There is no sugarcoating it: these are challenging times. We were unprepared for a pandemic that until now, we’ve only seen in movies and sci-fi shows. Governments have declared states of emergency. We’ve all had to make drastic changes in a very short amount of time for our very survival, both physically and financially. Businesses are under extraordinary pressure to somehow still cover their operation costs and the money must come from somewhere. This is indeed a crisis of historic proportions. But it’s also something else.

This is an opportunity

Say it with me: This. Is. An. Opportunity. Because it is. Like phoenixes from ashes, it is when tested to the limit that we learn what we are really capable of. It is possible to not only survive, but to thrive during times of economic uncertainty. Because companies are unable to fathom an increase in sales and revenue during a recession, lead generation marketing is often seen as an easy expense to eliminate. Instead, they adopt a hibernation model to wait out the tough economy in hopes of rejoining the active marketplace when better times return. And that in itself is your opportunity.

When the economy goes cold, add some heat

There is a saying, “When times are good, you should advertise. When times are bad, you must advertise.”1 Increasing marketing budgets when times are good, and slashing them when times are bad is actually counter-intuitive. Why? Because marketing and advertising are the only business functions whose sole purpose is to drive sales by communicating brand and product messages directly to those with the power to purchase. The difference between businesses that fail and those that survive and thrive is the level to which they are willing to forgo short-term relief in favor of long-term prosperity. Buyers don’t stop spending forever, they merely become more selective. Expanding market reach and increasing marketing activities secures a greater audience. A challenging economy is the precise time that marketing is vital to the health of a business. With fewer dollars changing hands, businesses need to work that much harder to differentiate themselves and secure customers hesitant to part with their money.

Companies that invest in marketing during an economic crisis do better

According to past studies on the correlation between marketing spending and economic recessions, those willing to proactively “take a risk” will reap the rewards. McGraw-Hill Research’s Laboratory of Advertising Performance conducted a study of the U.S. recession of 1981-1982, analyzing the business performance of 600 industrial companies over the recessionary period. The results were profound: B2B firms that maintained or increased their marketing expenditures averaged significantly higher sales growth both during the recession, and for the following three years, than those which eliminated or decreased marketing. The study also found that those companies that were aggressive in their marketing strategies during the recession achieved a whopping 256% rise in sales over companies that chose to cut marketing and advertising activities.

The American Business Press and Meldrum & Fewsmith also have historically robust research into this phenomenon, having conducted a series of studies involving B2B advertisers in years of recession. In one, they reported that “The findings of the six recession studies to date present formidable evidence that cutting advertising appropriations in times of economic downturns can result in both immediate and long-term negative effects on sales and profit levels.”

Look to other brand leaders for inspiration

Some well-known brands, from automotive to sportswear to fast food, have already released custom ads for the current pandemic conditions. They may all be different industries, but you’ll notice commonalities throughout all of them: they are highly relevant, subdued versus flashy, honestly and earnestly explaining what they are doing to better help their customers during this time. Many are also making the effort to thank the health care workers, while encouraging social distancing to prevent the spread. You may have also noticed emails from brands you’ve previously interacted with appearing in your inbox, and again, whichever company they might be from, chances are it’s a clear, honest message explaining the measures they’re taking for COVID-19 and what to expect.

It’s much harder to disappear and then come back

Brand momentum is crucial. Maintaining a media presence, and therefore market identity, is actually much less costly than attempting to rebuild a positive market impact after a period of absence. To take advantage of the current economic situation, marketers must pursue comprehensive marketing activities that exploit market slack, while propelling their strong messages past competitors that have temporarily retreated. “The money you save by cutting marketing budgets is actually pretty insignificant when you compare it to the profits lost in the long term,” says Leigh-Ann Clarke, Vice President with marketing and communications consultancy Clever Samurai. This theory is backed up by Forbes as well, who say that “When marketers cut back on their ad spending, the brand loses its “share of mind” with consumers, with the potential of losing current – and possibly future – sales. An increase in “share of voice” typically leads to in an increase in “share of market.”

Your marketing dollar will likely go further right now

Much like you can now buy stocks at low prices, many media packages will be reduced as well.

Because media companies are also vulnerable during economic crunches, lowered media prices and more available ad space will give you the chance to capitalize on a combination of premium opportunities and lower costs. The same principle applies to print and digital products and services, as well as other vendors. You can use this opportunity to secure long-term contracts for favorable terms, or take advantage of one-time blasts of marketing collateral to carry you through a period of reduced spending. There will also likely be room to negotiate bargain purchases and lock-in monthly or yearly contracts at attractive prices. Not to mention the opportunity to investigate options like billboards, or even television spots, that would otherwise be unaffordable.

And of course, you’ll want to be as active as possible on all of your social media channels, if you aren’t already. Promoted posts are a decent bang for your buck, and simply having a regular presence through the mainstream channels like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and your own blogs give you multiple daily chances to keep the conversation with valuable prospects going.

You literally have a captive (and more receptive) audience

If there was ever a time to nurture your current customer relationships and build new ones, it’s now. Not only are most of your customers working from home, they are also online for the better part of the day, and, with social distancing being the new normal, longing for human connection and reassurance. There is an emotional receptivity that simply did not exist before. Like you, they still need to get things done, and you can be there to show them how you can still help. It’s a proven fact that when customers feel inspired and confident, they are more likely to purchase. Inspired messages, offerings and products will resonate loudly with an engaged audience.

The silver lining of any economic downturn is that that one marketing message will still have virtually universal appeal: value. “By making an effort to connect now instead of staying silent until things improve, you can make enough of an impact for them to choose you over a competitor,” says Clarke of Clever Samurai. “And true connections beget more connections. For instance, a personal recommendation is even more prized than flashy advertising when customers are cost-conscious. Reaching out is how you will get those coveted online reviews, social media shares and word of mouth references.”

This is your time to be creative and lead by example

With more technology and tools at our dispense than ever, plus unprecedented audience receptivity and availability, exploring creative ways to make a personal connection with your prospects is just common sense. If you haven’t already, you’ll definitely want to share how you as a company have been taking measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and ways that you have been supporting your community. This opens the door to ask how, specifically, you can help your current and potential customers. From webinars and interactive livestreams to downloadable eBooks and free trials, there are a plethora of “contact free” and “social distancing friendly” lead magnets to try. But remember: the last thing you want to be seen as is a company trying to capitalize off of a scary situation. Be available, be transparent, be relevant and most importantly, be empathetic.

During economic difficulties, it’s not about whether or not to market: you must differentiate and connect with customers to keep their business. It’s an ideal time to think differently, to create differently – to inspire different – so that when the market swings upward, you’ll be leading the pack. Leaders rise in a time of crisis. In a time when there are plenty of voices of panic, you can be the voice of peace.