Recession-Proof Marketing: Five Tips For Your Business To Ride The Tsunami Caused By The COVID-19 Crisis Businesses are bracing for impact: some will get wiped out, some will have the surf of their lifetime. Like riding a wave, it all comes down to how you catch it- or in this case, how it catches you.

By Nelio Leone Originally published

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"We're safe. It won't happen to us." When I first heard about the coronavirus, I was pretty sure it would stay confined to some remote areas. I was sure it would never impact me or anyone I know directly.

But then the wave rose, which led to people starting to ransack supermarkets for toilet paper. Life started to feel like an episode of Black Mirror gone terribly, terribly wrong.

This crisis is a monster wave. No one could ever see it coming. And it will cost the world economy approximately three trillion dollars.

Businesses are bracing for impact: some will get wiped out, some will have the surf of their lifetime. Like riding a wave, it all comes down to how you catch it- or in this case, how it catches you.


Many companies like Airbnb, Uber, and Whatsapp started during an economic downturn. As such, everyone is wondering who will come out strong out of this one?

The intuitive answer is "e-commerce." Or "All you need to do is to go online." However, it's not that obvious, unfortunately.

According to ProfitWell, business-to-consumer (B2C) and direct-to-consumer (DTC) enterprises are being massively hit. After all, being online doesn't necessarily solve an underlying problem: people are clinging to cash, as no one really knows how long it will last.

Let's take a look at business-to-business. In the last 24 months, especially software-as-a-service (Saas) businesses, exploded. Today, that exponential growth has flattened out.

Uber suggest gives us an interesting perspective per industry (conversions = sales):

These stats make it clear that being in e-commerce doesn't guarantee success. During a crisis, people tend to stick to basic needs like food, health, pharma, and media (entertainment and news).

But stay with me. Things get more interesting when we look at traffic growth. Traffic growth gives us a clear sense of where eyeballs are going. In modern marketing, attention (a.k.a eyeballs) is the real currency. And the eyeballs all go to websites in financial advice, entertainment, and news.

Related: Four Ways To Ensure Your Company Will Survive A Market Downturn

In short, this is what these two graphs tell us: people are in "browsing mode," not in "buying mode."


Social Fulcrum data on social media advertising for B2C gives another piece of the puzzle. Customer acquisition cost (CAC) is up by 45%, while cost per mille (CPMs) are down by 29%.

What does that mean? The increase in CAC means that acquiring paying customers will now cost +45% more than pre COVID-19. And venture vapitalists (the guys paying for this "tech startup" party") are not willing to "burn" cash anymore.

So, that leaves you with less access to capital, and more cost to acquire. But there is also some very, very good news. The decrease of CPMs means that advertising platforms (for example, Instagram) are charging 29% less to show ads.

So, now we have a clear picture. People spend a lot more time on social media. They are not willing to buy (except food and meds), they want to be entertained for free, and in the middle of all that, ad platforms are charging you less to show up on people's feeds.

This is a fertile ground for the golden grail of marketing: underpriced attention. But things get even more intriguing. According to Statista, because of COVID-19, social media consumption increased by +40%, yet the increase in content created and uploaded has only increased by +14%.

That means there are increasingly way more people listening than people talking. So, if your brand has anything, but really anything to say, then, say it today!

But, remember: you are not allowed to sell.


Okay, enough geeking out on data. Now, let's see how we can leverage these insights.

Tip #1: Make sure your brand is browsable

Companies who will win big out of this crisis are those focusing all their efforts on building a "browsable" brand- not brands that want to sell, but ones that want attention.

Tip #2: Get your users to build a habit

There is a common principle that states it takes between 21 and 66 days to develop a habit. After 21, 35, or 66 days, users will feel they are missing something when they don't interact with it.

Habits are a marketer's wet dream:

- They override rational and conscious decision-making

- They build retention and life-time value

- They are hard to break

If you are a marketer or founder your most important question today is: how can I induce my target audience to get into a habit around my brand or product?

Tip #3: Build audiences

Marketing produces only one type of asset: targeted audiences. What does that mean? First, you build an audience. Then, you start selling.

In other words, building an audience today, during this whole COVID-19 pandemic when people are bored at home, is much easier than it was before. Provide free value to those people out there, and get them to subscribe to your email list in exchange- then, in 3-6 months, you go for the ask.

The outcome? It is very practical: an excel sheet with people's first name, last name, phone number, and email. The more you grow that list now, the bigger the potential buying audience will be in the future.

Tip #4: Obsess about churn

Okay, by now, you probably got the drill. But some might ask: "I've got three months of runway. If I don't get cash in, my business will shut its doors 90 days from now. Why are we even talking about content??"

I agree. Retention is the new acquisition. But high churn rates will bleed out your business.

Managing churn means getting super close to your customers. Call them. Make a list of VIP customers, call 10-50 customers a day, and ask them how this crisis is impacting them.

If you're the founder or head of growth, trust me, they'll appreciate you taking the time to call them and show you care. Try to understand how you can support them through these trying times.

This increases the attachment to the brand on the customer side, and it boosts your customer-centricity. You'll get super valuable insights from these calls that will help you to:

- Build super relevant content for similar audiences

- Get a pulse of how the market is shifting

- Increase top-of-mind awareness

Follow up with automated messages- then, make an offer. Spend hours, even days if needed, on the phone with customers.

Tip #5: Time to partner up

Entrepreneurs tend to be insular- it's now time to break the silo! Get out there.

This crisis is unprecedented, so instead of a tweet saying "amashing it even during COVID-19" just to fake-it-until-you-make-it, reach out to other founders.

We are all in the same boat. So, now, it's time to partner up to find common solutions.

If you had a dream partner that was inaccessible in the past, now that same partnership might not be a forbidden dream anymore.

Based on the "churn calls" you made to your customers, by now, you should have a clear understanding of their pains. If you are unable to alleviate or address that pain, other companies can. Help them solve your customers' problems, while you solve theirs.

You might not have another chance to get a key partnership for so cheap in the future- the time is now!


In Mandarin, the word for crisis is a synonym for opportunity. Whether it's capitalizing on underpriced attention, building massive audiences, getting closer to your customers, or building key partnerships, the crisis is indeed offering massive marketing opportunities.

Surf or get wiped out- either way, the wave is coming. Game on! Time to ride the tsunami.

Related: What Entrepreneurs Should Keep In Mind As They Navigate Their Startups Through The COVID-19 Crisis

Wavy Line
Nelio Leone

Founder and CEO, Urban Monks

Nelio Leone is the founder and chief executive officer of Urban Monks, a growth marketing agency headquartered in Dubai dedicated to building awesome brands. Nelio has been a growth marketer for nearly a decade, and he has a passion for building edgy brands with digital flair. He discovered this passion during his time at Careem, where he was the Director of Brand and Organic Growth, and one of the company’s first 30 employees. Nelio has also held roles at Washmen, L’Oreal, and Chanel. He speaks six languages, and even learned Mandarin by hacking through it in the back seats of cabs.

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