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Journal of Business Research 67 (2014) 27272731

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Journal of Business Research

The impact of economic downturns on marketing


Minna Rollins a,, David Nickell a, Justin Ennis b
a b

University of West Georgia, Department of Marketing and Real Estate, 1600 Maple Street, Carrollton, GA 30118, United States University of West Georgia, Department of Economics, 1600 Maple Street, Carrollton, GA 30118, United States

a r t i c l e

i n f o

a b s t r a c t
The Great Recession of 20082010 affected the global and U.S. economies and its companies more universally than any economic downturn since the Great Depression. This study explores how the Great Recession inuenced the marketing decisions of rms and the resulting long-term effects on marketing within business-to-business companies. Empirical evidence from previous recessions suggests that companies should focus on their customers and increase their marketing efforts during a recession. However, many companies typically slash their marketing budgets during economic downturns. Authors found that during the Great Recession, companies reacted differently than in previous recessions with their marketing responses. Authors conclude their analysis by proposing that the Great Recession will have three long-term effects on marketing in business-to-business companies. 2013 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Article history: Received 1 June 2010 Received in revised form 1 April 2011 Accepted 1 November 2011 Available online 12 April 2013 Keywords: Marketing Recession Global nancial crisis Marketing expenses

1. Introduction Recessions can severely affect the performance and survival of many companies. The economic crisis of 20082010 adversely shaped the global and U.S. economies more universally than any economic downturn since the Great Depression. Often referred to as the Great Recession by the media, most economists agree that the world economy went into recession during 2008 (e.g. Zuckerman, 2010). Furthermore, while most economists conclude that the recession ended in the U.S. during 2009, experts see it as a jobless recovery with a strong likelihood of recurring, commonly referred to as a double-dip recession. The Great Recession affected companies from virtually all industries to some degree. The Pew Research Center's study from June 2010 reports that unemployment or wage and work hour reductions affected more than 55% of adults in the U.S. labor force since the economic downturn began in early 2008. This study explores the effects of the Great Recession on marketing in the United States. Companies' marketing activities often change during recessions (e.g. Kotler & Caslione, 2009; Quelch & Jocz, 2009). For instance, companies often shrink their advertising budgets and expand their direct marketing campaigns and online marketing budgets. In addition, companies shift their focus towards point of purchase and price promotions during recessions (Quelch & Jocz, 2009). Thus, it is crucial to understand how business cycles inuence a company's performance, and what marketing strategies are ultimately successful during an economic downturn (Pearce & Michael, 1997).
The authors thank Matthew Rollins, Salil Talpade, and Susan Hall for their comments. Corresponding author. E-mail addresses: mrollins@westga.edu (M. Rollins), dnickell@westga.edu (D. Nickell), jennis1@my.westga.edu (J. Ennis). 0148-2963/$ see front matter 2013 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jbusres.2013.03.022

Unfortunately, there is very little guidance in the academic literature on how companies should respond to and adapt their marketing strategy during a recessionary period. Moreover, empirical research in this area is sparse (see: Gulati, Nohria, & Wohlgezogen, 2010; Srinivasan, Rangaswamy, & Lilien, 2005). Some scholars suggest that, companies that invest in marketing during a recession will see signicant benets, yet the majority of rms either reduce or re-direct their marketing spending during a recession (Barwise & Styler, 2002; Gulati et al., 2010; Picard, 2001). Piercy, Cravens, and Lane (2010) suggest that the business models of the industrial age have nally become obsolete during the Great Recession. They refer to changes in behavior of customers and suppliers in different markets. Some researchers argued that, strategies that worked in past recessions might not be applicable during (and after) the Great Recession. The purpose of our study is to explore the marketing responses that business-to-business companies have used during the Great Recession, by comparing the marketing literature from previous recessions with how rms are responding in today's economy. This paper continues as follows. The rst section discusses how companies have changed their marketing efforts and investments in light of recent surveys conducted in the eld during the global nancial crisis. Next, we offer insights from our depth interviews with marketing executives. The third section discusses possible long-term effects of the recession on marketing in business-to-business companies. Finally, the fourth section summarizes the paper. 2. Marketing during recession As Srinivasan et al. (2005) note, companies respond a recession in one of two ways, they either invest in marketing and R&D or cut marketing expenses heavily. Kotler and Caslione (2009) remind us that

