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Stretching 2021 marketing budgets

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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. In some companies expenditure is being approved at a higher level than usual.

One thing is clear, the pandemic has highlighted human inventiveness and the ingenuity of our technology businesses. This is important because it is a reason to be hopeful for the future. We saw  IT teams and technology companies rushing to enable working from home (WFH), and electronics manufacturers switching to make ventilators when the crisis hit intensive care.

Marketing 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. If so, this 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, some organisations have cut their marketing budgets. This was partly out of necessity where cash became too tight and partly because it can be difficult to measure marketing results. And I suspect it is also because a reduction in marketing spend may not have an immediate impact. However, businesses may feel the cuts later on if the pipeline of new orders slows down. It is usually 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 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.

Small 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.

  • Covid brought profound changes to some businesses. They may need to adopt those changes 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 capture enough new prospects just by content marketing and SEO.
  • Companies can manage lead-generation 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 they could soon see a return on that investment.
  • Improve efficiency – clean your prospect database. Most businesses tidied their CRM four or five years ago for the GDPR, they but they 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. It also requires 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 or call 020 8275 9955.

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