Direct-to-Consumer Marketing During a Recession

Direct-to-Consumer Marketing During a Recession

You’ve no doubt heard the doom and gloom around the economic downturn headed our way. Financial guru and prognosticator Jamie Diamond has been leading the chorus, predicting an almost-certain U.S. recession in the next six to nine months.

We’ve been here before, just a few short years ago. In 2020, the U.S. experienced the worst recession since the Great Depression. You may have blocked this out, but recall that in March 2020, the Federal Reserve lowered fund rates to virtually 0%. The U.S. economy shrunk a record 31.2% in the second quarter after falling 1.5% the previous year, prompting stock markets to plummet.

In April 2020, our country saw 20.5 million jobs disappear, ratcheting the unemployment rate up to 14.7% where it stayed in the double digits for months. All of which compelled the U.S. Congress to come to the rescue with billions of dollars in aid. And while the economy did rebound with a 33.8% growth in the third quarter, it wasn’t enough to fully recover from the tremendous hit it had already taken.

When confronted the threat of another recession, businesses naturally respond by tightening belts and slashing budgets — including their marketing budgets. They certainly did just that during the Great Recession of 2008, when the U.S. ad market declined by 13% as businesses reduced their ad spends. All indications point to companies doing the same this time around.

A new survey from the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) and Ebiquity reports that nearly 30% of the world’s biggest advertisers are planning to cut ad budgets in 2023. We’re already seeing signs of this, with a 4.6% drop < https://www.mediapost.com/publications/article/378942/us-ad-market-falls-for-fourth-consecutive-month.html > in the U.S. advertising marketplace in September compared to the same month last year — rounding out four straight months of decline.

To Cut or Not to Cut

While cutting ad budgets may feel like the safe move to make, research and experience say otherwise. Previous recessions show that companies who reduce their marketing spend during a slump are also likely to see a drop in incremental sales as well as customer acquisition and engagement. Marketers who decide to spend less on advertising must rely on existing customers, in place of reaching new ones.  None of this is good for business — in the short or long-term.

And while marketers may be inclined to slash ad spends significantly during a recession, consumers reduce their spending at a much lower rate. In other words, your customers are still buying products — just not from you. Brands who disappear from view for 12 to 18 months in an attempt to wait out a downturn usually see sustained losses in market share. Once a customer leaves you for another, who’s to say they’ll ever come back?

A Case for Continued Ad Spending

While it may go against every instinct you have, continuing to invest in marketing during a recession can mean the difference between struggling, surviving, and even thriving. In fact, research shows that 60% of advertisers realized a higher ROI by actually spending more during past recessions.

But wait, there’s more. Research done by Harvard Business Review indicates that companies who did not cut their marketing spend, and who even increased it, during a downturn have bounced back with more strength post-recession. And, products that are launched during a recession have a better chance at long-term survival and higher sales revenue.

Believe it or not, recessions present unique opportunities for innovative marketers. This is especially true for direct-to-consumer brands, for a number of reasons. First and foremost, customers want direct-to-consumer products. In fact, 50% of consumers prefer to buy directly from the manufacturer. During the pandemic, 52% of direct-to-consumer brands saw demand for their products soar. The same trend can be expected during a recession.

In our experience, we’ve weathered two recessions as well as the pandemic. In these downturns, we’ve seen direct-to-consumer brands fare well and even grow. Remember that 2020 recession we mentioned earlier? During this time, River Direct clients ran at an average 13% higher profitability compared to the same time frame pre-pandemic. This performance can largely be attributed to the fact that our clients spent on average 34% more on advertising, while running on higher ROI.

Another reason our clients made gains during tough economic times? Simple: Their products we sell on TV actually save people money. Pay less for skin and hair care products, and save on the cost of a salon visit. Purchase cooking equipment and cook at home rather than going out to eat. Stock up on home cleaning products instead of hiring a housecleaner. Invest in exercise equipment and cancel that expensive gym membership. You get the idea.