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great marketers do not just rebound from crises, they continuously reinvent business models and marketing strategies during chaotic times so they can adapt quickly as circumstances in the marketplace change (p. 187). While many marketers argue that companies should focus on learning from their customers and offering superior value in the midst of a recession (e.g. Quelch & Jocz, 2009), many companies end up cutting their marketing budgets during these times. Yet, as evidenced from past recessions, managers who invest in marketing pull their companies through these economic downturns. Recently, Gulati et al. (2010) examined corporate performance during the past three recessions; 19801982; 19901999, and 20002002,and found that companies that cut costs by focusing on operating efciency even as they spend more than rivals on marketing, R&D, and assets are likely to be post-recession winners (Gulati et al., 2010, p. 65). Similarly, during the 20002002 recession, Srinivasan et al. (2005) discovered that companies that view a recession as an opportunity for change have ultimately achieved superior business results even after the recession. 2.1. Marketing during the Great Recession Mattson (2009) points out that the circumstances of the current economic crisis are much different from earlier downturns and crises. He notes that companies and markets are more codependent with each other than they were even a decade ago. The rise of social networking sites and an expansion of internet marketing and mobile commerce have changed how customers search for information as well as how companies market and conduct research. A number of recent surveys from the United States show that the vast majority of B2B companies (and consumer companies) once again reduced their overall marketing budgets during the Great Recession. Gardner's study on marketing spending among high-tech and telecommunication providers reports that more than half of all high-tech and telecom providers cut their marketing budgets in 2009 (Gardner Research, 2009b). Research company IDC had similar ndings among global technology companies: these rms reduced their marketing budgets by an average of 8.3% in 2009 (Maddox, 2010). Finally, according to B2B's 2010 Outlook: Marketing Priorities and Plans survey, in 2009, almost 60% of B2B companies cut their marketing budgets in response to the recession (Maddox, 2009). Cuts in advertising spending were especially severe during the Great Recession. Advertising Age (2009) reports that the bottom line for the drop in advertising spending in the United States is brutally clear: 2009 saw the sharpest percentage decline in ad spending since the Great Depression. A Tradeshow Week survey reported that spending on tradeshows declined in 2009 (Hudges, 2010). Firms' inclinations to reduce marketing spending during this Great Recession are not unique to American businesses. A survey of Australian Marketing Institute in October 2009 revealed that marketing priorities for Australian rms have shifted towards short-term sales because of the slowdown (Wilkinson, 2010). The study also shows that the economic downturn has put an even greater pressure on marketers to be smarter and more innovative (Ibid.). As in previous recessions, some companies continued investing in sales and marketing during the current recession and saw an opportunity to grow their market share and recruit new personnel. For example, large retailers WalMart and Target have both continued their investments in marketing during the recession and, as a result, have attracted new customers (e.g. Mahoney, 2009). In 2009, Constant Contact, an email marketing, online surveying, and event marketing provider, increased its sales and marketing budget by 42%, and consequently, increased its revenue by 48% (Levy, 2010). One of the more signicant changes in marketing during the Great Recession has been the shifting of resources from traditional marketing towards e-marketing. In 2010, the largest planned marketing

budget increase among business-to-business companies is internet marketing and online and ofine direct marketing (Maddox, 2009; Moorman, 2010). In February 2010, the American Marketing Association's CMO survey reported a 12.2% increase in internet or online marketing across industries. In addition, business-to-business companies currently invest more in social media than consumer companies (Moorman, 2010). This is a signicant change in marketing, as business-to-business companies have traditionally focused on sales (e.g. Rust, Moorman, & Bhalla, 2010), and they have slowly adapted social media as part of their marketing activities. For instance, Marcy Shinder, VP of brand management at American Express OPEN and receiver of the top B2B marketer of the year in 2009, believes that social media is a crucial tool for business-to-business marketers. As she puts it, spending time on Twitter, poring through articles on trends was my personal secret weapon in 2009 (Maddox, 2009). Another key change is the use of Customer Relationship Management (CRM). Despite the Great Recession, the amount that rms invested into CRM software had increased worldwide by 12.5% in 2008 (Gardner Research, 2009a). Experts expect the same trend to continue, in part because companies continue investing in core marketing assets such as CRM (Moorman, 2010). In particular, businessto-business companies, both service and product providers, plan to increase their brand building and CRM spending (ibid.). The results of these investments in marketing have paid off for many global brands, as seen by the fact that the value of the world's top 100 brands rose by 4% in 2009 according to the BrandZ Global Brands study (Clark, 2010).

