Branding and marketing in a downturn

March 15 2023

There’s no ignoring the fact that people and businesses are starting to struggle with the increase in interest rates. Is it bringing back C*vid small business heeby-jeebies?

In this economic climate many small businesses pull back on everything; you go into business-survival mode, reduce expenses and do what has ‘always worked’.

You may be tempted to lean on traditional ways of branding and marketing. And by traditional, I mean speaking in a plain tone of voice, talking about the facts and features of your product or service, rather than how much better they make the consumer’s life—using industry standard colours and fonts. Reducing your prices to be more affordable and diversifying your offerings. Or having promotion after promotion.

All these changes feel safe. But do you know what else they feel from your audience’s perspective?

  • Cheap.
  • Poor quality.
  • Old fashioned.
  • Nothing special.
  • Desperate.

With the economy feeling fragile, I understand you don’t think now is the time to be taking risks in business.

But what did you do during the last few years when times were tough? 

You watched funny videos, spent more time making buying decisions and made sure your purchases ticked ALL the boxes first. 

You bought services and products that:

  • Served the purpose well and had testimonials to prove it
  • You liked the business as a whole, perhaps agreed with an opinion or two they have
  • Looked good! No matter your preferences, some part of decision was based on how the product or service looked
  • Made you feel better than you did before! Whether it was an air-conditioner, car, plant, or skincare, it ticked all of the above AND made you feel good. Even that weird Instagram purchase made you feel better for about…30 seconds!


Photo of coffee cup on table with a sausage dog image on it

So instead of pulling back and hiding in a hole? You should carefully and strategically lean into your differences, clarify your messaging, and use branding and graphic design to stand out from all the other businesses pulling back.

In fact, it will likely be easier now to stand out from your competitors. Because, unless they’re all reading this article and acting on it, they will probably be pulling back in some way.

So let’s get into the juicy details of what you can do to keep growing your business, and why it works.

7 steps to use brand strategy and graphic design to help your business in an economic downturn, in order:

1. Revisit your brand positioning

This means look at your competitors, direct and indirect, and work out where you currently sit in comparison. Then look for opportunities. Is it crowded in this spot? Is there an open area with higher quality at your current pricing? Or with services offered in a different format? Really look at how you can further differentiate from your competitors (even if you seem them as community!).

2. Listen to your audience

Ask your audience, customers, and potential customers questions. Find out what they need, and how your current can solve their problems. Are there considerations you haven’t thought of that you can include in your messaging? Do you need to add clarity around particular questions on your website? Ask hard questions and see the feedback as getting clear on your audience’s needs rather than getting bogged down in how you’re not meeting their needs.

3. Visually stand out from your competitors

You can update your branding without changing your logo. You can also simply add new colours (carefully selected, based on the research in the previous 2 steps) to ensure you don’t look stale or cheap by blending in. There will be many businesses reducing marketing and advertising, but you can see this as an opportunity to fill the gap!

4. Create a new offer that serves lower budgets without discounting

Rather than create a steady rollout of promotions and sales (like have seen recently from boutique retailers) which cheapens a brand, create a new offer that serves smaller budgets AND doesn’t discount (ie devalue) your existing services/products.

5. Get clear and be engaging

Don’t lose your sense of humour! As we all know from the pandemic, we look to entertainment and humour more during tough times. Make people feel good with your marketing and get creative with imagery and graphic design. If your competitors are also funny, use a different kind of humour. There are countless opportunities to stand out once you look for the potential and see patterns in the existing landscape.

7. Keep your spirits high

People pick up on your positive or negative energy in your marketing/social media, so get enough rest and fun to keep your spirits high. A downturn doesn’t last forever so keep looking for opportunities and ways to entertain your audience.

6. Maintain visual consistency

Once you’ve been through the steps above, pick an aesthetic that ticks all the boxes and stick with it for at least 6 months. You’ll start seeing results in about 3 months, so the sooner you start the better! Update you social media templates, email newsletters, website, email signature, invoicing as a start.


  • Panic and stop all spending in your business! This will hurt more in the long run when you have to build everything back up again.
  • Play it safe and blend in. A downturn means less competition for attention, so make the most of this opportunity.
  • Have continuous sales and promotions. People pick up on the desperate vibe and will avoid it.
  • Stop listening to your audience and customers. Their opinions and feedback are gold, so treasure it and learn from it. 

There are so many examples of businesses that survive and thrive during a downturn, and it doesn’t have to mean completely pivoting or rebuilding everything from scratch.

Instead of spending time worrying and doom-scrolling, get to work researching and discovering ways to enhance your current branding, marketing, offering and customer experience! 

Need an expert eye?

Creativity is still the one thing that can’t be templated, taught quickly, or AI generated. I have a never-ending chocolate fountain of ideas, so save the time and struggle and book a no-obligation chat.

Photo of Candice leaning against a textured white wall in the sunshine and smiling. She has long curly hair and a colourful jacket on.

Candice is the founder of Design Salad, a strategy loving design studio helping climate-consious women business owners shine brighter than ever before.

Design Salad specialises in thoughtful brand strategy and unique brand identities infused with artistry. 

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