How to preserve marketing dollars and drive ROI in a downturn

How to preserve marketing dollars and drive ROI in a downturn


Philip Guiliano

Today’s marketers are on a perpetual quest to “do more with less.” It’s such a common refrain that it borders on the cliché. Yet it’s true. That’s the case even in the best of times, when the economy is soaring and business is running smoothly. In stressful market conditions, however, businesses ratchet down as they enter survival mode. And when that happens, sales and marketing budgets are almost always the first to be slashed and/or strategic initiatives put on hold.

What’s an enterprising marketer to do?

When the economic outlook is poor, marketers must get even more strategic and efficient. That’s true both in terms of their internal operations and major brand initiatives such as rebrands. Fortunately, with the right mindset and approach, marketers can set their organizations up to do much more than just survive a downturn. They can position them to emerge on the other side with all the necessary pieces in place for long-term success.

How to increase marketing efficiency and drive ROI during a downturn

Regardless of whether your marketing funds remain stable or take a temporary nosedive, these are the things you can do to position your organization to survive — and even thrive — during a downturn.

Perform a marketing and brand operations opportunity analysis

Your marketing team should always be mindful of operational efficiency. It’s the most direct and measurable way to boost your ROI and free up additional funds for your most exciting initiatives. With budgets on hold or decreasing – or demands shifting – then the time is ripe to systematically reassess your marketing operations with an eye toward increasing efficiency.

To begin, plan to perform a comprehensive audit (or opportunity analysis) of your marketing operations. Doing so will almost certainly reveal easy opportunities to recover wasted money — and impact. And, this should extend beyond marketing as other operational units in your organization play a role in expressing your brand – and are spending money to do so every day.

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In order to perform a comprehensive operational opportunity assessment, take a deep dive into each of the following areas:

  • People: How does your marketing team divvy up roles and responsibilities? Which vendors and agency partners do you currently work with, and how do they help you express your brand? Look for redundancies, and you’ll find opportunities to rationalize.
  • Process: Take a look at your internal marketing processes. For example, how does your team create, document, and approve branded assets? By carefully mapping out your existing processes, you can identify opportunities to clarify protocols, close gaps, and increase efficiency.
  • Technology: Consider the tools and technologies you use to manage your brand and internal marketing operations. What does each tool offer? Are there any major gaps that necessitate inefficient workarounds (such as manual entry)? Look for opportunities to rationalize or upgrade your tools and technology with an eye toward increasing efficiency.
  • Training: How does your marketing team educate staff and external partners regarding your brand? Can you improve the way you approach this process in order to reduce confusion and achieve better, more consistent results? For example, you might beef up your training documentation or implement a Help Desk.
  • Documentation: Does your team have rationalized, value engineered standards? How about playbooks? Are you making it easy for people to do things right and hard to do it wrong?
  • Governance: Do you have transparency across all activities? Is there a strong support model in place? Does your team have and use effectively dashboards and tracking/management tools?

Pinpoint short-term opportunities with the highest ROI

Some of the issues you uncover as part of your audit will no doubt be complex, with many interdependencies and contingencies to deal with. Those may be set aside for now – depending upon how compelling their ROI model is. To start, look for the low-hanging fruit. These are relatively simple fixes that can add up to quick wins with outsized impact. Your low-hanging fruit will likely include things like rationalizing branded assets (as well as retiring assets that don’t really need to be branded), rationalizing vendors to reduce redundancy, gain purchasing power, and boosting consistency, defining clear roles and responsibilities and streamlined processes.

Once you’ve made a few quick improvements, you can turn your attention to more complex opportunities related to internal processes and systems. This is where you stand to improve your long-term ROI most significantly.

For example, let’s say you have a process that currently requires seven steps. Over the course of your audit, you find a way to reduce the number of steps down to just two. Now you’ve freed up five steps’ worth of time and effort that can be allocated elsewhere. If your team performs this process 1,000 times over the course of a year, that adds up to quite a lot of additional productivity at no additional cost. And just like that, the return on your investment compounds on itself. We’ve seen this initiative produce results for financial services companies, healthcare systems, manufacturers, and other industries.

By looking for opportunities to increase your organizational efficiency, you stand to free up much-needed money for future investment, streamline and simplify your workflows, improve the consistency of your brand expression, and decrease your time to market. Clear wins in any economic situation.

By making the right brand and operational improvement moves now you can position your firm to be first off the starting blocks when the market for your products and services rebounds.