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How to squeeze the very most marketing out of your marketing budget


For those of us not blessed with a Coca-Cola sized marketing budget (oh, the glory!), one of the most pressing questions we ask ourselves is how we can get more marketing for less money

If 100% of your marketing budget was easily quantifiable by ROAS (Return On Ad Spend), this would be a non-issue, of course. It’s emotionally pretty easy to increase the budget on a program that has a positive ROAS – meaning it’s bringing in more revenue than you’re paying in advertising costs. You have no idea how many conversations I’ve had with clients that start out with, “of course, if we get a good return on our marketing, I’ll increase the marketing budget”. Well, duh.

The problem is that there’s a lot of “marketing” that isn’t easy to tie cleanly back to ROAS. What about updating your website? Keeping your social media platforms current? Making sure your collateral (flyers, brochures, catalogs, etc) are up to date? None of that can be tracked back directly to sales, but still needs to be done. And we’re not even bringing up things like brand awareness, which is an important part of the marketing cycle but notoriously difficult to link directly to marketing return. 

In reality, a portion of marketing programs should be included under the cost of doing business, like your power bill or your lease.

But that begs the question: if I take away the pipe-dream of magically making all marketing pay for itself (sorry!), how do you keep costs under control so you can pay for the marketing you need? Here are our thoughts:

How to get the most out of your marketing budget

1) Your marketing channels: make sure you get the mix right

One of the biggest ways to hemorrhage your marketing budget is to spend money on marketing channels that aren’t working for you. While it’s unlikely you can directly track the return on your investment across everything you’re doing for marketing, it pays (literally) to take a step back and really look at value. 

What advertising is getting you the most traffic? How well does that traffic behave? Setting up a Google Analytics account is a useful, free way to track how well your traffic channels are performing. You can even set up conversion goals to show how well different traffic streams are converting into sales or other goals. Remember, not all your channels will convert directly into sales, but they should be driving traffic to your site that stays there a while and looks around. 

Then, act on the data. If you’re running an ad in the local paper every month, for instance, and you don’t see a bump in traffic afterwards, you might want to consider ditching that ad. Unless you’re getting a bunch of customers in some other way (like the phone is ringing off the hook), that ad probably isn’t working.

Then look around at other waste. That brochure that needs to be updated? How many do you actually give away every year (that aren’t ending up immediately in the trash)? Could it work as well (or better) as a digital flier? Perhaps even a page on your website? Go through your marketing and look at everything with a very critical eye. 

Even better, bring in pro help to do a marketing audit. They can help you build a marketing plan that prioritizes those channels that really get you sales. 

2) Target the right audience

Another way to spend more money than necessary is to spend it advertising to the wrong people. Or to spend it on a really broad audience – like an ad in the paper – that might reach the right people, but also a lot of wrong people as well. 

The more targeted your audience is, the more efficient your marketing spend will be. This is why search marketing almost always provides a positive ROAS for B2C businesses; if you’re doing it right, 100% of the traffic clicking on your ad is interested in your product or service. This is also why email marketing – to a clean, organically grown list* – is also excellent. 

Take a look at your marketing channels and think hard about whether the audience is really targeted well. Print ads (paper and magazine), some digital ads, billboards, etc, are often culprits for overspend.** And if you’re advertising on social media, use lookalike audiences (audiences that “look” like your current customers) to make sure you’re targeting effectively. 

3) Utilize the talents of your team

This is a hack we use a lot for companies we work with. Do you have a good amateur photographer on your team? Is one of your CSRs a great vlogger? Does someone like writing? Is your IT guy secretly really big on posting on social media?  It’s totally OK to farm out some of your content production and social media management to the team, even if it has a bit of a “homemade” look in the end. In fact, the more your content looks like user generated content (a fancy way of saying “homemade”), the better. 

One thing to be very aware of, however, is making sure you don’t take advantage of your employees – or seem to be.  Make sure any marketing helpers volunteer for their new duties, and don’t expect them to work on their own time. We find that, often, employees like a little break from their main duties – and enjoy being part of the marketing program… as long as they don’t feel like they have to stay late or come in on weekends to get it done. 

4) Put together a functional funnel

This may sound like a general marketing best practice rather than a cost-saving strategy, but hear me out: if you drive a lot of traffic through (paid) advertising, and it just bounces off your site without any means of capturing that traffic, they, yes, you’re absolutely wasting money. 

Instead, make sure you have strategies in place to capture that traffic. This can (and should) include retargeting campaigns and pop-ups to get people to subscribe to your email list (yes, they work). What are retargeting campaigns, you ask? They are campaigns that show ads or send things to people that have visited your site. There are many platforms that help with this, but channels can include ads, emails, and direct mail.  

5) Hire help strategically

Yeah, I said it. Sometimes the best way to save money is to spend a little. Bringing in an expert for a quick audit and some marketing planning can save you money in the long run because – if they are good – they will make sure the money you are spending is, well, money well spent. 

Final thoughts on getting the most marketing for your money

Since marketing won’t ever completely pay for itself (and why should it, you don’t expect a return on your investment from your power bill, do you?),the next best thing is to build as efficient a marketing program as possible.

And if you still need some ideas on how to pay for your (efficient) marketing program, check out our thoughts on how to find the money to afford marketing. And best of luck!

* Buying a list from a list broker doesn’t count, as, while they may be targeted, they often are overused and have bad (and old) information. They usually preform quite poorly.
** We’re not saying you should never run a print ad or rent a billboard. For certain businesses and industries, this can make a lot of sense. Just be aware of what you’re doing when you do so!

At Urban Sherpa Marketing Co. we offer marketing advisory, strategic planning, and marketing services for small businesses and startups. Our goal is to make high-quality marketing — from search marketing and social media marketing to website strategy and direct mail marketing — possible for every business, no matter the size. Think of us as your outsourced marketing department, strategic marketing adviser, or even your phone-a-friend marketing lifeline.

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