Your audience is out there, ready and willing to buy your products even — especially — during a recession. How you reach those direct-to-consumer customers in terms of creative messaging and medium will be key. While other marketing firms may focus on digital and omnichannel marketing, there’s a powerful case to made for linear TV, streaming TV, and a convergence of both.

Reduced Ad Rates

Rather than halting your ad spend altogether, consider how best to redirect those funds to get more bang for your bucks — like into TV. When economic downturns cause sales and profits to fall, one of the first things general-rated advertisers slash is their advertising budget. During COVID-19, we saw a wave of general advertisers pull away from linear and streaming TV. When this happens, stations then turn to lower-paying advertisers like, you guessed it, direct-to-consumer brands. Intrepid direct-to-consumer marketers snap up those available slots at lower costs.

At the same time, viewership during COVID-19 soared as socially distanced households hunkered down in front of TVs and screens. As such, direct-to-consumer marketers were also capturing more eyeballs for their spend. While pandemics and recessions may have some differences, we expect to see much of the same opportunities and behaviors should the economic downturn become a reality.

Tracking ROI

In the midst of a recession, you want every cent you spend on marketing to do the most work for you. Linear TV, streaming TV, and converged TV that combines both offer built-in metrics that let you track lead generation and sales to determine ROI. This in turn allows you to focus your precious marketing dollars on programs that are demonstrably working, and eliminate marketing waste.

Direct-to-consumer advertisers know how their commercials are performing, with the ability to see if the rates are low enough and if people are in fact purchasing their products. This measurability is key. Like we’ve always said at River Direct, we have our finger on America’s pulse, and can tell you if customers are buying or not buying.

Mind the Gaps, and Fill Them

As companies cut their marketing budgets, you have a fantastic opportunity to fill the void and boost your market share. Your competitors may very well decide to pull back from linear TV and streaming TV, leaving you perfectly positioned to swoop in and scoop up their customers. With fewer competitors vying for attention, your ads are also likely to stick around longer in consumers’ minds. And once they do have money to spend, they’ll remember you.

Adjust Your Messaging

The success of your direct-to-consumer marketing efforts during a recession will rely heavily on having the right creative and message. People turn to direct-to-consumer products in large part because of their pricing. A cost-savings message becomes especially attractive to discount-seeking consumers during a recession and inflation market.

So be sure to capitalize on that driver, by emphasizing the value of your product. Consider focusing on a cost-savings offer, rather than a branded message, but proceed with caution. Companies will often cut their pricing only to increase prices again to make up for the loss in margins, then yo-yo back and forth between the two. Being consistent versus erratic in your pricing will do more to drive consumer confidence.

Keep Calm and Market On

As the threat of recession looms, remember that this too shall pass. The economy will eventually bounce back, and you’ll want to be well positioned to ride that recovery to increased sales and growth. What you do now with your direct-to-consumer marketing can have a huge impact on how well you weather the downturn, and how well you succeed on the other side of it.

Looking for more tips on building your direct-to-consumer recession-proof strategy? Take a moment to subscribe to The Current newsletter below! 

The Future of QR Codes in Direct-Response Marketing

The Future of QR Codes in Direct-Response Marketing

For over a decade, QR codes have been that small square of random black and white digitized designs you see on everything from signs to product packaging. But with the popularization of smartphone technology in combination with societal changes such as a global pandemic, we are seeing QR codes resurge in popularity and utility amongst consumers. In this article, we will dive into what QR codes are, why we are seeing a recent surge in consumer use, and the future of QR codes in direct-response marketing.

Let’s dive in!

History of the QR Code

The history of QR codes dates back to 1994 when Denso Wave, a member of the Toyota Group, was needing to develop an alternative to the traditional UPC barcodes to streamline the manufacturing process. Though barcodes were useful, their traditional 12 digit UPC numbers limited the number of iterations possible to make across items. Needing an alternative that could carry more information, the QR code was created, storing up to 7000 characters. The new design allowed the ability to transpose information both vertically and horizontally while using the same amount of area as a barcode. So the question still stands, if they were invented in 1994, why are we just now seeing a rise in everyday QR code use?

