When a recession hits, impulse or panic hits business owners, leading to irrational business decisions. Here’s a mini survival guide.

 The times, they are a-frightening. Financial markets are in turmoil, trade wars and geopolitical events like Brexit threaten a major disruption in the global economy. Forbes is putting out survival guides for entrepreneurs.

The R-word – Recession – is on everybody’s lips.

And what happens in a recession? What’s the first casualty of the slowdown in economic activity? Advertising and marketing budgets.

Now, budget decisions are of course extremely company-specific. I certainly can’t decide on your behalf whether you should cut your marketing budget or not. But what I can do is offer friendly advice as to how you can market your interior design business in a recession. Or, in other words, how you can ‘recession-proof’ the marketing of your interior design business. And so, without further ado, here are the top 5 ways of marketing your interior design business in a recession.

1. Don’t Panic

In a recession, it’s very likely an interior design business will face

  • Drying up of new leads, that is, fewer business inquiries come in
  • Even existing customers scale down their commitments or defer projects

Both of which mean less cash coming into the business. It’s natural at this stage to panic and take arbitrary decisions.


While this bit of advice might sound frivolous when you’re relaxed, trust me, every little bit of encouragement helps when you’re actually facing a recession.

So, don’t panic.


2. Think In Terms Of Efficiency



You know, when I was writing this, I thought of labelling this point as ‘Make your budget smarter, not smaller’. And immediately I realized that it would have been a mistake. If revenues have shrunk, you may more or less be forced to make spending cuts. But the point is that you should not cut your marketing budget without thinking through it first. Reducing marketing budgets can do both short and long term damage to your business. And this is especially true for an interior design business. Why?

Well, in interior design and decor, customers and leads don’t come in every day with fresh orders, like they would in a grocery business, right?

A typical interior design customer acquisition would involve

  • An initial consultation
  • Follow-up meetings
  • Preparation and presentation of your design model
  • Alterations to the model, if the customer wants
  • Agreement over a timeline and budget
  • Signing of a contract

And the lead can withdraw at any of these stages.

This means, marketing an interior design business needs to keep focused on generating leads. And this is all the more true during a recession when there’s a greater chance of customers withdrawing or deferring their projects. Now you may ask, this all sounds good in theory but what does it mean in practice to think about focusing on efficiency?

Well, one way of marketing an interior design business is to have a stall at design an decor exhibitions and trade shows. If there’s a recession, the chances of people making a discretionary spending decision at a trade show is lower, right?

So, you can curtail the expenses on that, and refocus that investment and energy on your SEO efforts, trying to get in front of specific online queries, which are more likely to convert into customer acquisition. This is one example of how interior design marketing in a recession differs from marketing your interior design business in general.

Keep this example in mind; I will refer back to it in a while.

3. Don’t Get Misguided By The ‘lag’

As an entrepreneur, you probably know that most kinds of marketing take time to show results. Whether you’re handing out business cards at a trade show or investing in SEO (meaning whether it’s offline marketing or online), there will always be a ‘time lag’ between the time you conduct/start the marketing effort. Well, it follows that any adverse effect of changes in your marketing strategy will also start showing after some time.

For example, if you cut your adspend, your leads won’t dry up immediately, but after a while.

A very important way to ‘recession-proof’ your interior design marketing is to keep tracking lead generation and the ROI on your adspend for days, even weeks after you implement changes.

4. Study Your Target Customers’ Recession-time Behaviour

In other words, don’t base your marketing efforts on assumptions about how your target customers or your current customers behave. Try to get a feel on how they actually are behaving and responding to the downturn. Think back to the example I gave about handing out business cards at trade fairs vs SEO investment.

I said

If there’s a recession, the chances of people making a discretionary spending decision at a trade show is lower, right? This is an assumption I made for the purposes of that particular example. However, in your actual interior design marketing strategy, you should not make such assumptions. Suppose your client base are among the wealthier section of society, who’re able to maintain spending during a downturn, who will keep attending trade events and convert into leads. On the other hand, the traffic and leads you’re getting via SEO are mostly from less wealthy individuals who’ll find your services too expensive. In that case, you’ll have lost your space among your existing client base while you can’t build a space for yourself in your target client base since you’re too expensive for them.

Good luck digging yourself out of that hole.

A 2009 Harvard Business Review article divided potential customers into 4 groups

a. Slam on the brakes :

They are mostly the hardest hit by the recession and will just cut each and every penny of spending they can.

b. Pained But Patient :

They’re pessimistic about the short term outlook. They will cut spending but not as much as the ‘slam on the brakes’ group.

c. Comfortably Well Off:

They are typically among the richest households, whether nationally or in the community. Whatever spending cuts they make will be minor.

d. Live For Today:

Typically younger and urban, this group will spend and consume come what may. They may take recourse to debt and prolong the purchase period for big purchases but they will not cut down spending by a lot.

Of course, the longer the recession sustains, members of each group start slipping into the group below. Where this comes into use for you is – You must study your customers and fit them into this grouping. And decide your marketing strategy accordingly.


5. Emotions, Not Promotions



When times are tough, people naturally hunt for deals and bargains. In most cases, promotions achieve only a temporary bump in sales while reducing your profit (or worse, deepening your losses). Now, you might argue that for an interior design business, with a long customer acquisition process, even one additional sale, is always a good idea.

The counter-argument of course is that with every customer acquisition happening after a prolonged, multi-stage process, you cannot afford any significant downward pressure on your bottom line. I’m not saying this argument is true or that is true. I’m simply giving you both sides of the picture so you know what factors to consider when making a decision.

An appeal to the customer’s emotions, on the other hand, may have a higher chance of success. Try to form a human bond with them. Adjust your sales pitch and presentations to stimulate emotional encouragement to drive sales.

6. Nurture Customers

Given the amount of work that goes into acquiring a new interior design customer, it makes sense to nurture every customer you gain. One way of doing this is by maintaining contact with them even after the project is completed via newsletter subscriptions and by social engagement (like wishing them on their birthday).

Another way of doing this is by offering them more value and services. For example, you could offer them maintenance services via contract on the interior design project that you worked on.

To sum up, the top 6 ways of marketing your interior design business during a recession are

  • Don’t take marketing decisions in a panic
  • Focus on efficiency
  • Expect the effect, whether bad or good, of any marketing changes you make to show up after a time lag
  • Study your customers’ recession-time behaviour
  • Focus on emotions
  • Nurture customers by keeping in touch and offering more services and building value

Finally, please also keep a watch on the wider socio-economic situation in your country. For example, in many regions of the USA, there is a structural shift towards reducing the human footprint on the environment. It may be a good idea to respond to that and create value for your customers by expanding your sustainable and eco-friendly interior design portfolio. The results may not show immediately but it will pay off in the medium to long term.

I wish you all the best in making your interior design marketing recession-proof and hope, like you are, no doubt, that even if a recession does his us, it’s short and not very painful.