This post is a summary of amazing work spearheaded by the founder of SW&A, Luke Sklar.

There are consumer truths.

Consumers buy with emotion and veto with logic. Consumers crave solutions and advice that works. Consumers don’t change their habits overnight. Consumers seek happiness.

When times are tough and brands are struggling to remain afloat, these consumer truths are even more important for marketers to pay attention to. Marketers who want to come out on the upside of a downtime need to follow these six key principles.

1. Create and communicate your brand value

Though a quick and simple reaction to unexpectedly tough times is to depreciate a brand with various types of discounting, a wiser option is to create and communicate genuine brand value. Dial up the rationale and overt proof of value to help consumers justify the expense in their shopping cart. Demonstrate head to head value or price with competitive products, show them that your brand costs less in the long-run, or offer free advice. Do the research to better understand consumer hopes, dreams, and fears so that the messaging matches and mirrors their needs.

2. Invest in what you do best 

Though investments might need to be cut in some places, do not cut investments in your brand promise. This is the time to be a brave leader who empathizes with the current situation. Stay the course and ensure your brand promise remains meaningful and deliverable, far beyond advertising. Continue to fund your competitive advantage whether it’s product innovation, customer service, or intellectual capital. You might wish to focus on driving incremental traffic and sales, or be creative with margin engineering.

3. Don’t get caught in the middle

The easiest brand to forget about is the average brand. Take a stand and be the high-end brand, the low-end brand, or the different brand. High-end brands can offer customers crave-worthy affordable treats. All brands can react to the new problems customers are facing with innovative solutions. When times are tough, market needs don’t disappear. In fact, new needs and innovation opportunities will emerge and this is your opportunity to be meaningfully different.

4. Do the right thing

People seek authenticity, trust, and openness. Crumbling markets, health scares, and safety problems may create doubt and insecurity, but brands have a responsibility to do the right thing. Brands must be transparent and send a message that they want to help and are helping others. This could take the form of putting more emphasis on ethical sourcing, environmental stewardship, or community involvement. This is the time to be an ethical bedrock and retain the trust of your customers.

5. Involve and engage your customers

Consumers are almost always the ones in control which means brands need to over-communicate their desire to help. They need to acknowledge the hard times consumers are facing, highlight the positive accomplishments of hard-working citizens, and help consumers feel more secure among so much instability.

6. Create optimism

Brand leaders need to take the opportunity to demonstrate that they are trusted advisors who balance realism and optimism without being patronizing. They need to be calm, focused, and try to have some fun along the way.


 Again and again, research has shown that advertising during a recession is good for business, both during and after the recession. But marketing and advertising tactics need to be grounded in trustworthy data, strategically planned, and based on these six key principles.

Advertising and market research are anti-recession tools.

Ready to learn more?

Download our Triple C™ framework for a template that will help you develop strategies and tactics that are beneficial for the consumer, the customer and the company. Or, how we helped Canada Bread reinvigorate consumer love for a declining category and launch a series of innovative new products that was more relevant to consumers.