Long story short, while QR codes have always had great utility for businesses, they did not hold the same utility for consumers until recently. To use the QR codes, you had to first and foremost have the technology to read them. Though QR codes started to pop up on products and signage over the past few decades, the average consumer did not have that technology readily on hand. Additionally, consumers were not knowledgeable about what this funny-looking digital square meant or did. That is, until recently.

Increased Use of QR Codes by Consumers

There have been many factors that have contributed to the recent rise of QR code use by the everyday person. Firstly, the spread and affordability of smartphones aided in the ability for average consumers to use QR code services. Many smartphone developers now have QR code reading preinstalled on the cameras. Not only is this feature conveniently accessible on your phone, a piece of technology many of us constantly have by our side, it also is pre-installed without a customer needing to take any additional action to use. 

The second factor that has impacted its popularity centers around the growth of understanding by the general public. Many innovative services now regularly use QR codes. As these services educated their consumers, QR code know-how became more commonplace. When services like Bird scooters and Citi bikes hit the streets, it taught users to scan and go. Over time, more and more consumer products and services have adopted QR codes within their user experience. 

One of the biggest areas adopting QR codes has been the restaurant industry. Due to the pandemic, restaurants across the country replaced their physical menus with QR codes. This adoption not only has health and safety benefits but also allows businesses more flexibility. In a CNBC article by Amelia Lucas discussing this move by restaurants, Bitly President Raleigh Harbour said that in addition to not needing to clean menus after every table, restaurants are “able to adjust their menu offerings on the fly to account for elements like inflation, fluctuations in food and commodities prices, and other variables.” This is a great example of how QR codes have provided a win-win for customers and businesses. So how can marketers use this technology?

Future of QR Code Technology

In addition to QR codes having utility on e-scooters and restaurant tabletops, media companies and marketers are discovering areas where QR codes can be optimized across their programming and advertisements. Like how tech startups familiarized consumers with scanning QR codes to get a bike or scooter, TV stations are beginning to implement QR codes onto their programming. For example, many TV news stations are now implementing QR codes during their segments to drive users from their TV screens to their websites, apps, and more through their mobile devices.

In his Marketing Dive article, Robert Williams discusses the new movement of leveraging “second screening”, the use of a device such as a smartphone while simultaneously consuming media on another screen such as TV. He notes how “marketers have an opportunity to entice viewers to scan a QR code that appears in a commercial break.” Additionally, this action can be used on longer-form media and has the potential to achieve the similar trackability benefits of 800 numbers, but in a manner that is accessible to younger, more tech-savvy audiences. With consumers familiar with this technology, this resurgence has many companies looking at the various possibilities to leverage this tech to bridge the gaps between media channels. In this omnichannel world, this is a very enticing tool for marketers aiming to communicate and lead consumers through the buying process across platforms.

Final Thoughts

While QR code implementation on television content is still in its early stages, those who adopt this shift and engage with their audiences through this new manner have the opportunity to capture viewers and bring them further down the marketing funnel in a way that is useful, interactive, and trackable. As previously said, QR code technology has the potential to be the bridge between the past and president of direct-response TV, from old-school 800 numbers into the digitally-driven, omnichannel world.

Curious to learn more about how you can implement QR codes in your marketing strategy? River Direct can provide QR code applications to your ads, bringing your TV marketing to the present day. Contact us to learn more!

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The Rating Race – ViacomCBS Partnership with VideoAmp to Challenge Nielsen

The Rating Race – ViacomCBS Partnership with VideoAmp to Challenge Nielsen

It seems like every month, groundbreaking and industry-altering shifts are occurring in the media and advertising world. In last month’s blog, The Future and Fate of Nielsen Ratings, we discussed the changes affecting the industry leading to a need for a more diverse, accurate, and omnichannel measurement system. In that article, we dove into the challenges Nielsen faces and the efforts media giants like NBCUniversal are taking to develop new measurement alternatives to better understand and interpret their audiences. Still, NBCUniversal will not be the only one attempting to create a new measurement system. ViacomCBS has recently announced their deal with the advertising data company, VideoAmp, that aims to change how media measurement is done. In this article, we will dive deeper into what these major players are aiming to do as they pave the way for the future of media measurement.