2.2. Insights from eld interviews In this section, the authors draw on information from an exploratory study. Because the circumstances during the Great Recession in 20082009 were different from previous economic downturns and crises (Mattson, 2009), the authors adopted an exploratory research approach. This research design follows the multiple case study approach (Eisenhardt, 1989; Yin, 2002). In order to maximize the utility of information from small samples in case study research, the authors recruited companies based on their differences in terms of company size and industry. The authors met with four companies to discuss the effects of the Great Recession on marketing and their business in general. The sample is small, but the ndings provide valuable insights on marketing during this economic crisis and provide a starting point for a larger empirical study on the topic. The authors conducted interviews with six marketing executives from four companies in four different industries during the summer of 2010. Table 1 summarizes the informants and company's performance during Great Recession. The authors met with the VP of marketing in a large transportation company the founder of an online start-up business, the head of marketing in a large global telecommunications provider, and three executives at a U.S. based advertising agency, the CEO, their VP of New Client Acquisition and the Director of Public Relations. All participants are highly experienced and knowledgeable about the marketing functions in their respective companies as well as marketing in general. All the companies interviewed survived the recession, but they experienced different effects of the Great Recession on their business and marketing. These companies also employed different strategies during recession. Table 2 summarizes the key marketing challenges during the Great Recession; each company's marketing strategy response, and their philosophical approach. The Great Recession has affected each of the four companies in very different ways. Companies A and D, saw the opportunities to reevaluate their marketing and business strategy. Company C's marketing suffered greatly during the recession, and they expect many challenges in the future.

M. Rollins et al. / Journal of Business Research 67 (2014) 27272731 Table 1 Informants and companies. Company A B C D Informant(s) VP of marketing Founder Head of marketing CEO, VP of New Client Acquisition, and Director of Public Relations Size of the company and industry A A A A large transportation company small online start-up business large global telecommunications company medium-sized advertising company Performance during Great Recession

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Better than industry average Struggling; worse than industry average Worse than industry average Successful transformation; better than industry average

As discussed previously, companies that increase their marketing spending during economic downturn have done relatively well during previous recessions (Srinivasan et al., 2005). Company A, the large transportation company, followed this strategy by increasing its marketing investments during the economic downturn. Some examples of these investments include developing Customer Relationship Management, creating customer segment teams to better serve and market to customer segments, and strengthening the collaboration between sales and marketing functions. For Company A, this was an opportunity to reevaluate its marketing. The marketing VP state: We have continued to do the things we needed to do to maintain the business we had in a difcult environment the best we could; recognizing that many of our customers were under pretty significant pressures. But simultaneously what we did was took the opportunity to really rethink what the marketing organization needs to be at our company, and actually invested signicantly in it over the last 1824 months both in terms of identication of the core capabilities that we needed to have resident within the organization and the levels of prociency and expertise that we needed to build up to be a more effective marketing organization. Company A also took advantage of the labor market during the Great Recession, and aggressively recruited new marketing personnel. Prior to our interview, 10% of the personnel at the Company A's marketing department had been with the company less than 6 months. In addition, Company A reviewed their marketing personnel's skills and competencies and developed training to address specically the perceived gaps in marketing, industry, and cultural knowledge. The VP of marketing summarizes the effects of recession on their marketing: So the investments in marketing actually weren't reduced, they were increased to an unprecedented level. A start-up company, Company B, has faced the most difculties during the recession and as a result, has had adapted its original business model the most drastically of the four companies. Recruiting

quality marketing personnel to start-up rms in tough economic times is difcult. One informant explains the problem in hiring: [They say] oh, recession is the best time to start a company because labor is cheaper and people are more spirited well the fact [that] half of their balance sheet getting whacked really messed that up so the timing was off. It is near impossible to get good talent because they're all scared and for a startup So it's really difcult. So you spend a lot of time meeting with people and getting positive feedback but in the end if you can't offer up a competitive value that helps people pay their mortgages you're just not going to get people. Company B also faces challenges with its online-based business due to free online services: So, my marketing problem is conveying that high value, and then bringing it down to the cloud pricing so it doesn't feel like nothing because Facebook is free. In Company C, a large telecommunications company, the marketing team faced a number of challenges during the Great Recession. The respondent from Company C sums up the situation: Many rounds of redundancies and headcount reductions, budgets are continually being cut (training and marketing facing the biggest cuts). Morale is bad. There is no sign that budgets will be increased or restored anytime in the near future. The budget cuts have been underway for some time. The biggest cut came in April of 2009 and budgets have remained at since then. In Company C, the emphasis is on sharing marketing recourses more efciently. For instance, in the past, product, regional, and vertical groups replicated many of the same work and produced the same kinds of events and documents. The informant from Company C states that, the goal is to nd more of these synergies going forward. In addition, she thinks that the gap between marketing and sales diminished during this recession: [in our company,] marketing has now been asked to play a more active role in the sales process and

