesting taking advantage of a group of people that’s struggling, but rather think about how you can solve their problems during this time. Think about promotions, subscriptions, ways to make their lives easier or save them money in other areas of their lives.

Don’t forget that research will find the nuance to reach this group of people, so you don’t come across as tone deaf during a difficult time.

7. Remember innovation takes time

You can drop everything you’re working on and focus on saving to get through the recession, but remember that you’ll need innovative new products and solutions that appeal to consumers when we come out the other side.

Innovation takes time. You don’t want to find yourself without anything new while smaller, bolder competitors beat you to market. So even though you might be working on something that won’t see the light of day for another year or two, don’t stop building! Just make sure you continue to keep an eye on the trends so those innovations will still make sense in the future.

8. Give your team the right tools

Finally, your teams are probably confused about how to proceed right now. What messages are appropriate at a time when people are struggling or nervous about the future? What product benefits matter?

You can rely on your insights team to answer all these questions as they come up, or they can empower your marketing and product teams with the tools to answer these questions themselves. Whenever there’s a question about whether this promotion is appropriate or that message lands, your marketing team can test it themselves to get an answer. That frees up your insights team to think strategically about the needs of the business for the long term.

Final thoughts

In times like this, a first reaction can often be to freeze and wait to see what happens. But that’s rarely the right tactic when it comes to customer research.

If you can do the research to figure out what customers need now, you’re better positioned to deliver it when the time comes. And if you can keep testing, learning and iterating throughout the recession, you’ll be able to evolve with the times — rather than respond to them too late.

So don’t use this as an opportunity to stop all your research. Use it as an opportunity to play offense instead.

Keep going