Status of Nielsen

As a brief recap, Nielsen has long been struggling to adapt their traditional rating system to evolve with the changes in media amongst the rise of digital, streaming, and more. Subsequently, their image to advertisers has been under major scrutiny as agencies and media buyers reexamine the reliability of Nielsen’s data that guides major business decisions. This issue has recently worsened as Nielsen lost its accreditation for local and national TV measurement by the Media Rating Council (MRC) after “the measurement firm undercounted national TV household viewership during the pandemic, sparking pushback from TV networks,” according to an article written by Alison Weissbrot for PRWeek. This move has only energized other companies to search for new alternatives.

ViacomCBS’s Move

With longstanding pushback, media companies are realizing they cannot wait for Nielsen to evolve with the market. This has led to the most recent development by ViacomCBS and their partnership with VideoAmp, an advertising data and software company. According to Wayne Friedman’s MediaPost article, “ViacomCBS, VideoAmp Cut Deal For ‘Alternative Currency’ Measurement,” this partnership aims to create a new “alternative currency” used for measurement. A key differentiator in VidoeAmp’s technology, compared to Nielsen, is its “proprietary data/methodology coming from set-top-box and smart TV Automatic Content Recognition (ACR) data for traditional TV, streaming video and digital media.”

In a multi-channel media landscape, advertisers and media companies are searching for solutions to understand how their content connects through various mediums and consumer touchpoints. While this is still early in emergence, John Halley, COO of Advertising Revenue at ViacomCBS, says that they are predicting many partnerships with marketers across the automotive, insurance, and fast food industries as well as other advertisers who are needing a more evolved audience measurement system.  

Still, the idea of a one-size-fits-all measurement system is likely not in the cards. Halley notes that they are “not saying VideoAmp is replacing Nielsen as [their] primary currency,” but rather, “reimagining of the measurement ecosystem, the capabilities that could be brought to bear.” With this new partnership, ViacomCBS will use data across Nielsen, VideoAmp, and Comscore to interpret and understand their audience and it is likely many will follow suit.

Final Thoughts 

This latest move by ViacomCBS is one of a trend that will likely continue as other major players search for alternative solutions that can measure and grow with consumer behavior. Michael Bürgi, Senior Editor of Media Buying and Planning at Digiday, notes in his article that alternatives must align with this multi-measurement future. He includes commentary by Nancy Larkin, Horizon Media’s Executive Vice President, that highlights the undeniable fact that “too much time is spent by buyers and agencies having to analyze the data.” Furthermore, in addition to measuring data, there must be a standardized and agreed-upon value that these metrics hold.

While it is still too early to ditch Nielsen and jump to a new alternative, ViacomCBS putting its name in the hat is a big step toward the future. At River Direct, we are sure to look at the media landscape and track the moves of today, tomorrow, and beyond to provide multichannel strategies for long-term success. Learn more about River Direct and be sure to follow us across our socials (Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram) as well as subscribe to our newsletter below for the latest updates in the marketing and advertising space.

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The Future of In-Person Trade Shows

The Future of In-Person Trade Shows

It is safe to say that every business and industry has felt the impact of COVID-19 since the pandemic first struck. Like other in-person events, trade shows have had to pivot, adjust, and rethink how business can be operated. From these efforts, we have seen the rise in digital conventions, virtual webinars, and other online alternatives that have attempted to fulfill the connective value trade shows have on business.

As vaccinations become more widespread and businesses begin to enter a new phase, brands and organizers are looking to see what will become of the future of trade shows. In this blog, we will dive into the important role trade shows serve for businesses and agencies, the changes happening with attendee values, and what to consider when entering the new age of trade shows. 

