Why is it that marketing is one of the first things to get cut when budgets tighten?

The conception amongst B2B business owners is that positioning is a long game and that demand response is low, so taking a hiatus from both forms of marketing won’t make much difference. You could be forgiven for thinking too, in the current climate where online traffic has increased, we’re ‘over’; webinars again, and content creation is reaching saturation point, that your voice would be drowned out in the digital noise anyway.

Sure, customers are reducing spending on ‘non-essentials’ so minimising costs is logical. And if customers aren’t purchasing, I hear you say, why not cut advertising/marketing expenses? Ironically, reducing marketing spend doesn’t actually help the bottom line.

Here’s why: in previous recessions, companies that cut down their marketing expenditure emerged from the downturn having lost connection with their customers. Unable to regain their market share, they found that the companies that had maintained or increased their advertising kept their names in the minds of consumers and gained what the others had lost.

As advertising pioneer Bruce Barton said “when times are good, people want to advertise. In bad times, they have to.” By discontinuing audience engagement, you are essentially removing the sandwich boards from your metaphorical shopfront – your main indication to buyers that you are open for business. 

Harnessing your superpowers

You know your industry. Perhaps you’ve even contributed to shaping it, even in a small way. If you’re like most B2B businesses you’ve assessed the market, done some scanning, and stripped expenses down to the bare minimum. But how do you leverage your hard work through a global economic crisis of the magnitude of the one we’re in?

Let me tell you a story.

One of our long term clients (in a non-essential industry) entered into the early days of the COVID-induced pandemic a little on the conservative side, like many of us did. Over the previous years, we had been partnering with them to build and retain an engaged audience producing rich marketing content that was partly educational, partly fun.

They had honed their unique value proposition, building a base of loyal clients and we were happy with their growth. Being a non-essential service provider, however, they weren’t sure how it was going to ride out with the pandemic and they understandably approached us in concern regarding their marketing spend.

Targeting the most-dedicated of their customers and unique value proposition, which featured high-quality, value-for-money products that stood the test of time, we suggested that now was exactly the time to go in with promotions and underscore previous evergreen messages. We pivoted only slightly to actively acknowledge the customers’ changed point of view given the uncertain future, and argue steps those customers could take to manage that uncertainty, and boy did it resonate! The company has crushed it with multiple record months and expanded its audience through word of mouth. This might not sound especially novel, and it wasn’t, but had we retreated, those record months might have been memorable for the wrong reasons.

Building an audience is still a baseline effective marketing strategy, as is reviewing your inventory on skills and capabilities and reconsolidating your unique value proposition. But most of all, simply sticking to what works is the not-so-magic pill.

What to keep and what to cut

With all that in mind, here’s our cheat-sheet of what you can safely put on the back burner, and what you should never disregard, no matter how dire the marketing budget:

What to keep:

  1. Hygiene: The basic things that keep you going, like website maintenance, will cost you more in the long run if something goes wrong.
  2. Metrics: Use analytics to gain insights on tactics that are performing well. If they’re affordable and easy to run (like remarketing ads), it’s a good idea to keep them going.
  3. Rhythm: maintaining engagement with your current audience across avenues that provide the best value for money. The right message in the right platform can boost your brand.
  4. Content: This doesn’t necessarily mean spending money on new content – reposting your relevant evergreen content is a great way to maintain engagement with your audience at a low cost

What to cut:

  1. Experiments: Now is not the time to be trying new tactics. Or even pursisting with underperforming old ones. If something isn’t delivering results, turn it off.
  2. Anything new: Similar to tactics, it’s not time to be chasing a new market, or trying to sell a new product or service. It’s only going to cost you more. There are exceptions, but the odds are against you being one.
  3. Expensive ads: If you want to continue advertising, there are cheaper alternatives you can use, like trying remarketing ads instead of search, or advertising on a different search engine (as long as you’ve looked at the metrics and deemed it viable!)

Obviously, this can be more easily said than done – especially if you’re no marketing wiz. For a lot of our clients who found themselves suddenly financially burdened by the COVID-driven recession, they got on the phone and simply asked for a temporary reduction to their marketing services. Together, we were able to make a call on the best way to spend their limited dollars and still undertake successful marketing activities.

Most of them have got through the other side and bumped up their spending again without having lost too much rhythm with their marketing, any of the knowledge gained over years in partnership, or any of the infrastructure. Hence the benefit of outsourced marketing. Dialling up and down is a whole lot easier with a properly-structured outsource arrangement than with in-house resources. If you think you could benefit from a similar arrangement, get in touch with us to have a chat.