Sometimes, bad things happen (a global pandemic, for example), and your business suffers. When budgets run tight and you have to make difficult decisions, it’s natural to look at your marketing spend and try to find ways to cut back.
Some of our clients have found themselves in this exact situation due to the COVID-19 crisis, but it’s also something that can happen to a company even in less historically challenging times. So, we decided to use our experience making the most of limited marketing budgets to provide some helpful advice on what to do if you need to scale back.
For the purposes of this article, we won’t lecture you about how cutting back on marketing could affect your long-term business growth. You’re smart, and you know that you can’t build a brand and get new customers without marketing. But when you’re a small business owner faced with a decision to either cut marketing spend or slash your payroll or employee benefits, sometimes there’s no other option.
Two Types of Marketing: Paid and Organic
Online marketers generally classify marketing tactics into two broad categories: paid and organic. Paid campaigns typically involve paying directly for advertising space, whether in search engines or on other websites. Ideally, customers click these ads and wind up on your website, often at a special landing page designed to get them to provide contact information or make a purchase.
Meanwhile, organic strategies involve trying to attract potential customers or clients to your website without paying for them directly. With organic strategies, you’re trying to get your website to show up in Google searches or reach people on social media. Although these campaigns require investment, you don’t have to pay for each potential client who visits your website or social page.
Common Organic Strategies
- Content Marketing
- Blog articles
- Website content
- Longer, in-depth materials (ebooks, whitepapers, infographics)
- Organic (Non-Paid) Social Media
- Various other platforms
- Link Building
Common Paid Strategies
- Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising
- Paid social media ads
- Display advertising
- Programmatic ads
- Remarketing and retargeting ads
- Digital video ads
- Affiliate marketing
- Traditional media (radio, TV, billboards)
- Over-the-top (OTT) ads
When Making Cuts, Start With Paid Campaigns
When clients come to us and say they need to make cuts, we almost always look at opportunities to cut spending on paid digital advertising while preserving organic campaigns. There are two primary reasons for this tactic.
1. Paid Advertising Takes Up a lot of Budget Space
We always do extensive research and planning to make our clients’ paid advertising campaigns as efficient and budget-friendly as possible. However, some types of paid advertising — especially pay-per-click (PPC), in which you bid against competitors to appear in the top results for certain search terms — can require significant spending to get results.
How much budget is required to move the needle depends on your strategy, your industry, and various other factors, but there’s almost always a minimum level of spending required for paid advertising to deliver worthwhile results. Meanwhile, there’s no such floor with organic advertising; you can find ways to execute effective content marketing and social media campaigns on even the tightest of budgets.
Also, paid advertising campaigns are much more likely to make inefficient use of your budget than organic campaigns, especially if you’re managing your paid campaigns yourself. To avoid wasting money on online paid advertising, you need to do a lot of research before rolling out any campaigns. Once your campaigns are live, the work never stops; you need to constantly look at your cost per click (CPC) and other important metrics, test various options for copy, images, and keywords, and make adjustments based on the results. If you don’t have someone devoting time to this process at least every week, there’s a good chance your campaigns are wasting money.
RELATED: Is Paid Search Right for Your Firm?
2. Paid Advertising Doesn’t Sustain Itself
Paid advertising is like a car: it can get you places fast, but only as long as you keep putting fuel in the gas tank. If you stop putting in fuel and the tank runs out, you’ve got an oversized brick on your hands.
Likewise, if you stop investing in paid advertising and the budget runs out, your ads will no longer appear in front of potential customers, and you’re left with very little value for the money you’ve spent. This is true not only of paid digital ads but even of traditional media like TV spots and billboards. At best, these types of ads deliver long-term value by increasing name recognition. For the most part, though, potential customers or clients won’t remember the ad messaging for long. Once your ads stop airing or showing up online, any calls or purchases you received from the ads will dry up as well.
On the other hand, organic marketing strategies are more like planting a garden. These strategies rarely deliver results as quickly as paid campaigns, but they can build momentum over time, especially with a bit of regular pruning and upkeep.