Table 2 Key marketing challenges and responses. Company A Key marketing challenges - Reevaluation of the business model and marketing strategy for the company - Customers' business was suffering, helping customers through recession - Pricing for an online-based business - Recruiting marketing personnel to a start-up company - Vanishing marketing budget - Low moral - Very little marketing training available Key marketing responses - Reevaluation of marketing strategy; core competences - Somewhat aggressive recruiting of marketing personnel - Evaluation of the skills of marketing personnel; developed new marketing training - Developing Customer Relationship Management - Continuing efforts in recruiting of quality marketing personnel; marketing the company and its business - Sharing marketing resources within a company, nding more synergies - Integrating sales and marketing functions - Gaining efciency: giving more responsibilities to current personnel - Doing more with less - Finding new expertise (social media) and new types of clients Approach Market yourself out of recession

Building your team

Cut costs and hunker down

- Acquiring new client base - Reevaluating, reinventing, and transforming the whole business/company

Transform your business

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my teams are going in and working with sales throughout the entire sales cycle; not just the upfront bit. At Company C, the positive effect of the recession is the increased level of skills and competence within the marketing department. She says, people are forced to learn more and wear more hats. There are very few training opportunities available for marketing personnel; as such, the company conducts some of its employee training online. Company D, a medium-size advertising agency, faced a number of challenges in the changing market place before Great Recession. Overall, informants in Company D viewed the recession and changes in the market place as an opportunity to change and evolve. Before the recession and the collapse of U.S. housing market, most of Company D's clients were large real estate developers. Because of the housing bust, all but of few of these large developers either stopped their advertising or went out of business. This forced the agency to reinvent their business and to nd new customers from different industries. For instance, Company D now educates companies about the use of social media and going so far as to host events on the topic. They adapted to the current economic crisis by reinventing their business; they now specialize in social media. As one of our informants from Company D summarized the situation overall, this has been a fairly successful transformation. 3. Marketing after the Great Recession Historically after a recession, marketing budgets climb back to pre-recession levels (Srinivasan et al., 2005). Researchers suggest that the Great Recession inuenced marketing and the marketplace more fundamentally. As a result, companies must rethink their marketing in order to remain viable (Ariely, 2009; Piercy et al., 2010; Rust et al., 2010). The ndings of this research suggest three long-term effects the current recession will have on business-to-business marketing: 1) greater demand for more analytics and metrics, 2) better integration between sales and marketing functions, and 3) rise of social media in business-to-business marketing. 3.1. Demand for more analytics and metrics in marketing An increased demand for analytics and metrics in marketing is the rst long-term effect that Great Recession has had on marketing. This refers to converting vast amounts of data into knowledge and translating this knowledge into such things as: innovative services and products, novel ways to reach and communicate with customers, and advanced metrics. From these learning experiences, managers expect to ascertain what marketing activities are valuable and useful for each customer segment and each individual customer. Some scholars suggest that business-to-business companies should use this data and knowledge to redirect their attention away from traditional measures, such as revenue and new sales, to customer lifetime value (e.g. Rust et al., 2010). Rust et al. (2010) note that despite large investments in acquiring customer data through systems such as CRM, most companies underutilize what they know about their customers. The recent CMO study by the American Marketing Association emphasizes that companies need help combining customer information into meaningful descriptions (Moorman, 2009). Ravi Parmeswar, Managing Director of Global Consumer and Market reminds us that, (i)t is more about knowing that you are never going to have 100% of the information and that you're not going to mitigate all the risk. The real competency is about taking action and making real time changes as you experience it (Enright, 2010, p. 31). The increased demand for metrics requires business-to-business marketers to acquire new skills. For instance, the participants in this eld study argue that business-to-business marketer's should possess both creative and analytical skills; marketers have to accomplish more with less.

