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The Opportunity of Uncertainty

Published On: March 10, 2023 | Categories: Blog, Field Marketing |

by Mike Schreurs

In 1980, Strategic America’s first year in business, mortgage rates were 14 percent and rising. It wasn’t just a difficult homebuying market — the overall economic conditions were ominous. Red-hot inflation, rising unemployment, and monetary tightening spread fear and unease through the public psyche.  

This was the backdrop for one of our new agency’s first campaigns for the local and statewide realtors’ association. Here was a group that had every reason to retract in fear, slash marketing spend, and sit back until conditions improved. But, that’s not what consumers wanted, nor how they chose to respond. After all, though the conditions weren’t ideal, people still needed to buy and sell homes.  

We worked together on a message fitting for the time — “Let your realtor find a way.” Homebuyers needed someone with more expertise and market knowledge to safely navigate the waters and keep the real estate markets moving, and the message struck a chord. When the tough times ended — like they always do — local realtors were well-positioned to capitalize on the upswing as the agile, trusted experts homebuyers and sellers needed.  

Is this example from 43 years ago relevant today? Much has changed in marketing during the last four decades and the economic environment is different today. But though the circumstances change, I’ve seen enough market cycles in my career to know some lessons are timeless.  

Here’s what that experience has taught me about the marketing environment today.   

Strategic Marketing Questions For Uncertain Times  

Today we’re living in a period that could be called the Great Unknown. Economic factors hang in a delicate balance and the winds seem to shift daily. No one has a firm sense of what’s ahead. Many business sectors are doing well, and optimism is reflected by a majority of advertisers (84 percent) planning to increase or maintain their spend in 2023. Other businesses are in, or fear, economic contraction, visible in recent layoffs at big firms.  

There isn’t a single marketing prescription that fits every business.  

Whatever the situation, a good marketing partner is a problem-solver and opportunity-seeker who thinks strategically and comes prepared to act in both the short and long-term. After seeing companies through economic pendulum of the 80s, the Dot-com bubble of the 90s, Sept. 11, and the Great Recession, I’ve learned this:  

If we avoid a recession, there will be marketing strategies to grow our clients’ business. 

If there is a recession, there will be marketing strategies to grow our clients’ business.  

The strategic approach will look different for each scenario, but the right questions help formulate the right strategy. Take these for consideration: 

  1. What does the current opportunity look like in my competitive set? What can we learn from others?  
  1. What are the metrics that matter, and which marketing efforts move the needle?  
  1. What is a perceived value to acting boldly now? And what is our risk vs. reward ratio?  
  1. What positioning, and what tools, will aid our performance? 
  1. How can we optimize and improve what we’re already doing?  

Digital Means Nimble  

Even with many dynamic factors at play in 2023, there is one element every marketing strategy should contain — the plan to be nimble.  

Think about potential scenarios that could emerge, and how your business will respond in a way that strengthens your brand. Data shows, and history tells, reducing brand investments leaves companies no more profitable in the short run, and is likely to hurt them in the long run.  

Thanks to how largely digital the world is today, more than in any other period of economic uncertainty of the past, marketers can execute responsively, test and measure. This may not mean a new set of plans from week to week, but instead, making the most of your ability to synthesize different sources of data to optimize your trajectory.  

Digital marketing provides the ability to go to market with speed and precision. In the past, a blunt reaction to uncertainty might include drastic spending reductions. Today, marketing efforts can be finely tuned with efforts that balance and optimize impact and spend. This means identifying and targeting the most important audiences, reaching them on their preferred channels, and measuring the specific KPIs that will be meaningful in the long run.  

When uncertainty is in the air, it’s not the time to diminish the power of your marketing and your brand. Great companies use the opportunity of uncertainty to serve their customers in an even more relevant manner with better marketing programs efficiently delivered for impact. Now is the perfect time to make strategic, responsive moves that reinforce your brand and leave it well-positioned for what(ever) lies ahead.  

Mike Schreurs is the chairman and chief strategist at Strategic America, the full-service national marketing agency he founded in 1980. SA has more than 40 years’ experience serving the health, wealth, home, travel, and retail sectors. Learn more about our services here.