Trade Shows Before the Pandemic

According to Shopify, a trade show is “an event held to bring together members of a particular industry to display, demonstrate, and discuss their latest products and services.” Dating as far back as 3000 BCE, businesses have used trade shows as collective events to facilitate commerce, educate consumers, and act as a hub for commercial and cultural exchange. The history of modern trade shows is one that, despite changing technology through time, has evolved and adapted in tandem with the business world.

Moving away from its origins simply focused on the transactional sale of goods, trade shows have become hubs for networking and connection. While the internet can digitally connect people across the globe, trade shows are one of the unique times when major players in specific markets come together face-to-face to showcase the latest innovations and share their products and offerings to the world. Whether you are a business looking for exposure or a distributor looking for your next client, trade shows bring together like-minded people under one roof for a chance to connect. 

Still, everything has a tradeoff. In exchange for attending these magnetic events, they do come at a cost. From the ticket price of an event pass to the costs of travel and time, these are all valuable things to consider now more than ever. In a report by FTI Consulting analyzing sentiments around the post-pandemic trade show industry, 58% of respondents noted that their trade show budget had decreased compared to pre-COVID levels. While this is unsurprising, it is notable that when asked about their predictions for budgets in a post-lockdown world, “46% said there was an intent to increase their budget above pre-pandemic levels.” This is a promising outlook that notes respondent’s belief that there still is great value in in-person trade shows moving forward. 

The Future of Trade Shows

Like many uncertainties today, the future of in-person trade shows is still in the air. Nevertheless, as vaccinations reduce the risk at in-person events, businesses are beginning to ease their way back into the trade show circuit.

While businesses are looking to get back into trade shows, attendee priorities have shifted with the changes in the world. According to the report, the top trade show objectives for smaller companies were networking, selling products/services, and showcasing products/services (in that order). Networking and selling products/services both have grown in post-pandemic importance while showcasing products and services has decreased in importance. For larger companies, the top three objectives were building brand awareness, networking, and showcasing products/services. With bigger companies, building brand awareness and networking have increased in importance in contrast to the decrease of importance with showcasing products/services. As a business reevaluates whether attending a trade show is worth the cost, it is important to understand the shift in priorities based on the needs of your business.

Still, commercial businesses are not the only attendees of trade shows. Additionally, these changes also impact agencies and other companies looking to connect and partner with vendors and brands. As the needs of businesses change, so will trade show attendance. Agencies and other third parties must reevaluate if the same trade shows they were attending pre-pandemic offer the same value and clientele that they aim to connect with today. Overall, as companies reenter the trade show world, they must be aware of the cultural shifts that may affect their bottom line.

Here is a quick checklist of questions to ask yourself when considering coming back to the trade show circuit:

  1. Is this tradeshow still worth the investment for your brand or agency? While certain trade shows may have been beneficial historically, do they still offer the same value given the shifts in attendee sentiment?
  2. What are the safety guidelines? This goes without saying, but it is more crucial than ever to understand and follow the safety guidelines set by event organizers. Additionally, during a pandemic, a trade show’s safety guidelines alone can be a big asset or determinant for attending.
  3. How can you take advantage of the moment? Having face-to-face interactions in today’s world has much more meaning and value than it did pre-pandemic. Going into these events, what are ways you can use this time to set your business or agency apart and create those connections and partnerships?

Final Thoughts

While the future is still uncertain, the new normal is being forged as we speak. Trade shows have reemerged and are ready to serve their purpose: to connect. Still, we must not forget the large cultural and industry changes that will impact the industry. Those who adjust and adapt to the changing environment will be the ones who are able to make the most of the new trade show world. 

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Amazon’s Latest Marketing Tool to Help Third-Party Sellers

Amazon’s Latest Marketing Tool to Help Third-Party Sellers

Amidst the shifts by companies like Apple and Facebook toward preserving consumer privacy online, Amazon has made a move that has captivated e-commerce companies and marketers alike. In our previous blog, How Will Apple iOS 14 Change Digital Advertising, we discussed Apple’s shift away from default internet cookie monitoring toward engaging online users in giving consent for web-tracking. This major shift has forced big online players like Facebook to rethink how consumers can be identified, analyzed, and marketed. Similarly, these shifts have made marketers have to reconsider how they can reach specific audiences with targeted messaging.

