Lately, you’ve probably been seeing advice (ours included) about trying as hard as possible not to cut your marketing budget. If you haven’t, the premise is this: There are fewer competitors in the space right now as other brands pull back on their marketing efforts, so you can dominate the conversation at a lower cost than usual. Also, data from several past downturns and recessions shows that brands that stay in the conversation recover more effectively and retain market share longer than brands that cut back.
Despite these facts, we understand that for some brands, maintaining marketing efforts right now requires resources that just aren’t available. If you’ve already made cuts elsewhere and now you have to turn to your marketing spend for savings, here’s how to approach it to minimize losses in value.
1. Conduct an audit
The first step is absolutely essential: Conduct an audit of your existing strategy. Look through every effort that’s currently included in your marketing plan, and pull any available data about what’s working and what isn’t. This might mean calculating ROI, monitoring metrics like engagement or organic traffic, or even making assessments about brand awareness and long-term consumer sentiments.
This step is important because it allows you to objectively understand how your marketing efforts are performing. You may even have epiphanies just from going through this exercise by realizing that some elements of your strategy are underperforming compared to others. This is great information! Once you’ve gone through this process, you’ll be ready to continue with the rest of our advice.
2. Cut specific efforts
This next recommendation is central to your ability to cut costs and still maintain value. Rather than making sweeping cuts or pausing your entire marketing strategy, you’ll want to go through your strategy line by line to assess each component individually. This is where you’ll also pull in the data you found from your audit, using the numbers to paint a clearer picture of which tactics are serving your brand.
When deciding which components to cut, here are a few things to consider:
- How much time does it take for my team to execute this tactic?
- Are the results of this effort short-term or long-term?
- If I cut this item now, will it be hard to recover the value down the line, or will it immediately resume when we can reinvest?
- Are other elements of my strategy reliant on this component?
Once you’ve thought through these questions, make decisions. It may be helpful to consult others with your data to get additional perspectives on the value of each element of your strategy. Think of this exercise like going through your marketing budget with a fine-tooth comb, removing only the components that aren’t delivering on their investment.
For each item that you cut, also consider (and potentially discuss) your reinvestment strategy. At what point will you revisit this piece of your strategy? Does your revenue need to hit a certain figure, or will you reinvest at a certain point in the future no matter how revenue is doing? These are important questions to consider even after you’ve decided on your cuts.
3. Target strategically
The next way to cut costs is to stop targeting everyone. If you don’t already have a hyper-specific idea of your target audience (possibly using brand personas or other audience-identification tools), you’re doing your brand a disservice.
What that likely means in practice is that many of your marketing efforts (if not most of your marketing efforts) are falling on deaf ears. You’re promoting your brand to people who aren’t likely to want or need what you’re offering. This is an investment that rarely pays off long-term.
If you don’t have breakdowns of who your target audience is, do this right away. Use any data you have about who your customers are and then think critically about their motivations and desires. Demographics and psychographics are both equally important as you describe your target audience.
If you already have breakdowns of your target audience, use this time to make sure that you’re actually intentionally targeting those people. If you know the type of person your customer is likely to be, but you’re not advertising on the platforms they spend time on or using language that appeals to them, then knowing your audience is useless.
Go through your marketing strategy after the cuts you made in the previous step, and ensure that your approaches for the tactics that remain are designed to appeal to your target audience, specifically.
Note that you may have several types of prospective customers, potentially represented by multiple brand personas. Now may also be a good time to pause your efforts in targeting one or more of those segments if some convert less consistently than others. This doesn’t mean that you’re eliminating a customer segment from your strategy permanently, but it would allow you to focus your efforts on the high-return segment(s) until funding is more readily available.
4. Repurpose existing content
If you don’t have the resources to create new content, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be putting out content at all. If you can’t invest in starting from scratch on new material, get creative in using what you have in new ways.
If your brand has a blog, republishing old blog posts can be a great way to start. If you have the capacity to review the old posts and incorporate new information, you’ll add even more value. Sometimes, all it takes is updated facts and figures and timely examples to make old content feel new. This is especially true if you have older content that used to be high-performing (from an engagement perspective or an SEO perspective, for example). If readership has dropped off over time, refresh the piece by bringing it up to date wherever possible.
You can also repurpose other types of content. Video content is especially useful for this. Let’s say you have a 60-second “About Us” video on your website. Can you make a 30-second cut for Facebook, and then a six-second cut to run as paid ads? If so, you’ve just lengthened the life of your content without any significant investment of resources on your end.
