Small Business Marketing in a Recession

Washed away, or growing like a weed?

Small retailers are at the heart of the American dream, representing what can be achieved through passion, perseverance and an idea that fills a need.

Over the last five years, the number of small businesses has grown by 0.9%. That’s not much, but considering the waves of chaos that have rolled in since 2020, any growth is viewed as stable in this sector.

Recently that growth has slowed. Reports project that in the coming months, more retailers will have to accept that it’s time to close their doors for good. According to an analysis by Retail Dive, those at risk of shuttering their business have grown over the past 12 months, with 59% now seriously worried about what their future holds.

Small retailers have been battered by one issue after another—inflation, high gas prices, rent hikes and supply chain disruption—coupled with fears of recession and a downturn in consumer spending.

That’s all on top of hold-over issues from losses retailers and many of their customers felt in 2020 and 2021, creating an even less optimistic view of what’s ahead.

Fortunately, all is not lost. In the face of a changing marketplace, small businesses have an opportunity to let passion fuel them—and smart thinking guide them—to stay afloat during the storm.

It all comes down to getting in front of the right consumers with a message that helps them say, “yes.”

Looking back on prior economic disruptions, we can identify key marketing strategies that guide us to those consumers, and promote those mutually beneficial relationships. Consider how these four approaches could apply to your business:

  1. Stay connected with your current customers. You know you can add value to their lives. Make sure they remember it, too. You know that old saying about a bird in the hand? Maintaining your loyal customer base is easier and more affordable than your (also important) efforts to go out and find new ones. People who already appreciate you are the most impactful resource in keeping your brand alive and well. Whether one-time purchasers or true brand advocates, your current customers will be conversion wins for you, now and in the future.

    Keep messaging to them simple. A stay-in-touch email, exclusive offer, or first-to-know promotion could put you in the right place at the right time to score a sale. Or at least keep you top of mind for when you’re needed. That’s also a win.
  1. Know who you are, and be that in all your messaging. Why do your customers love you? The intersection of what you offer and what they need is where you want to stand with your megaphone. When you get behind one key difference, your message pierces the noise.

    Keep that singular storyline in front of them by updating digital content or providing useful ideas about your product or service. Find ways to pop up in your customers’ awareness by thinking about how your business makes their life better.
  1. Fine-tune your targeting. There may be a niche audience among your customer base that has driven strong revenue in the past. Or you could find a sub-group whose spending levels are unimpacted by the economy. Taking time to study the people who need what you offer can reveal insights, giving you the chance to sort your overall customer base into smaller groups. Then you’re ready to enact a variety of targeting, retargeting and nurture opportunities. You’ll feel like a marketing surgeon when you see those elevated conversions and engagements.
  1. Test, test more and then keep testing. As you fixate on the cash register day by day, remember to keep your eye on the responses and results that are coming back to you—because that’s where the power lies. Those inputs will guide you to hypotheses you can test.

This isn’t the 20th century, when brands ran an ad in the paper and said, “Hope THAT works.” Digital marketing lets us put messaging into play, and keep learning as we go. It’s not a chore, it’s an opportunity to take control of our own growth.

Today’s small businesses can feel proud that they’re still standing. Take a look at why you do what you do. Uncover new truths about your company and your customers—and continue to push ahead. Businesses that prioritize long-term sustainability will earn the continued support of customers.

You’re not out there on your own. At Unbound, we believe in tried-and-true strategies that adapt to changing conditions and challenges—whether scaling businesses for growth, or helping those that need to focus their resources to ride out rough waters.

You need your customers, and they need you. Let’s make sure you find each other.