Stretching 2021 marketing budgets

Marketing budgets are usually planned for the year ahead in October. However, with the two great unknowns of Covid-19 and Brexit, we may need a different approach for 2021.

Businesses that slowed spending in April may be moving ahead again, but they are taking more care of cash. Often marketing decisions are being made on a quarterly or monthly basis, and in some companies expenditure is being approved at a higher level than usual.

One thing is clear, the pandemic has highlighted human inventiveness and ingenuity. This is important because it is a reason to be hopeful for the future. It was the IT teams and technology companies that enabled the rapid move to working from home (WFH), and the electronics manufacturers that rushed to design ventilators when the crisis hit intensive care.

Changes since Covid

During the quiet lockdown period people began to read more. They spent more time searching for news and information online, and used online courses to update their skills. Some companies used the quiet period to overhaul their websites. Now we are in a second lockdown.

The short-term focus shifted to looking after existing customers. Marketing may be moving from a campaign focus to a customer focus, which will be helpful where Covid has radically changed customers’ needs. Covid has  pushed companies to understand their strategic focus much better; it has forced them to be clearer about who they want to serve, how to do that, and what their marketing message should be.

Unsurprisingly, marketing budgets have been cut in some quarters. Partly out of necessity where cash became too tight, partly because marketing results can be difficult to measure, and partly because a reduction in marketing spend often doesn’t have an immediate impact. However, the cuts will be felt later on when the pipeline of new orders slows down. This means it is dangerous to cut marketing too far. In the short term, during the summer of 2020, many people made the most of lower cost and “free” marketing activities.

Marketing priorities for 2021

As we plan the marketing approach for 2021 we need to be open-minded, positive, and careful. As there is still uncertainty in the air, it will be prudent to plan for more than one marketing scenario. Marketing goals for 2021 will probably revolve around these four key objectives:

  • Keep existing customers
  • Generate leads for the future pipeline
  • Maintain brand awareness
  • Maybe – enter new market areas to replace lost business

Trade shows are on hold or taking place virtually. Marketing funds will largely go to account-based marketing, website development, PPC, email marketing, content marketing, design, webinars and videos. Companies  will need their digital content to be super- engaging to cut through the noise from other vendors.

We don’t know how long social distancing will remain, so events will remain a difficult area. Companies will need to make digital events more effective and more enjoyable. It would be good to invent new, friendlier ways to interact online.

With pressure to do more with less, larger companies might steal some ideas from smaller businesses which tend to be very good at scrutinising their marketing spend and  prioritizing business goals.

Smaller-budget marketing options

Here are my suggestions for companies who need to stretch their 2021 marketing budgets. Leads generation is usually the top priority but at the moment it may be more critical to re-assess marketing and look at new ideas.

  •  If Covid brought profound changes to a business, those changes may need to be adopted long term to drive a positive transformation.
  • Much revolves around a company’s website. It must be clear, responsive and easy to navigate. Some businesses might be able to bring enough new prospects just by content marketing and SEO.
  • Lead-generation can be managed on a shoestring with low-cost marketing automation tools and email marketing. In business and technology markets where a single sales lead can be worth £200, £500 or more, the investment in the platform is soon repaid.
  • Improve efficiency – clean your prospect database. Most were tidied four or five years ago for the GDPR, they but might need another clean-up now. Quality of contacts is more important than quantity, although you obviously want good quality AND plenty of contacts.
  • Cut waste – cancel campaigns that aren’t delivering.
  • The charity sector is superb at creating award-winning PR campaigns on small budgets. Commercial businesses could learn from charitable ones, and build imaginative, hard-hitting campaigns that reach new people and build a brand. This needs courage, ideas, journalist contacts, plenty of good data, photos and written content – and tons of persistence. It can be a valuable add-on to existing digital marketing work.
  • An individual who can use social media effectively is an important marketing asset. A large following on social media is valuable.
  • Marketing talent and skills – some companies rely totally on in-house talent, others outsource all of their marketing. There are many workable options in-between. For 2021, companies may need to source marketing skills in a more flexible way they have done in the past.

This article draws on my own experience with clients during the summer lockdown period of 2020. I am available for freelance PR and content creation projects. Contact me by email at info@technologypr.co.uk or call 020 8275 9955.