Email Marketing Strategies for Recessions and Inflation (Ask the OI Experts)


Ask the OI Experts: How can agencies and consultants adjust their marketing strategies for their clients given the uncertainty surrounding the current economic situation in regard to a recession and inflation?


KateBarrettKate Barrett

Owner of eFocus Marketing

Marketing is often one of the first budgets cut in hard times – but this is where brands should be pushing forward and showing their value to their customers and potential customers. As we saw during Covid when many shops didn’t have items available, shoppers changed their behaviour and looked for alternatives; the same is likely true during a recession, with consumers looking for alternatives that make sense financially, as well as meet their needs. And let’s not forget, even when times are tough, sections of the market will still have budget to spend, gifts they want to buy, or perhaps just a little treat for themselves as a pick me up when the world is grey all around.

Email marketing is one of the channels in your marketing toolbox that offers high ROI’s (when implemented intelligently) and a personalised, direct experience with your customers.

They key to an intelligent email marketing strategy in any economic situation, but particularly when going into a recession is to put the customer at the heart of everything you do.

Offers are great, yes, but using them too often can devalue your company image. Instead focus on understanding your customers, helping them and offering the right information (and offers) at the right time. 

1. Learn to love your data

Having an in depth understanding of what data you have in your business, where it is, how it is used and why it’s collected, is imperative to creating a solid email marketing strategy that WORKS!  Whether you’re in a marketing department doing it all for yourselves, or are fortunate enough to have access to a specific data team who can  dig through the wealth of information available to your business, as a marketer YOU need to have an insight into your current data situation, so that you can use it to inform what you do now, and what you are able to do next, to advance your strategy.

Look at data throughout the ‘Data Pyramid’, from information subscribers directly tell you on sign up forms or surveys for example, to behaviour and purchase data, giving direct interest signals for you to follow and learn more about what your subscribers need and respond to.

2. Tailor your content

In addition to understanding your data, you need to know how to best use it to segment and personalise your campaigns to drive increased engagement and revenue. Provide personalised product/content recommendations based on their previous behaviour or purchases, understand what stage of the customer lifecycle they are currently in with you, and how you can help support, guide and inspire them to a conversion; in the right way for them.

3. Add to your automation landscape

The most efficient and well-timed approach is to build this information into automated campaigns triggering around the customer lifecycle. At each stage identify key touchpoints with your brand that can be used to support the customer and move them through to the next stage of their journey. Create alternative workflows, content and even exclude subscribers from certain campaigns to personalise their experience with your brand and email marketing content.

4. Think multi/omni-channel

Email marketing works even better when used in conjunction with your other marketing channels. Consider using your email subscriber list and segments to serve targeted Facebook ads matching your email messaging or trigger SMS (where an opt in has been gained) to follow up messages and drive further engagement.


seanSean Duffy

Email Personalization Consultant, Reignite

The recession is going to be long and tough for brands. Costs will be slashed, and marketing teams will be required to do more with less as the emphasis shifts to survival from growth above everything else.

And that is why this period the email marketing needs to stand up and take the lead. With paid media budgets hit brands will need to extract every last bit of value from their customer base to improve retention and customer lifetime value.

Brands are going to pay attention to the idea that just a 10% increase in retention can double total revenue. Whatever money is left in marketing budgets, the smart choice will be to focus investment on retention channels such as email marketing.

But that means the days of putting up with good revenue with average, batch and blast email marketing are gone.

For too long brands have been sitting comfortable on the nice stream of revenue email brings in compared to their other marketing channels without having to try too hard.

So how do brands adjust their email marketing strategy during these times? What are the options for growing revenue with email?

Option 1 is they can try simply sending more email more often. And that will work to an extent but it’s not going to scale for long and will start fatiguing lists quickly.

The next option is to optimise what is already going out – everything from subject lines testing, send times, copy and content and every A/B test under the sun. But once you’ve done the obvious enhancements the rest will be marginal gains at best, with diminishing returns on each one.

That really only leaves the big one – better personalisation to tailor email activity to each individual customer’s unique taste, behaviour and preferences. Only personalised email content delivers consistent double digit percentage uplifts that are repeatable over time.

What marketers must avoid with their personalisation attempts is focussing on small or niche use cases. Trigger emails have great response but generally a small audience. Cracking your main campaign sends so the products promoted are tailored to customers taste will deliver revenue at a scale that dwarfs any trigger-based activity.

It might have always been thought of as something you’ll get to next quarter, but now tough times are upon us this is the time to get serious with your email marketing and invest in personalisation to help transform customer retention rates.


komal HKomal Helyer 

Fractional CMO

The past few years have been difficult for business owners, marketers and their agencies. From the pandemic, to rising costs, and a looming recession it’s not uncommon for businesses to want to cut marketing costs. And often in times of trouble agencies face customer churn as businesses cut back in external investments. But history has shown that this is not always the best option.

