Survive and Thrive: Manage Your Marketing Budget Through Tough Times



Marketing departments are often the first to find their budgets cut. But that doesn’t mean your company’s goals have to fall by the wayside, too. With some creativity and perseverance, there is much you can do to not only survive in an economic downturn but thrive.

By Lisa Heay, Director of Business Operations at Heinz Marketing

It’s no secret 2023 has been a tough year for many businesses. Companies need to pinch pennies, reduce costs, and in many unfortunate cases, reduce their workforce, too.

Marketing departments are often the first to find their budgets cut. But that doesn’t mean your company’s goals have to fall by the wayside, too. With some creativity and perseverance, there is much you can do to not only survive in an economic downturn but thrive.

Here are some ways to stretch those pennies and get the most out of what you do have.

Review Your Expenditures

Begin by reviewing your expenses, line by line by line. If you are part of a small organization, this should be feasible. If you are part of a large enterprise, maybe you only have visibility to your department or group. Either way, you’ll be amazed by the extra spending that can be found and removed by reviewing and questioning every purchase.

Always a big culprit in extra spending here are tools and licenses. Are there things that are not used by your team any longer? Are there tools with duplicate functionality that can be consolidated or downgraded? Are there employees with licenses who are no longer at the organization, or that don’t use the tool?

In addition, look at opportunities to share licenses. Yes, this practice is frowned upon by many software providers, and often discouraged by multi-factor authentication – but there are sometimes ways around it. Email forwarding of codes is one.

My mantra this year has been “there are no savings too small”. Savings of a few dollars here and there really do add up to substantial numbers over time, freeing up more dollars to put toward hitting your goals.

Negotiate with Your Vendors and Tool Providers

This one can feel uncomfortable, but it’s worth a shot. Reach out to your vendors and negotiate your current contracts. Can you change your payment terms to break larger invoices into smaller chunks? Can you pay smaller amounts quarterly or even monthly, as opposed to annually? Can you pay late, and if so, what is the fee?

Some tools offer a discount for a longer commitment, as well. If it’s a tool you use regularly with no end in sight, does it make sense to sign on for a longer commitment that may save you money all said and done?

Maybe there are other discount opportunities to explore, as well. If you provide a case study or a customer referral, can they cut you a deal?

Any payment you can postpone in tough times helps. The worst thing they can say is “no”. But what I’ve realized is there are real, live humans on the other end of your messages – humans who can empathize with their customers.

And the economy is likely affecting them as well. It’s much more cost effective to keep existing customers than lose them and find new ones. Many times your vendors would rather work with you than lose your business altogether.

Focus on Strategy

The spray and pray method of advertising and emailing is costly in more ways than one. Many will send out non-personalized and non-targeted emails and paid advertising en masse in hopes  someone will open and respond.

But in tough times, a clear focus on strategy is key – your targeting, messaging, sales and marketing alignment, and lead flow need to be optimized and agreed upon to really maximize your efforts and your dollars. You don’t have the budget to spread your message across the world so focus on those most likely to buy and what they need. Not only that, but you also don’t have the budget to create leads that are not qualified or don’t get followed up on at all.

Button up your strategy and SLAs to make the spending you can do count.

Prioritize your Marketing Channels

You could turn off your campaign spending, but then in a few months your sales team will be asking where their leads are. It’s a no-win situation. Make sure the ones you use count.

If you aren’t doing it already, review your KPIs in order to identify your highest performing channels. Pause the rest.

In addition, utilize your free channels – social media, email (if you already have a platform), and hit the phones. Building relationships and leaning on your network and influencers in your industry can be a great way to push your message beyond your typical paid channels with the validation from experts in your space.

Stretch your Content Further

Maybe hiring a writer or designer to produce new content is not in the budget. But that doesn’t mean you can’t stretch your existing content further or bring it a new life with updates and revisions. Can you break whitepapers into blog posts or case studies? Or turn a series of blog posts into a larger guide?

Can you create different versions for each of your target industries or buying committee members? Often this could just be a wrapper around your existing content, or a sub header directed to those groups—but the meat of the content remains the same.

There are a lot of very inexpensive or free tools out there for great design. Maybe you don’t have the budget for Photoshop – but Canva is a great tool with many capabilities available for free.

You could also turn content pieces into webinar topics, hosted with industry experts from your industry or friendly customers who in turn may love some exposure and a platform to share their expertise with a new audience.

Finally, no matter what, your content should be optimized for SEO—including your target keywords and pain points. The content you produce needs to resonate with your target audience, and your focus should be on increasing organic traffic from this audience to your website.

To Wrap Up

It’s not just in a market downturn these suggestions are relevant. Building a practice around reviewing expenditures, stretching your content, and building a sound strategy based on your department’s KPIs are often done in a bad market, but should be prioritized in good times, too. It just might make the next economic downturn a little easier to weather. Good luck out there!