On April 24th, 2021, days before Apple launched the notoriously awaited iOS 14.5 update regulating data tracking consent across its interface, CNBC first reported Amazon’s latest move to grant its third-party sellers the capability of marketing directly to the inboxes of their customers. Welcome Amazon’s “Manage Your Customer Engagement” tool. In this article, we’ll dive into what Amazon’s new tool is, why it’s significant, and how this affects both marketers and brands engaged in the ever-changing e-commerce space. 

Amazon’s “Manage Your Customer Engagement” Tool

For quite some time, Amazon has been resolute in its efforts to prohibit third-party merchants from excessive contact with their consumers for solicitation. Aside from matters such as communicating order status and reviews, communication has remained fairly minimal from third-party Amazon sellers. All of that seems to be changing with Amazon’s new “Manage Your Customer Engagement” feature.

In short, this new feature allows third-party sellers that are members of Amazon’s Brand Registry to establish a social-media-like following of consenting customers who will receive email promotions directly from the business. These promotions include anything from new product announcements to the latest deals and offers. Think of it as email marketing via Amazon. This new feature allows a seller to market directly to Amazon customers who “follow” their brand, similar to the consented following of accounts on social media.

Why This Matters

This move by Amazon is said to aim at increasing retention, building relationships, and driving engagement. Key benefits of the “Manage Your Customer Engagement” tool include: 

  • Allowing direct relationship communication between sellers and customers
  • Granting greater ability to announce new promotions and products
  • Allowing consumers the ability to follow their favorite stores and establish brand loyalty

As previously mentioned, the post-cookie digital shift has made understanding consumer behavior more transparent for the user but harder to track for the business. In a move away from cookies, companies and marketers are needing to find new ways to gain insights into their audiences. Fostering direct, first-party relationships between consumers and brands lays the foundation for transparent, information-rich, and long-term potential as brands seek new ways to build authentic customer loyalty. Amazon’s latest tool appears to be a move toward facilitating this shift.

According to CNBC’s article, an Amazon spokesperson told CNBC that it is “committed to serving our shoppers by helping them engage with their favorite brands. With Manage Your Customer Engagement, brands will be able to initiate email campaigns about new product announcements and offers that Amazon will send to shoppers who choose to follow the brand.”

What About Consumer Privacy?

We must not forget that consumer trends show a more negative view of data collection by companies. Despite the new ways of contacting customers, Amazon’s new feature will continue to keep shoppers’ contact information private from the seller. According to the CNBC article, “Shoppers’ contact information will continue to remain private. Amazon will give companies aggregate data when they use the tool that shows them how many emails will go out when they decide to share marketing campaigns with their followers.”

For eCommerce Companies

Understanding the changes to the digital landscape is paramount for sellers looking to find the balance between where their audience is and where their brand is best able to communicate effectively and authentically. As the industry moves away from reliance on aggregated detailed data banks, companies will need to internally establish, utilize, and nurture their customer databases since that is where they will find the valuable, rich, and accurate understanding of their buyer. All of this better informs a company of the ways in which it can reach and interact with customers to grow long-term success. 

Final Thoughts

Amazon’s move toward providing CRM tools like “Manage Your Customer Engagement” is beneficial in allowing their sellers greater ability to foster long-term consumer relationships. While companies must not forget to maintain transparency in collecting data of their customers, this moment offers companies a creative opportunity to expand their unique in-house customer knowledge. As we are embarking on the newly implemented cookie-consent era on platforms like iOS and Facebook, it will be interesting to see how tools like this will alter the business-consumer relationship. 

Want to implement Amazon’s latest tool into your brand’s Amazon account? Contact us to see how River Direct can assist in advertising your brand and scaling your business. To get our latest blogs straight to your inbox, subscribe to our newsletter below and follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram for more on the latest trends and news around marketing and advertising!

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