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Pop Pickers: It’s the B2B Top Ten Recession Hits

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Pop Pickers: It’s the B2B Top Ten Recession Hits


What’s looming large on the horizon? Is it a bad economic moon rising? Enquiring CMOs want to know: should I stay or should I go? Where to? Don’t know?

So don’t leave me now. Stick with the frequency. I’m Joel Thomson, the Head of Strategy at Green Hat, Australia’s largest B2B agency, and it’s time for my Top Ten Recession Hits. 

At Green Hat, we’re working with marketers here and overseas and getting some interesting insights on the strategies and tactics they’re exploring to escape too big a hit on their business and their reasons for taking their approach. 

In this article and at our upcoming speaker event we want to give Australian B2B marketers ideas to challenge the BAU of B2B marketing; that’s what Green Hats do. 

You see, recession times mean one big thing: new customer growth will slow, and customers will scrutinise every dollar they spend, so even if you have a great solution, deals will slow down, you’ll have to deal with more decision-makers, and those decision-makers will often be decision-stallers. So, doubling down on lead-generation activity isn’t the best plan, and doing nothing isn’t an option. What’s a marketer to do? One of the key strategies we recommend is short-term (12-18 month) pivots.

For example, are there any long-term initiatives whose time and investment can pivot into shorter-term revenue drivers? SEO is a great example; it’s a vital process that takes months to start moving the needle. However, Facebook, Google and Amazon paid ads may help lock down faster results and sustain the business more efficiently for the short term. And pivoting some paid media investment (meant to attract new customers) and creating an updated email marketing strategy to concentrate on (retargeting current customers). Whatever the shift, look at the data, time and budget, and consider what short-term strategies may serve to keep the engine running and where else to invest marketing dollars for the longer-term benefit of the business.

Right, let’s get into it; what to do? Our top 10 picks for B2B marketing through a recession.

At number 10: Da-ba-dee-do less.

Always a favourite, it’s quality over quantity time. At the best of times, we see marketing strategies attempting too much; a common recession reaction is to drive more activity in an attempt to maintain a position. It’s wasteful and doesn’t work. 

If the budget gets reduced, use it as a motivator to critically assess (and then reduce) the volume of activity. Executing the same volume of activity for less is another recipe for failure.

Our clients are focusing their efforts around fewer, more tightly planned and focused activities on achieving more with less. Messaging has changed to reflect ‘recession drivers’; for example, less push on ‘growth’ language and more on ‘efficiency’. Segmentation is all-important, too, as clients look to target segments likely to be less affected by the recession.

We’re seeing a greater focus on new research, refreshing customer and market insights, and account-centric programmes

Number 9: Get your business on.

Know what motivates the CFO? It’s time to get to know one another really well.

Marketing is an investment, not a cost, but if the business doesn’t get that, now more than ever is the time to build that understanding. Use financial terms, not marketing ones; for example, do you know what your ‘moat‘ is? The big thing differentiates and empowers the company to hold a competitive edge. What is marketing doing to re-enforce and grow that moat? Our clients say they’re pitching their revised approaches to the CEO and CFO, bringing the business along, using the language of business, getting that alignment on KPIs and protecting those budgets. Protecting budgets was a repetitive theme; internal competition between budget holders will increase with each looking to protect their own area of spending responsibility. 

Number 8: Stop, innovate and listen.

This entry was a surprise, but it makes sense, and it’s all about the product and its value. As marketers, you know your current and target customers, their needs and what the competition is doing. What insights can marketing bring to the product to affect its shape and make it more of a must-have and must-keep? And to keep the disruptors from the gates. There’s a history of disruptors moving in during a recession—AirBnB, Netflix, Lexus, Apple and Microsoft— were either born in or flourished during bad times.

Our clients are taking a seat at the product table, exploring high-customer value gaps and opportunities in their offerings across products and services; their marketing lens means they’re bringing product ideas that can market powerfully. 

Number 7: Whoooo are you?

I really want to know, when did you last review your positioning? How does your business fit in the marketplace? When did you last look at your higher-order stories, or has everything become a bit tactical? In tough times you need your customers to understand your product, service and value more than ever; they need to know how you fit. 

Our clients are auditing competitive positioning before a squeeze and exploring how to express their stories better. We see a demand for sharper, consistent, single-minded narratives. When the sector our clients live in feels too samey and crowded, we step outside it for inspiration and look to adjacent brands, not near neighbours; think, a finance brand that takes the best attributes of a fashion brand.  

Number 6: Get by with a little help from your friends.

No-brainer. For all, this is the number one safety play; look after your current customers because they’ll see you through the recession. For many companies not selling tech and office equipment, COVID turned off the growth tap and taught them to get close to their customer base and service their needs. Lessons learned over that time need to become baked-in behaviour. Our clients are building long-term retention strategies, and development within accounts is fast becoming a primary focus. This would seem like a pure CX challenge. Still, we’re seeing more campaign activity at an account level and more content development that helps customers get additional value from what they have purchased or subscribed to.

