Marketing in a Downturn: A Private Equity Guide to Thrive

Understanding the Economic Landscape

Like anyone else, it’s crucial for private equity marketers to adjust their strategies and operations during tough economic times. But, while a downturn will undoubtedly test your sales and marketing teams, the impact can be softened by implementing some time-tested strategies.

Start by reading the economic tea leaves, so you can anticipate the downturn. Keep an eye on trends like the Consumer Pricing Index and the Consumer Confidence Index. They’ll give you historic context on what happened last time there was a downturn. This context will help you see into the consumer’s mind and predict when they might spend less money.

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) measures the average prices of different consumer goods and services. These include transportation, food, and medical care. It is calculated by taking price changes for each item in the predetermined basket of goods and averaging them.

CPI is commonly used in economic studies to adjust salaries, pensions, and social security benefits for inflation. It is also used to track price changes in contracts and leases. This is a crucial tool for understanding the purchasing power of consumers and the overall health of the economy.


A consumer goes grocery shopping in an economic downturn.


The Consumer Sentiment Report is also known as the Consumer Confidence Index (CCI) or Consumer Sentiment Index (CSI). It’s a measure of the prevailing consumer attitudes, sentiments, and expectations regarding the state of the economy. It’s typically based on surveys conducted among a representative sample of households.

Economists consider consumer sentiment an important economic indicator because consumer spending significantly drives the economy. High consumer confidence tends to lead to increased spending, investment, and economic growth. Low confidence can have the opposite effect.


Proactive Measures for Marketing in a Downturn

Once you know a downturn is imminent, it’s time to act. Like they say, “The best time to fix a leaky roof is on a sunny day”. Act quickly, and enact a few key mitigation measures to ensure portfolio company growth. Below are some key strategies to consider.

Strengthen Customer Relationships

Your CRM system is your best source of renewable revenue. Focus on retaining existing customers who are more likely to continue spending with a familiar brand. Implement loyalty or reward programs, offer excellent customer service, and personalize your communication. On top of repeat purchases, customer loyalty often leads to referrals, as well.


Woman sees targeted marketing on her phone


Targeted Marketing

Double down on your ideal customer personas. Tailor your marketing messages and offerings to their specific needs and challenges during an economic downturn.

Win-Back Campaigns

Reconnect with past customers who may have stopped using your product or service. Consider targeted campaigns with special incentives or promotions to win them back.

Content Marketing for Education

Create informative content for your target audience. Address their pain points, and help them navigate challenges they might face in the economic climate.

Shift from Aspirational to Empathetic

Adjust the tone of your marketing messages to be more empathetic and understanding of the economic challenges customers are facing. Focus on how your product or service can help them save money, solve problems, or improve their lives in practical ways.


A customer opens a promotional offer email


Highlight Affordability

During economic downturns, price becomes a top concern for consumers and directly influences their behavior. Emphasize the affordability and value proposition of your product or service. Promote special offers, discounts, or flexible pricing options.

Target the Right Audience at the Right Time

This sounds like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised how much money is wasted off-season. By understanding seasonal trends in your industry and customer behavior, you can allocate your marketing budget strategically.

You should focus your efforts during periods of peak demand and potentially reduce spending during slower times. This targeted, data-driven approach can lead to a higher return on investment (ROI) for your campaigns long term.

Explore and Negotiate Vendor Efficiencies

A down economy doesn’t just impact your business. It impacts your vendor sales and pricing, as well. When marketers spend less, media vendors have extra ad space. This means prices may be lower, giving you a good deal.

Work with your marketing agency to renegotiate your media contracts to match the anticipated downturn in your revenues. This type of marketing due diligence will lower your advertising cost and bolster your growth strategy.


A data scientist measuring and optimizing campaigns


Track and Analyze Data Ruthlessly

In a down economy, every marketing dollar counts. Closely monitor campaign performance and metrics to identify what’s working and what’s not. Optimize your campaigns when possible. Allocate resources to channels and digital marketing tactics that deliver the highest ROI.

Align and Connect Sales to Marketing

The best way to improve profitability is to make your current funds more effective. If you can identify the “leak” points of sales conversion, you can improve your ROI. Optimize website conversion rates, call center conversion rates, and, of course, sale conversion rates.  

And most importantly, make sure your marketing and messaging changes are clearly communicated to your sales team. Tight communication between marketing and sales makes sure everyone is rowing in the same direction. Your message should be consistent through every brand touchpoint, from the website to sales conversations. 


A marketing employee in a meeting


Website Conversion Rates

Work with your website provider to implement UI/UX studies to identify where consumers are abandoning your site. By increasing your online conversion rates, you can make more money without having to spend extra.

Call Center Efficiencies

Your call center is the first “sales person” where you can lose a potential customer. It’s the first friction point. Monitor the hold times and abandonment rate to find areas of operational improvement. 

By lowering your hold times, you will lower your abandonment rate. That will boost your lead volume and revenue returns.

Sales Training

Sales training should always be monitored, no matter the economic state. But there is no more important time to ensure your team is performing at a high level than during a downturn.

Adapting your sales training to match the environment the sales team is operating in is critical. Understanding where customers struggle in the sales process helps your sales team address concerns and increase sales success. Adjust your message to fit the economy, and focus on gaining trust and security with your audience.


A marketing employee smiles in a conference room


Conclusion: Survive and Thrive

Navigating a down economy as a private equity firm requires a proactive, strategic approach. You should leverage both deep consumer insights and agile marketing tactics.

Start by anticipating economic shifts through consistent monitoring of key indicators (CPI and CCI). That way, you can prepare and adapt swiftly.

PE firms can then support their portfolio companies in navigating obstacles and leveraging emerging opportunities when a downturn approaches. Strengthening customer relationships, targeting your marketing efforts wisely, and optimizing operational efficiencies are essential. Focus on adapting your messaging to resonate with the current economic climate. Prioritize building trust and security with your target audience.

Staying on top of those strategies will help you maintain profitability and position your business for sustained success. Remember, resilience in a down economy isn’t just about surviving. It’s about finding innovative ways to thrive and emerge even stronger.


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