When tough times hit, marketing is one of the first activities some companies cut.

Is that wise? And is it the right thing to do now — to survive the turbulence of the coronavirus pandemic?

Every company’s situation is different, but I think the answers are ‘rarely’ and ‘yes — but only for some.’

The two ends of the scale

At one end of the scale, if yours is a business which has had been hit hard and even had to close for the time being — a restaurant, hotel, travel or events firm, perhaps — there’s clearly no point in promoting products or services you’re no longer providing.

That’s not to say you should do no communication. You need to explain that you’re temporarily closed, and convince people you’re taking the right steps to weather the storm.

There may be creative ways you can maintain relationships with your customers in the meantime: think of the pubs delivering meals and running virtual quiz nights, venues broadcasting plays and gigs, and the Getty Museum challenge to recreate art masterpieces in your home.

And if business is quiet and you have the financial stability, it’s an ideal time to tackle the marketing improvements you’ve been long-intending – like reviewing your strategy and refreshing your website and collateral.

But, clearly, if your business is in hibernation and under huge financial stress, it may be best — or unavoidable — to freeze your marketing for now, even though that may make it harder to get back to business when restrictions are lifted.

At the other end of the scale, if you’re in groceries, household items, health products, home entertainment or logistics, you may have seen a surge in sales – like Proctor & Gamble, who’ve benefitted from a 6% revenue spike because everyone’s stuck at home doing the cleaning.

In such cases, you probably don’t need to do much marketing to drive demand. But you may need to manage customer expectations, explain changes in the way you now need to operate and ramp up recruitment.

The majority in the middle

Most businesses fall between the two extremes. They’re continuing to trade, but in a suddenly very different environment. And, for most, it’s more important than ever to get their marketing and communications right.

If you’ve changed your services, products or business model to adapt to the circumstances, you need to ensure people understand that and still see you as relevant.

If you’re continuing to provide your products or services but in a tougher market, you’ll need to do more, not less, to get customers to buy from you.

You may also need to reposition your company for the new market – and opportunities – that will emerge as COVID-19 settles down. I’m sure consumer and business behaviour and expectations will permanently change as a result of the upheavals to which we’re all adapting.

Inconvenient dilemma

Here, you may face an inconvenient dilemma: you need to increase your marketing, but you want to minimise your costs.

There’s no easy answer to this. Some will choose to wield the knife to conserve as much cash as possible, even though it’s likely to squeeze their sales further. Some will keep their nerve, while others will be bold and invest more in marketing for the best chance of getting through the crisis and rebounding decisively when the economy starts recovering. You can’t instantly turn your marketing back on like flicking a switch when things start looking up.

What you decide to do ultimately comes down to your outlook – especially how far ahead you set your sights — and your financial standing.

We’re seeing a range of responses across our clients. One has frozen its marketing for good reasons. Some programmes are running at broadly normal levels. Others have markedly stepped up the pace.

More, not less

So, by all means – if it makes sense for your business – stop your marketing and do whatever you must to survive.

But if you’re continuing to trade, don’t cut back as a hasty, knee-jerk reaction. As long as you’re doing the right kind of marketing, now may well be the time to do more, rather than less.