Number 5: (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding.

When we researched this story, the same words that came from every marketer’s mouth were: “We need to get back to basics!”. And what are those basics? First and foremost, customer understanding. From there, we get the insights to drive that product innovation, focus the communication strategy, create relevant content, and find those truths that lead to engaging ideas. It should probably be number one because sound customer understanding is the base for all marketing activity. Our clients tell us that as the economy tightens, their customers are naturally putting more scrutiny on spending. This is already leading to an increase in the size of the buying party, with additional stakeholder influencers coming into the mix. Our clients report the same level of scrutiny being placed today on a 100K as a 1,000,000K deal. This means they need to pick their target segments and target accounts well. We’re seeing an increased focus on our B2B customer research and strategic marketing tools, data-driven personas, and multi-persona buyer journey maps.  

Number 4: Tainted likes.

Tough love, but we can’t keep on patting ourselves on the back for vanity metrics like ‘likes’, impressions, clicks, or opens, and much-loved Last-click attribution. The challenge is that measuring marketing performance is hard work. Channel-specific metrics cause headaches, and reporting is a mess of data sources and dashboards from multiple Martech and measurement tools. Still, now more than ever, marketers need to measure marketing’s impact on the business and demonstrate their ability to drive revenue and profitability. For the past 24 months, analysing the ROI of individual campaigns and ongoing activity and visualising it through one interface has been a strategic imperative for Green Hat to give our clients a better understanding of performance as a whole. Today we’re developing dashboards for our clients for marketing measurement and analytics, using tools like cross-channel attribution and marketing mix modelling to focus spending. We’re also integrating planning, budgeting, and marketing ROI tools, including marketing measurement and optimisation for owned channels. 

Number 3: Long live the king.

And the king is still content. So, what changes in a recession content-wise? First and foremost, the concerns and drivers of the readers; many will be in survival mode and looking for subject matter that helps them in their changing business environment. But also the target, you may be creating more content to serve and keep current clients over new business activity.

From our clients, we have conflicting views; on the one hand, there’s the voice that says ‘reduce the volume’, and focus on the value, which assumes you’ve developed a rich content library and regular cadence. And there’s the other that says as deal velocity slows down and as more stakeholders join the buying party, additional scrutiny will add additional steps; this, in turn, means that you require more content to keep the buying party engaged over a longer period.

Number 2: Stayin’ Creative.

B2B goes to Cannes, and creativity is indexing high in B2B; well, it is in B2B articles talking about creativity. But there’s more talk than walk; many clients accept that emotion in B2B marketing is okay until faced with the idea that engages with emotion, humour, and anything that’s non-literal; then, run for the nearest factual statement and a big stat. Our clients ask and expect creative ideas from us; we’ve made ideas mandatory because the work becomes more engaging and effective, and we have ex-B2C agency creative guns on staff who understand B2B so they can make the creative connect. We see great ideas, big, long ideas continuing to be the silver bullet for our work, ideas born from insights, from customer truths (back to that customer, peace, love and understanding!).

And holding at Number 1: Let’s talk about brand, baby.

As the marketing budget recedes, so do thoughts of brand investment. But this is the time to take the long view; back to the point made at the start, recession-times slow down growth marketing; this is the time to direct budget and effort to brand. The long-lasting impression brand marketing makes is evidenced by the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute research on The 95-5 rule, which shows that 95% of potential buyers aren’t ready to buy today (during a recession even less). This 95% are “out-market” today, but will be “in-market” sometime in the future.

This 12-18 month recession window can be the opportunity for businesses with the vision (and grit) to invest in their brands, and prepare for the return to growth with a brand people know, understand, and will consider. 

Many of our clients have been product marketing-led with minimal attention to their brand other than visual identity. They are now establishing or revisiting their brand strategy. Our clients with established brands are planning increased brand activity for the coming 12-24 months, creating their brand messages to align with a changing marketplace.

So, that—my Listening Faithful—is that. Ten top tracks to ease you through these uncertain times. But before you touch that dial, let’s twist back to the buttery kernel in this popcorn bucket, namely—the possibilities and advantages of a recession for marketers. Sounds loony tunes, but maybe there’s more to all this madness than simply tightening the straps, hunkering down, and waiting for the storm to blow by. Maybe this is the minute for savvy marketers to prove their metal. Reframe. Reconnect. Reinvest. Reimagine. Ride the thunder, Star Children.

As always, the Hatters are here to help.

Over and out.


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Joel Thomson

Joel Thomson is the Head of Strategy at Green Hat, Australia's largest B2B agency.

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