A study from McGraw Hill found that companies that continued to advertise through the recession in the 80’s saw 250% higher sales than their counterparts post-recession. Those who chose to not to market during the economic slump saw an almost 0% market share increase and a minimal rise in sales once the economy bounced back.

But what these businesses need is help. So, whilst it may be very tempting to hold back marketing during a recession, the opposite will have a compounding long term effect on agencies and consultants. Those that are creating value, delivering essential thought leadership and creating strategies that support their target markets will very much prosper when the economy regains traction.

Let’s look at 8 ways agencies and their consultants can excel during a recession

1. Talk to Customers – If there was a word that defined the pandemic for marketers it is the need to be agile, to adapt and move with customer needs. This applies to the recession too. Talk to your customers, how do they need support to get them through troubled waters? Should you add new services to your offer to deliver additional value.

2. Re-think your strategic marketing plan – Go back to the drawing board. Assess your plan with new customer needs in mind. You may need to switch your marketing strategy to more heavily weighted to churn prevention. With revised focus comes a requirement to reassess key marketing KPI’s

3. Win new business – Although it might seem as though there’s no new business out there, there most certainly is! Many businesses may seek to use outsourced services as they close down internal teams, whilst other businesses may invest more heavily in marketing (especially email marketing). There are still many opportunities to win new business in a downturn – don’t miss out!

4. Be a thought leader – What businesses and marketers need in a time of crisis is help. They need assistance in how to navigate choppy waters and expert agencies and consultants are best place to deliver this. Ramp up your thought leadership from guides to webinars and everything in between.

5. Collaborate – Map out complimentary agencies and consultant companies to partner with. Collaborate on content, events and roundtables etc. This will increase reach and add more prospects to your database for you to nurture further

6. Supercharge your email marketing communications – I don’t want to preach to the converted, but this is the time to ramp up your email marketing strategy. Been putting off that nurture campaign or content automations? Well, now’s the time to implement them.

7. Reassess your personas – The pandemic proved that as businesses move to saving costs, they lose key team members. This might mean that the personas you’re currently targeting have left the business. This is the time to understand what those shifts might be and how you should shift your persona definitions, so that you are still delivering value and impact to target market businesses.

8. Outsource marketing leadership – Your agency or consultancy business still needs marketing leadership advice and direction, but cost cutting may mean you can’t invest a full-time internal leader. Look to Fractional CMO’s or Fractional Marketing leaders to give strategic planning expertise, coach internal junior marketers and deliver key insights to ensure your business is on the right path to long term growth.


Elizabeth Jacobi1Elizabeth Jacobi

Owner MochaBear Marketing

The economic landscape is creating a great deal of uncertainty for businesses, consultants, and agencies. In the email marketing world, adapting strategies is nothing new. Whether that be a pandemic, a sudden current event, a business change, or the situation we are facing now of economic uncertainty. This means that we will likely need to adapt our marketing strategies to better assist the companies we support as we head into uncertain times ahead.

I remember the recession of 2008 and the fear that budgets would need to be cut and that we would have to make concessions as our clients were facing very uncertain times. However, the email marketing channel was and remains not only a low-cost channel but one in which you can show a true ROI. As a consultant, I feel my responsibility to help my clients understand how email marketing can be effective during uncertain times and possibly have them adjust their current sending strategy.

I think the need to be flexible is even more critical during times of uncertainty. A company may hire a consultant vs. an employee to save money which means this might be a short-term assignment, or consultants might need to rethink the types of new clients they pick up. Regardless, I believe that consultants and agencies continue to play a vital role. Maybe there is a need for increasing newsletters to allow people to gain email marketing knowledge at no cost or create webinars that give no-cost advice to businesses. 

Regardless of how consultants and agencies adapt their marketing strategies during this time, email marketing will continue to play a vital role for businesses looking to retain and grow loyal customers despite uncertainty.


Profile photo of Alexandra PalauAlexandra Palau

CEO, All About Email Marketing

Right now, inflation is putting a crunch on businesses across the country. And the specter of a potential recession is hanging over every business owner’s head.

As businesses tighten their belts, you may wonder where that leaves you. 

Is it possible for your business to thrive, even during economic hard times? What will it take to weather this storm? And when it’s over, is there any way to end up ahead of where you started before the clouds rolled in?

Yes. Your business can thrive – even in times like this. 

But you may need to adjust your sails a bit.

Here are three ways you can begin building a better, more resilient business!

Reach Out to Past Clients

Few things are as exciting as landing a new client. But you can’t build a steady business on new clients alone. You need people who will come back to you week after week and month after month. 

This is especially true during economic downturns. Most business owners are less likely to take a risk on someone new when their funds are running low. They simply can’t afford to.

But if you already have a base of clients who know you and your work, then you aren’t a risk. 

That’s why times like these offer the perfect opportunity to refine your past-client connection points. If you don’t have one, create an e-mail sequence that reaches out to clients a few weeks after a job, then a month later, and maybe a month after that. Try sending out an e-mail or two that is purely value-adding.