3.2. Better integration between sales and marketing functions Over the past ve to ten years, traditionally sales centered businessto-business marketers have focused on improving their marketing practices through such means as creating brand awareness, developing Key Account Management programs, and improving marketing metrics (e.g. Rust et al., 2010; Sullivan, 2010). Unfortunately, in many businessto-business rms, marketing and sales often operate independently of one another. IBM is one of the few companies with an integrated sales and marketing function to improve the efciency of both functions (Kotler, Rackham, & Krishnaswamy, 2006). Integration of sales and marketing functions can have signicant performance implications, such as sales cycles shortening, market-entry costs falling, and the cost of sales lowering (Ibid). The American Marketing Association's CMO study reports that 42% of respondents said their company would increase their business-tobusiness marketing efforts (American Marketing Association, 2010). Still, those in business-to-business marketing believe that management does not view marketing as an important player (Sullivan, 2010). The conventional view states that marketing should take responsibility for the rst four steps of the typical buying funnel: customer awareness, brand awareness, brand consideration, and brand preference, and then sales function closes the deal and handles follow-up (e.g. Kotler et al., 2006). However, in business-to-business markets, such as the companies in this eld study, believe that sales and marketing should be working more closely together along every step of the buying funnel.

3.3. The rise of social media in business-to-business marketing Business-to-business companies generally lag behind consumer companies when incorporating social media in their marketing practices. In many companies, social media such as Facebook and Twitter began as an interesting marketing experiment but quickly becomes a signicant part of the overall marketing budget (Valentino-DeVries, 2010). Among our informants, Companies A and C had attempted to advance the use social media in their marketing, and view it as a vital part of the business-to-business marketing landscape. Nonetheless, most business-to-business rms are still in a wait-and-see mode, and as of now, they do not proactively engage in social media (Cohen, 2011; Nakano, 2010). Informant from Company A talks about his company's effort on social media: So we need to think about how this is evolving even in the business-to-business space and I don't believe we've cracked that code, I think that's an ongoing effort. So, I mean, obviously the web is something we've more construed for quite a number of years but as it relates to some of these things like: Twitter and Facebook and such, which of those roles and technologies of others be we are still guring out. As it relates to Twitter for example, I mean certainly we've gotten involved in monitoring what's being said and it's clear that Twitter is a wide audience of people that, I guess, nd it gratifying to express themselves as it relates to their experiences of service or their anticipation of service. Company C also expressed an interest towards social media, but they have had very little resources for marketing. Company C has set up a Twitter feed, LinkedIn, Facebook, and a blog so far, but they have not made longer-term plans. This company's situation mirrors many rms, they realize that something is happening with social media but are only dabbling in it, without a true commitment or plan. Company D took advantage of the increasing interest and tentativeness of rms towards social media by establishing themselves as experts in the area. They have developed social media programs for their clients.

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Company D views social media as an important part of marketing in all companies as well as for their own business. They note that companies that rst embrace social media in marketing were small companies; many of them are consumer companies, without an ofcial marketing budget. One of the informants from Company D describes the situation as follows: [These companies] had to create something literally from nothing. However, they view that overall the stage of using social media in marketing is still in its early stages in many companies. 4. Conclusions This paper explores the effects of the Great Recession on marketing through existing literature and eld interviews. Great Recession affected almost all companies and industries around the world. Recent surveys and reports illustrate the draconian cuts in marketing budgets across industries. The recession severely inuenced the marketing spending in business-to-business rms and subsequently forced them to reallocate their marketing investments. This reallocation includes the shift from traditional marketing to online marketing, including social media. Based on the ndings from these eld interviews, one of the key factors that emerged was the rm's ability to quickly adapt to the economic crisis. Companies that successfully adapt can emerge stronger than ever, those that do not will face a Darwinist reality. As Kotler and Caslione (2009) state that, innovation is recession proof. In business-to-business markets, the recession has emphasized the role of marketing. Earlier research shows that companies who continue their marketing efforts during economic downturns tend to become post-recession winners (Srinivasan et al., 2005). Authors propose that the Great Recession will have three long-lasting effects on business-to-business marketing: demand for analytics and metrics, better integration between sales and marketing functions, and a rise in the use of social media. References
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