As you can probably imagine, there are countless ways to repurpose content. Consider whether you could expand on a popular social media caption to create a short blog post. Or, go the other direction, and use images or profound lines from blog posts as social content. Put several blog posts together as an eBook, or deconstruct a guide as multiple blog posts. Play around with combining or cutting down your existing content, and see if you can come up with new, low-effort distribution strategies.
5. Rethink your software tools
Most marketing departments invest in many software tools to aid in everyday efforts, covering everything from SEO metric tracking to social post scheduling. These tools are often referred to as martech (an abbreviation for marketing technology). The problem arises when these tools are expensive, automatically renew, and/or don’t provide the value that you anticipated when you made the purchase.
Plus, many brands will end up having some overlap in features between platforms, and may not realize that it’s possible to eliminate some tools as those features have been covered by other options.
As you rethink your budget, think critically about which tools are aiding your team’s success and which are not. It may be that some tools aren’t truly serving their purpose anymore, but you hadn’t yet found a compelling reason to cancel.
If you do genuinely use all of the tools in your martech stack, reach out to the vendors to talk about payment options. You may find that there is a downgraded plan with similar features at a lower cost, or the company may be able to offer a discount or payment plan just because you asked. It can’t hurt to try, so contact a representative for each software tool to learn what options might be available to you.
6. Outsource or move in-house
This next option might sound contradictory, but that’s by design: Consider outsourcing tasks or moving tasks in-house for the cheapest alternative. These recommendations are opposites, but they both represent potential savings in your budget.
If you’ve been handling something internally that’s taking up too much of your team’s time and resources, consider outsourcing it to a freelancer or agency. This typically means you’re passing the torch to someone who is an expert at whatever the task is, and they may be able to do it more effectively and/or more efficiently than you had been doing internally.
On the other hand, if you’ve been outsourcing a task, consider the implications of bringing it in-house. If someone on your team has the time or the skills to get the job done, you may be able to eliminate costs by reassigning the task internally. This may be especially true if some employees or teams have had their workflows upended by COVID-19. If typical priorities aren’t possible in today’s landscape, consider adding these outsourced tasks to underutilized teams’ plates.
7. Ask customers to refer you
You’ve probably heard this before, but your existing customers are your brand’s best (and often, most underutilized) asset. It’s possible that many of your customers would be happy to refer your brand to friends and family, but you haven’t prompted them to, so they haven’t. This is another great example of the “it can’t hurt to ask” policy.
Consider reaching out to segments of your existing customer base to ask if they would share your brand within their networks. If this tactic is successful, it’s arguably the lowest-cost method for obtaining new customers—and, by extension, new revenue streams.
8. Prioritize one social platform
If much of your team’s time is spent managing a variety of social platforms, consider paring down to just the most effective components. If your audience consistently engages with your brand on Instagram and LinkedIn but you rarely see results on Twitter or Facebook, decide whether it’s worth maintaining those efforts.
If you had plans to develop these under-performing platforms long-term, you may want to continue investing in them in the short-term. But, if you were already at a loss for how to make less successful platforms work for you, it may be time to let them go. Consumers typically understand that every brand doesn’t necessarily align with every social platform, and it may be that your value proposition or customer base lends itself more naturally to some platforms over others. Think through whether it’s time to lean into that, or if it’s necessary to continue your broader strategy on all platforms.
9. Give employees enough to do
Finally, in order to maximize the value of your marketing funds, make sure any salaried employees have enough to do. It’s relatively common for employees across all kinds of organizations to stretch tasks to fill their daily eight hours because they just don’t have enough assignments to tackle.
While this is certainly not true for all employees, it may be worth checking in with each team member about workload versus capacity. Sometimes, employees don’t even realize how underutilized they’ve been until this conversation occurs. In those cases, adding more tasks may be a welcome intervention that saves employees from finding ways to kill time throughout the day.
This is doubly true as some departments are more able to shift to COVID-friendly efforts than others. For example, someone whose whole workday revolves around hosting events might have much less to do right now than someone who puts out content for your brand. Assigning new tasks to anyone whose workflow has been significantly interrupted is another way to make the most of limited resources.
Hopefully, these ideas have inspired you to do a deep dive into your marketing efforts before you make cuts. While a downsized strategy might be necessary for the time being, cutting back on funding doesn’t have to mean cutting back on the value of your efforts. At the very least, thinking through each of these recommendations will guide you through a valuable reflection exercise that may help clarify your brand’s marketing priorities. And when the time comes to reinvest, you’ll be ready to hit the ground running.