It’s easier to re-engage a past client than to attract a new one.

Make Projects More Cost-Effective

The current state of the economy has most business owners watching their budgets carefully. There’s hesitancy when it comes to any major expense. And marketing costs can quickly add up, especially for bigger projects.

That’s why you may want to offer your clients the ability to break down long-term campaigns and marketing pushes into smaller, more manageable projects. It’s a simple way to make things more cost-effective for your clients – and increase their likelihood of taking you up on your offer.

Target Recession-Proof Industries

Some industries are economically inelastic, meaning their demand doesn’t change much, even during recessions. Healthcare, consumer staples, and basic transportation are all necessities. If you’ve never done so before, now is the perfect time to reach out to businesses in those industries.

You may discover a new niche that’s not only great right now, but which could be a mainstay for you during the next economic boom too.

Don’t let the waves of inflation sink your ship. Instead, use these tips to chart a new course through our troubled economic waters." 

ryanphelanRyan Phelan

Managing Partner, RPE Origin

It’s scary, right? Inflation and recession are scary words, but so was COVID. During COVID, many email agencies and consultants saw a massive increase in bookings because companies knew they could depend on email for its reach and speed to market. While some sectors did decrease substantially, others excelled.

During a contraction in business, marketers turn to email.  We saw that play out during COVID.  Yet, we know that executives don’t understand email at scale. Scale doesn't mean "sending a lot" but the sophistication that goes along with a personal and authentic relationship or message. That takes effort. When the marketing machine must do a fast, hard pivot, that muscle memory is slow to change. 

The solution is investing in companies that can accelerate innovation and business processes or mitigate business loss. As agencies, our message has to shift from “Let us help you implement new programs” to “Let us help you get stuff done," or GSD. GSD is all about meeting the moment and market conditions.

Yet, what that takes is leadership that can see the strategic versus the tactical. Leadership needs to see what’s coming in the market and then adjust to get out ahead of it. 

Most companies were caught off guard on March 12, 2020.  COVID went from “Is it a thing?” to “HOLY COW, IT’S A THING!” But with all the talk about recession and inflation, what I see when I watch the news is a potential cross vertical pull back on ad spend or reallocate it.

What’s important to remember is sticking with solid business fundamentals. These are diversification of business types, but accounting for the ups and downs of new and existing revenue. As a businessperson, I plan for that in our budget process but also in the levers that we can pull to protect revenue and ensure our teams stay employed. That does not change if you’re a consultant, agency or ESP. 

So, my guidance would be that while we have generally seen email thrive in economic conditions like the ones we're facing now, this time might be different. We need to take an agile approach and consider a host of new paths our business could take. That's how you can ensure your business will meet the moment.


Jenna TiffanyJenna Tiffany

Founder and Strategy Director, Let’s Talk Strategy

For all marketing strategies, it is essential to analyze and keep a pulse on the macro and external environments an organization has no control over but can impact their ability to perform, like a recession.

Marketers need to understand the environment in which their business is operating. Analyzing the marketing environment helps marketers understand customer needs and wants and how well-equipped their business is to fulfill these.

Business strengths and weaknesses can also be compared with those of the competition, which gives crucial insight into how the business shapes up against others when meeting customer needs and holding a place in the broader market context.

Organizations that regularly and systematically conduct such analyses often spot trends before others, thus gaining a competitive advantage.

Key questions to ask are:

  • Where is the business now?
  • What is your current scenario? - What's working and not working? What is a strength in the organization and a weakness?
  • What are the environments internally and externally - how are these changing?
  • What's happening inside your organization that could limit or amplify success?

In my book, 'Marketing Strategy ', there are many models that can be used to analyze macro environments, such as PESTLE and new ones, such as COMPETE, to analyze the competition.


Profile photo of Jack WrigleyJack Wrigley

VP of Partnerships at Webbula

We've been through tough economic times before, and it's crucial to remember that email marketing always provides a high ROI.

Email has always been a great marketing tool, but it is especially valuable now because it helps you stay in touch with your customers and remind them of your products or services. In uncertain times like these, it is more important than ever to have a strategy for making transactions via email easy and straightforward.

How would a strategy like this appear? Primarily, make sure every email has value and purpose. Value can manifest in different ways--for example, if you have a retail store, offer holiday discounts before anyone else does. Or perhaps it's an "availability" issue, introducing customers to items that are running low in stock, so they don't miss out. Don't keep your customer in the dark; let them know what you're selling and make it easy for them to buy it. Instead of being vague, use specific details that will grab their attention and lead them straight to what they're looking for. This way, they won't have to browse through an entire department just to find one item on sale.

Leveraging an intent-based email strategy that keeps conversion simple should give you a great chance at converting your emails into actual holiday revenue. 

engin akyurt 7aWvQdR36Y0 unsplash 600Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash