Economic slowdowns leave lunch on the table

Time to feast

Did you know that, on average, 33-40% of the food produced globally each year goes to waste? Food waste is one of the most pervasive struggles of our modern age, and it highlights an even greater problem: one of food (in)security. For those who don’t know where their next meal might come from, food is precious. It’s in stark contrast to those accustomed to dining out, who don’t worry about what’s left on their plate at the end of the meal. 

This article isn’t about food insecurity—that’s a challenge beyond my abilities to solve. That said, the concept of food waste is one that dovetails very neatly with how brands behave during times of economic slowdown or (dare I say it) amidst a recession. It’s the difference between organizations accustomed to feasting and those who make the most of every scrap they can get. 

It’s inevitable that many companies will pull back on their efforts to sustain and grow market share. In doing so, they’ll leave proverbial food on the table—opportunities some other, more aggressive brands won’t hesitate to claim.

Don’t be content with what you have

Faced with the prospect of hardship, it’s human nature to lean on more conservative principles—but it’s important not to overcorrect. This is the mistake too many brands make when preparing for economic pullback. They worriedly take a hatchet to the budget and often, the first place they start hacking away is Marketing. It’s a mistake. 

At the peak of 2020’s pandemic pandemonium, the Harvard Business Review published some very compelling insights that illustrate the pitfalls of gouging the marketing budget. 

In reviewing past advertising performance during recessions, it found that companies willing to increase ad spend budgets fared better than those who slashed them. One example saw a multinational CPG brand raise advertising spend by 25%, resulting in increases of 8% revenue and 14% profit. In contrast, competitors who cut their spend posted double-digit losses during the same period. 

It seems counterintuitive to spend money to get people to spend money… at a time when people are reluctant to spend money. But this is another trick of the mind. Remember that you’re not asking customers to spend more money—you’re asking them to choose your brand when they do. The pie stays the same size; you’re just trying to take a bigger slice. 

Use every part of the buffalo

Food insecurity isn’t a modern problem—it’s an age-old problem magnified by modern, wasteful systems. Go back a few hundred years and you’ll find that while First Nations people didn’t always know where their next meal would come from, the word “waste” wasn’t in their vocabulary. To epitomize an age-old adage, they used every part of the buffalo.

Today, brands facing economic hardship need to embody this same utilitarian mindset. Don’t discard, downsize, disband, or dismantle your efforts in a hasty attempt to save money. Instead, understand how to best-use these efforts and the dollars spent on them. You can be conservative by being aggressive, so long as you’re maximizing the value of your efforts.

Take that thought leadership article you posted on LinkedIn—the one that got great traction. Like the mighty buffalo, its individual parts are even more useful than the whole. Turn that content into lead-gen emails, social posts, PPC ads, infographics, a webinar—anything that will help you maximize the life cycle of content you’ve already invested in. Leave nothing to waste.

Budget, spend, and measure with intent

On the paid side, there are plenty of opportunities to create value beyond slashing spend. It starts by looking beyond spend, at ROI. If you could make $2 for every $1 you spend, you’d do it in a heartbeat! If you only look at the budget with intent to slash, you’re liable to hack away at profit centers you didn’t even know you had. 

Before cutting anything, seek to understand the purpose of the budget, the nature of the spend, and the measurable results attributed to both. Not every line item in the budget is going to justify itself, but you might be surprised at those that do. For those in the red, seek to repurpose that spend before absolving it entirely.  

This approach to smarter spending all comes back to intent. What value are you trying to communicate to customers? Where are you reaching them? How are they finding you? Align these variables around a well-thought-out approach and you’ll find that not only do your costs of acquisition and conversion fall, you’ll see growth at a time when less-organized competitors are pulling back and falling behind. 

Fork over your lunch money

While it’s true economic slowdowns don’t leave brands (or consumers) with much discretionary spending money, one fact still remains: everyone needs to eat. Brands that traditionally don’t struggle for revenue will find themselves content to pull back to stay comfortable. For organizations familiar with revenue insecurity, it’s a big opportunity to step into a market where demand still exists.

Consumer spending doesn’t come to a standstill during a recession—people just get smarter about where and how they spend their money. Brands need to do the same. If you’re hungry for a bigger piece of the pie, reach out to JXM. We know that to waste not is to want not, and we’re as hungry as you are.