3 Ways Marketing Needs to Pivot in a Recession

With a recession on the minds of consumers, executives at banks and credit unions might be tempted to cut back on marketing investments. But the opportunity for outsize gains is there for those who are willing to pivot instead. Rather than doing less marketing, try new marketing tactics that strengthen connections with consumers in these uncertain times. Lean into these three trends —unbundling, personalized experiences and new technology — to get started.

Fears of a recession — which have loomed large in recent years — have now evolved into expectations of one. A July 2022 McKinsey Consumer Pulse survey indicated that 30% of consumers were bracing for not just a recession but “one of the worst recessions we have seen” — a significant increase in this grim expectation over 2021 (18%) and 2020 (14%).

For bank and credit union marketers, acknowledging the economic climate is key. The challenge is to adjust messaging to reassure and educate consumers, while still capitalizing on the positives. Brands that start their communications from a position of transparency and helpfulness and then bake this into every touchpoint across the user experience are the ones that consumers will see as appealing and trustworthy.

Credit Karma offers an example of tone and messaging that is well aligned to the moment. The personal finance fintech, which is owned by Intuit, speaks to consumers like they’re old friends. The messaging is conversational but honest — never condescending or sugarcoated — and it focuses on how consumers are personally affected by what’s happening in finance; for an example, look no further than Credit Karma’s customer-facing website, full of friendly guidance. This straightforward approach is a departure from financial marketing’s traditionally buttoned up and reserved approach and is especially appealing to younger audiences.

Others aiming to connect with consumers at a time when they may be feeling anxious about their finances would benefit from a similar approach.

A Tale of Two Percentages:


  • 30%: The share of consumers bracing for “one of the worst recessions we have seen.”
  • 60%: The share of brands that increased their media investment during the last recession and saw ROI improvements.

Some banks and credit unions pull back or limit marketing campaigns when a recession looms, but those that instead make themselves a resource to guide consumers through tough times have a lot to gain.

Research shows that the return on investment can be even greater than during sunnier periods. In fact, “60% of brands that increased their media investment during the last recession saw ROI improvements” while “those who slashed spending risked losing 15% of their business to competitors who boosted theirs,” according to research from Analytics Partners.

The events of recent years have already brought disruption to financial marketers and changed consumer expectations. By leaning into emerging trends such as unbundling, personalized experiences, and technology, banks and credit unions can continue to foster new opportunities to connect with consumers despite the uncertainty of the times.

Read more: How to Protect Your Marketing Budget from Cuts in a Recession

Unbundling: Why It’s a Strategic Imperative

Brand loyalty from consumers is challenging to earn, to put it mildly, and the competition for share of mind and wallet has only grown in recent years. One key to success for lenders is to make sure they offer a variety of products and services that are flexible, modern, and timely.

Flexibility is essential, because offerings that feel even remotely restrictive, or that require consumers to accept unwanted services, will have them looking for other options. People are more willing to work with multiple vendors to secure exactly the services they’re looking for than commit to unnecessary features. From a marketing perspective, this means meeting consumers where they are and featuring the services they’re looking for right in that moment.

Give 'Em Exactly What They Want:

Lenders who offer à la carte services — and invest to market them properly — will have a greater chance of attracting consumers.

Case in point: My Baby Boomer parents have used one and only one bank for all of their financial needs. It is simply “their bank.” I, however, bank with a local credit union; financed my house through U.S. Bank; keep my savings in a Capitol One high-yield account; and maintain my retirement account through the payroll services company ADP. I have tapped various brands to find the ones that offered the best rates and features for my needs.

There was a time when banks were themselves the resource to guide consumers through these choices. But consumers today can discover a wide range of options for themselves online. Because consumers in general choose to research and select the individual services that suit them best, financial marketers would do best to met them with unbundled services that cater to their varied needs.

While unbundling has been an emerging trend since the pandemic began, its popularity will continue to grow if a recession becomes a reality, for the same reasons that drove its popularity in the first place: Unbundling allows consumers the flexibility and freedom to get exactly the support they need, when they need it.

Lenders who offer à la carte services — and invest to market them properly — will have a greater chance of attracting consumers. And if you’re not sure where to start making these strategic decisions, the answer is likely in your marketing data.

Read more: Where Banks Get Customers Wrong: Branches and Unbundling

Personalized Experiences: the Opportunity to Offer Value

Personalizing consumer experiences is a natural follow-on to unbundling. It’s no secret that the lines between online and offline engagement are blending, and consumers are increasingly seeking an “embedded financial experience” that’s tailored to their preferences. The savviest financial marketers will pursue opportunities that bring personalization to the consumer experience at evey touchpoint.

As the clouds of recession gather, financial marketers should be asking themselves how they are driving a user-centric experience to connect with current and potential customers. How are they building on those connections to highlight additional areas of opportunity? The lenders who will fare best in these times will be the ones who work closely with their marketing teams to anticipate the real human needs that arise in a consumer’s journey to selecting a service — those that offer not just solutions but also value.

Redfin is doing a great job at this right now by empowering its realtors to serve as resources for people in the market for a house. I have loyally followed my Redfin realtor’s newsletter for ages, and I always benefit from his insightful, expert perspectives on the process of purchasing a new property. His content is relevant and incredibly useful for the full purchasing journey. He’s not making a sale off each newsletter he sends out, but he is demonstrating his expertise, building trust, and remaining top of mind for future buyers. When I’m ready for my next home purchase, this realtor will be my go-to.

In my experience, the most powerful wins for lenders result from a channel- and solutions-agnostic mindset focused on finding and amplifying the greatest areas of marketing opportunity. Again, follow the data to reveal the opportunities for optimal marketing outreach.

Read More: Banks Must Offer Personalized Insights Despite Economic Fears

Tech Advances Fuel New Lending Opportunities

Traditional mortgage lending is a process that involves heavy interaction between consumers and lenders, but the pandemic catalyzed changes in this process. Limits to in-person interaction and the hyper-fast-paced mortgage market of 2020-2021 completely reset consumer expectations about what this process should look like.

Many of the solutions that emerged during the pandemic, such as digital lending, web-based customer service, and faster turnaround times continue to be popular with consumers. They are also an ongoing bane for loan brokers.

To keep up, lenders will need to meet consumers halfway by tapping into technology that offers more flexible and meaningful customer touchpoints. This approach is fueled by targeted and clear digital-marketing outreach.

As people try to “recession proof” their budgets, effective emerging trends include “buy now, pay later” options and payment installments upfront. Not only do these alternatives provide consumers with immediate choices and solutions; they also give lenders the means to track emerging trends in spending behavior, which can and should inform marketing tactics.

Read More: How Inflation Is Reshaping Bank Marketing Strategies

A Recession Favors Agile Lenders that Adapt

Looming threats of recession may have the financial industry on edge, but as McKinsey & Co. put it, “companies that make bold moves during uncertain times generate greater returns in future business cycles.”

The present day is no exception. While reducing the marketing budget is an understandable instinct, the much more effective alternative for financial marketers is to pivot to creative solutions that meet consumers where their needs are.

The entire financial services industry has already experienced significant change in the wake of the pandemic, and as we look ahead, the innovative marketing tactics of those times now offer options and opportunities for lenders that are willing to adapt the way they reach consumers.

About the author:
Devon Craig, Quad’s head of product marketing, works with banking clients on advertising, digital innovation and brand engagement. She has more than a decade of experience cultivating impact for brands as diverse as lululemon, Spotify and Ford.

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