One of the most significant ongoing challenges for entrepreneurs, small business owners and marketers has been how to leverage their marketing dollars as effectively and efficiently as possible. That’s especially true in times like these, when we’re all dealing with the ramifications of the pandemic, political upheaval and social unrest throughout the US and much of the rest of the world.

As a result of the downturn, many companies and organizations have pulled back on their marketing and branding efforts and are taking a defensive, wait-and-see stance. But is that a smart move? For a variety of reasons, I would argue no. Nevertheless, tighter marketing budgets are a reality for many, at least for now. So dealing with that challenge head-on — in a smart, methodical way — is crucial.

Ensuring Intelligent, Targeted Growth for a County in Texas

Wood County is located in beautiful East Texas. The county is probably most famous for its dense pine forests and scenic lakes, particularly Lake Fork Reservoir. According to the Chamber of Commerce, Lake Fork is known as “one of the premier trophy bass fishing lakes in the world, holding the top six and 33 of the top 50 Texas state record largemouth bass.” And Wood County has a number of other attractive assets. So how does it use smart marketing to effectively manage its growth, even in a down economy?

In addition to being a successful media executive, entrepreneur and real estate investor, Vic Savelli sits on the Board of Directors for the Wood County Economic Development Commission (EDC) and serves as the Chairman of its Marketing Committee. Throughout his career, Savelli has worked with hundreds of advertisers  —from small local businesses to the largest national advertisers — with annual marketing budgets ranging from thousands to tens of millions of dollars.

"A common mistake made by advertisers, regardless of size, is that during tough times, they cut back, and in many cases, completely eliminate their ad budgets," said Savelli. "The thinking is that if sales are down, they must cut marketing expenses to keep their profit margins. Unfortunately, this tactic will ensure lower sales and long-term profits, and when things do improve will make for a more difficult recovery."

"The absence of competing ad messages, however, gives the savvy marketer a distinct advantage," Savelli added. "Fewer advertisers, combined with less clutter, allows your marketing message to stand out more. Downturns in the economy enable businesses to pick up market share. Then when the economy recovers, they may in fact be rewarded with a permanent lift in revenue and profits."

"This of course doesn’t mean that marketers should disregard the pressures of a P&L and budget considerations. But downturns present a unique opportunity to find more effective means to market your messages. The old ways of doing things should be reviewed, and if justified, eliminated in favor of efficient, rifle shots to target audiences."

"For the Wood County EDC, these efficiencies will be achieved by more effectively narrowing its messaging to three main target audience pillars: Attracting 1) travel and tourism, 2) new residents, and 3) new businesses," noted Savelli. "By drilling down further into each pillar and determining within those categories who are the most beneficial targets (such as what size businesses are best to target and what activities the county offers to tourists), our ad budgets, marketing messaging, and mediums can be customized to reach only the most important prospects. Additionally, while the three main pillars are each different, they also have things in common. By identifying those commonalities, it allows some of the creative to be shared across the targets. And that uniformity increases efficiencies."

Learning Opportunities

Related Article: Agile Marketing Your Way Through the Next Recession

17 Dos and Don'ts of Marketing in a Down Time

Expanding on Savelli’s points, marketers can take a number of actions — regardless of what type of company or organization they work for — to address potential budget shortfalls and make the best of a difficult situation. Here are my personal top 17 dos and don’ts:

  1. Revisit your overall marketing objectives and strategies by updating your SWOT analysis. Then make sure your budget is aligned with the initiatives that will best take advantage of your company’s strengths and opportunities while protecting against its weaknesses and threats.
  2. Don’t spend all of your budget on advertising to your customers and prospects. Focus a good portion of it on educating them instead.
  3. Figure out what marketing strategies, tactics and techniques have worked well in the past and then replicate them.
  4. Carefully analyze your competition and determine how you can better compete against them.
  5. Don’t try to do everything manually. For example, figure out how you could use marketing automation to improve your conversion rates, create a lean, mean marketing machine, and become more efficient overall.
  6. Organize and analyze your marketing data to look for opportunities to increase emphasis on what’s working well and decrease emphasis on what isn’t.
  7. Develop detailed personas that will allow you to become much more strategically targeted with your marketing campaigns.
  8. Don’t commit random acts of marketing. Instead, set your priorities based on which strategic and tactical initiatives and activities are consistent with your marketing and branding plan and/or produce the highest ROI.
  9. Focus more time, effort and money on retaining and upselling your existing customers versus the more costly route of finding new ones.
  10. Repurpose your best-performing content by republishing it in different formats and on different platforms.
  11. Don’t try to be active on every social media channel. Pick one or two that best fit your customers and prospects and become very proficient at using them.
  12. Experiment with paid advertising campaigns on Google, as well as Facebook, Instagram and other social platforms. They’re much more efficient than you might think. Video ads on Facebook can be especially effective.
  13. Try using free news release wire services, such as OpenPR, IssueWire, NewswireToday, ClickPress or PR Fire.
  14. Don’t forget about email marketing. It’s still one of the most cost-effective ways to reach your customers and prospects.
  15. Publish informative, compelling posts on your blog on a regular schedule.
  16. Encourage word of mouth referrals from your existing customers. For many companies, referrals are the single most important source of new business.
  17. Utilize inexpensive freelance help from online services like Fiverr, Upwork and Guru when it makes sense to do so.

Related Article: Reduce Marketing Expenses While Improving Business Performance

A Different Marketing Mindset 

Some executives — particularly small business CEOs and CFOs — tend to view marketing and branding as a line item expense. But I would argue that’s totally opposite in reality. Instead, think of your marketing budget as an investment account that will pay huge dividends by ensuring your company’s future.

And I’m not alone in that view.

As marketing guru Seth Godin famously said, “If you’re marketing from a fairly static annual budget, you’re viewing marketing as an expense. Good marketers realize that it’s an investment.”

fa-solid fa-hand-paper Learn how you can join our contributor community.