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Last updated :  | By Canton Clark

Weathering the Marketing Budget Storm in 2021

By Priscilla Koeckeritz

It’s 2021, is your marketing plan and budget set for the new year? With the crazy challenges thrown at marketers in 2020, many are scared to put ink on paper. Our plans in 2020 were blown early and often, so what’s the best advice to getting 2021 started strong?

Over the past weeks, I’ve scoured leading articles to provide predictions and planning tips to help you get 2021 started in the right direction. Whether you’re facing budget cuts, the pain of moving into digital strategies, working with a leaner team, or the many other challenges facing marketing leaders, there’s something here to encourage you as you boldly step into 2021.

What the Experts Say About Budgeting for 2021

Gartner, a leader in research and polling, kept a pulse on marketing leaders in 2020. Over the course of the year, they surveyed hundreds of chief marketing officers several times – and the story of budget cuts became more prevalent with each poll. By July 2020, nearly 60% of CMO’s were expecting budget cuts of 5%, and nearly one-third of those expecting budget cuts were seeing reductions of 15%.

According to the Gartner 2020 CMO Spend Survey, respondents believe their budgets for technology and digital marketing functions will grow in the coming year. “CMOs remain under pressure to cut labor and other costs,” says Ewan McIntyre, VP Analyst, Gartner. “Longer-term budget cuts will require another look at staffing that could result in permanent changes to hiring and organizational makeup.”

But that’s not the end of the story. The primary reason most companies see budget cuts in marketing is a lack of proven results. Measurement is the best defense to budget cuts for marketers, and in this error of digital marketing there is no shortage of ways to prove the value of marketing spend.

According to McIntyre’s article, Less Is More: Dealing With 2020’s Marketing Budget Challenges, Gartner recommends a programmatic approach, which looks at optimizing all elements across marketing’s operational mix: labor, agencies, technology and channels. 

To do this, CMOs need to answer three fundamental questions:

  1. How do I prove the value of the marketing investments I need to protect?
  2. How do I identify the costs I can afford to cut?
  3. How do I optimize marketing costs to drive greater ROI? 

McIntyre goes on to provide four areas for marketing leaders to focus streamlining efforts:

Internal Resources and External Agencies: See how marketing’s capabilities align with strategic goals by mapping current state versus desired state capabilities as they span across your internal teams and external agencies and partners. Also map out external agency capabilities by identifying areas of discrete value, and areas of overlap with in-house resources. Drill down into the individual agencies’ scope of work by ensuring their projects support current marketing objectives. Use this review to discontinue underperforming programs and consolidate agencies where there’s overlap with other agencies or internal resources. Avoid the trap of using the raw measure of cost when assessing the value of agency contributions. Focus both on return on objectives as well as return on investment.

Marketing Technology: Create a centralized catalog of currently deployed marketing technologies. This should provide an indication of how the martech stack supports the customers, marketing team, partners, and overall business objectives such as growth or improved efficiency. Deconstruct the marketing technology stack by revisiting the use cases and opportunities the technology was supposed to address when it was initially deployed. Establish what would happen if the marketing organization decommissioned the technology. 

Ask questions such as: What processes or programs would need to change if the technology is no longer in place? What data sources come from the marketing technology? Test the impact of cutting the marketing platform on a single product line or business unit.

Marketing Channels: Map channel investments and execution against evolving customer journeys. Using tools like RCQ (reach, cost and quality) analysis to test the appropriateness of channel choices with journeys and responses. Use data and insights to rapidly test, monitor and tweak your tactics. Increase agility by moving to a weekly or biweekly media planning cycle.

Avoid the trap of focusing on conversion metrics to optimize performance across channels and journeys. Map response types to touchpoints, ensuring you capture and optimize to actions as well as intent and sentiment, as follows:

  1. Action: These are measurable interactions in response to marketing that can be tied directly to business outcomes. 
  2. Engagement: These are measurable expressions of interest or consideration in response to marketing that can’t be tied directly to business outcomes. 
  3. Perception: These are responses to marketing that can be measured indirectly, often through a survey or social listening.

Optimize for the Future: CMOs tend to only consider integrating cost optimization measures after they’ve been asked to reduce their budgets. Instead, CMOs need to think more like business leaders and keep the entire organization’s financials in mind. Focus your budgetary efforts on ROI and delivering clear business value, and your operation will be better prepared to go unscathed during times of economic uncertainty.

How Marcomm is Helping Clients in 2021 (Learn More Here)

Let’s take this beyond the polls and statistics. What can you really do to make sure your marketing dollars in 2021 are well spent and measurable?

CEOs and business leaders are focused on two things – staying engaged with current clients in this new “digital world” and learning how to improve brand awareness, increase message delivery and strengthen calls to action digitally (assuming that we will be a primarily remote workforce for many months to come). 

Research says that 60% of decision makers have already selected their top provider before they ever talk to a live person. Having a strong digital presence and making the most of every digital footprint has never been more important. Marcomm expanded in 2020 to address the growing needs of small businesses to transform into digital marketing.

Here are my top tips for planning and budgeting in 2021:

Protect Engagement with Existing Clients: Remember that its always less expensive to keep an existing customer than find a new one. Now that in-person events are off the calendar, and most professionals are opting for Zoom meetings instead of face-to-face, you need engagement strategies that keep you top of mind and consistently add value. Consider the many professional organizations who have also gone digital. Sponsoring an event or having a booth at a major convention was a significant spend with dicey results; however, investing in a digital sponsorship or having a digital footprint at an online event is a much more affordable proposition. Your clients still want professional growth and development, and they still need sources of new ideas – be part of the solution to generating digital content for your industry. You can give your sales team something to reach out to customers with, and at the same time open opportunity for new leads.

Consistently Execute Digital Marketing for Business: Do you have the right team and resources to determine what to post and where to post consistently? Do you know when to post on LinkedIn and have social media standards (so employees aren’t posting about babies and puppies – don’t get me wrong, I love a good family post … just not on my LinkedIn feed on Tuesday afternoon).

Digital marketing isn’t just about having a good website, it’s about meaningful content directed at your target audience in tasteful, useful ways. Good digital content asks a question and offers customers and prospects the opportunity to interact with your team in ways that matter.

Consider talking with Marcomm about how we generate authentic and meaningful content for our customers. We’re happy to share a few ideas with you. (See what I did there … always have a call to action.)

Have the Right Resources in the Right Roles: It’s difficult to put square pegs in round holes – they simply don’t fit. For companies who have not focused on digital marketing as their primary strategy in the past, it may be difficult, or downright impossible, to move your current team into digital marketing overnight. Consider bringing in a digital communication strategist or using fractional support to help you get started. 

Of course, Marcomm is always available to support you in Contract Staffing, Fractional Marketing Teams, Marketing Projects, and Contract-to-Hire.

Need Help with Marketing Planning and Execution? Learn how Marcomm helps companies plan, staff and execute great marketing efforts.

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