Keep the marketing engine humming amid economic uncertainty

As companies across industries brace for a potential global recession, business leaders are reducing headcount, slashing budgets, and imposing freezes on new hiring, travel, and events. In this environment, it’s inevitable that budget-conscious executives begin to eye marketing as an area ripe for cost-cutting. But these marketing efforts are also essential to helping an organization build its brand and engage customers and prospects. How can marketing leaders work collaboratively with business leaders to make needed cost reductions while also warding off actions that undercut commercial success?

Even in a time of belt-tightening, marketers can maintain momentum. The bottom line is marketing leaders must work to ensure the external perception of their organizations among customers and prospects remains stable, even as they reduce spending on key initiatives. Threading this needle requires a marketing leader to have a solid understanding of the interplay between the company’s various marketing initiatives as well as a keen sense of the impact of each marketing dollar the company spends. Here’s a path forward:

Start with measurement: Marketing leaders should have a measurement infrastructure in place that gives them visibility into the results of their campaigns across channels: website, social media, email, events, etc. Ideally, a leader can use this infrastructure and the dashboards within it to quickly see what’s working and what’s not. A leader can also use this infrastructure to uncover valuable insights that inform new strategies and tactics. Further, a measurement infrastructure can help a company’s broader commercial team map digital customer behavior and identify the sales and marketing activities that engage prospects, turn prospects into leads, and push leads toward becoming loyal customers.

When faced with hard budget decisions, marketing leaders must lean on the numbers, not sentiment. A measurement infrastructure can help a leader determine where to focus to maximize ROI and where to dial back to save marketing dollars.

Stay active: No matter the industry, a strong marketing team will have numerous external-facing initiatives running in parallel. Using everything from social media content and digital ads to outbound email and earned media efforts, a marketing team’s goal is to reach customers and prospects across channels with the company’s most compelling value propositions. Faced with hard budget decisions, marketing leaders should aim to maintain as much activity as possible while also strategically trimming. For example, a company shouldn’t just halt social media activity. However, it’s reasonable to consider pausing social media advertising for a time. Social media ads help a company reach new audiences. But it’s more important to continue to stay in front of existing “warm” audiences of customers and prospects.

Along the same lines, email marketing efforts must continue without a gap, even if the team has to reduce the content output from its external agency. If a company has an active email program, it likely has a deep repository of evergreen content. Tap that repository to populate emails during this time, when new content development efforts may slow. And dig into historical campaign data to identify the topics that generate the most interest and engagement, as well as the optimal timing and cadence of sends.

Right-size your event strategy: In-person events have made a comeback as the pandemic has waned. Yet, attending and exhibiting at events can be significant line items in a marketing budget. Reducing or eliminating event spend entirely can help a team make a big dent in marketing costs. However, marketing leaders shouldn’t view this as an all-or-nothing proposition. Maybe the data shows that a particular trade show is a proven business development engine. In that case, consider ditching the 20×20 booth and, rather, host a dinner for top customers or pursue a sponsorship that includes a prime speaking slot. Additionally, more intimate in-person events (a panel discussion at a company office, a happy hour at a local restaurant) can provide cost-effective ways for a company to engage and build relationships with key audiences.

And virtual engagement, while not a direct substitute for in-person engagement, can work well when done right. Engaging webinars and virtual events backed by robust digital promotion can facilitate valuable engagement with key audiences and help the company generate leads. Plus, it’s much more cost-effective than sending an army of employees across the country to man a trade show booth.

Clean up: A period when marketing leaders are cutting costs and shelving big-ticket items can offer them the chance to take stock of their existing output and improve brand consistency at little or no cost. For example, revisit brand messages. Do they need a refresh to include new capabilities or products the company has developed? Even if they are good as-is, does external-facing copy produced by the company reflect the approved messages? Similarly, this is a good time to review the company’s visual identity and ensure it is compelling and consistently applied across marketing collateral. Are there old, off-brand PowerPoint templates floating around the organization? Use this opportunity to implement new internal processes and get everyone on the commercial team aligned with the company’s brand standards.

Look beyond brand fundamentals, as well. Does social media copy need to be punchier? Use this time to coach your writers and make clear what’s expected in external-facing copy from the brand. Are there important reporters in your industry you haven’t been able to reach? Spend some time brainstorming internally about publicity tactics to get your leaders in front of these key influencers.

These marketing clean-up efforts can strengthen a brand today and put it in a position to thrive when the shackles come off the marketing budget.

Maintaining momentum during economic turmoil

When business leaders turn to marketing leaders seeking budget cuts, the latter should deliver the needed cost reductions strategically and in a way that doesn’t compromise brand momentum. A leader should analyze marketing data to identify where the team can and can’t afford to cut. Then, work to ensure the company’s core audiences see no meaningful change in the organization’s external posture, even as the team dials back in certain areas. At the same time, do necessary behind-the-scenes work to strengthen the brand. This strategic, data-driven approach will help marketing remain a commercial engine, even during lean times.

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