For example, if you publish a blog article that ranks on page one of Google for a valuable search term, that blog article will keep bringing potential customers to your website via Google long after you’ve paid the onetime cost to create and publish the content. If the search term you’re ranking for is desirable for lots of other companies, some of them will inevitably publish related content too, and you may have to update your blog over time to keep their content from pushing yours off of page one.
But if you’ve found a niche keyword with not much competition, you may be able to stay on page one for months or even years without making any further investment. Even if a worst-case scenario comes to pass and you have to pull all the budget from your content marketing campaigns for a few months, you should still keep getting traffic and leads from successful content you’ve already published.
What if Cutting Paid Campaigns Isn’t Enough?
So, what if you suspended most of your paid advertising campaigns and still need to make further cuts? Ideally, we’d want to look at your company’s existing assets and current budget before making any recommendations. But as a general principle, we’d recommend you triage your marketing budget by making cuts to organic spending in this order:
- Technical SEO and link building: Publishing useful content that interests people is the most important form of SEO you can engage in. (We didn’t make this up — Google says the very same thing.) So, it doesn’t make sense to cut your content marketing budget while still going full throttle with link building campaigns or technical SEO. The exception would be if your site has technical issues that are preventing Google from crawling it properly, which can prevent your content from showing up in searches at all.
- Blog and video content: You really don’t want to stop publishing content, but if you absolutely have to cut back on the frequency of blogs or video content, then as Kurt Vonnegut said, so it goes. If you’ve already been publishing content for several years and you have some steady organic traffic flowing to your site, it might not even be the worst thing in the world to scale back your posting frequency and focus on getting the most value out of each piece of content.
Use free or low-cost tools like Google Trends, Keyword Surfer, and Answer the Public, then combine the data you get from those tools with your knowledge of your customer base to look for the most valuable potential topics. Focus on writing the best possible blogs and articles, making them compelling and informative, and ramp back up in frequency when you can.
- Organic social media: You cannot, under any circumstances short of a zombie apocalypse, afford to have your organic social media presence (your Facebook page, LinkedIn profile, Twitter account, and any other social platforms you use often) go dark. If you stop posting during a challenging time like what we’re experiencing now, potential customers may think you’ve gone out of business. And posting regularly on social media — even if it’s just to give updates from your team and send out an encouraging word to your community — is the most budget-friendly and low-risk (from a financial standpoint) type of digital marketing activity you can possibly engage in.
Don’t Neglect Earned Media and Community Engagement
Crises on the scale of the COVID-19 pandemic don’t come along often, but other types of more common events — economic recessions, natural disasters, major world events — can all change people’s online browsing and buying habits. The adjustments you need to make depend on the circumstances, but in the extraordinary case of the coronavirus crisis, you can’t just blithely carry on with marketing as usual and expect potential customers or clients to respond to the types of messaging that normally resonate. They have bigger concerns on their minds than whether to buy your product, and if you fail to recognize that, your company will look hopelessly self-centered and out of touch.
If you turn on the TV or stream video right now, you’ll see lots of ads that are less sales-oriented and more inspirational in tone. Some are saccharine and self-serving, while others are more specifically community-minded and helpful. Some read like after-school PSAs promoting love and togetherness, and others just involve subtle nods to social distancing or trying times. But what all of them have in common is a recognition that unusual times call for out-of-the-ordinary marketing tactics.
If you’re able to generate any extra marketing budget by cutting back on paid advertising, trade shows, billboards, and other marketing tactics that don’t make sense at the moment, we recommend putting those resources toward community involvement. First and most importantly, people in your community need help more than ever, and it’s the right thing to do. Second, it will leave people with a lasting positive impression of your brand and your company that can endure through a crisis.
The ways to get involved are limitless. We’ve helped some of our clients at LaFleur design community-based initiatives to reduce drunk driving deaths, provide scholarships for local students, and raise charitable donations for nonprofits that fight hunger.
Promoting your company through these efforts shouldn’t be your first concern, but you can make it a natural part of the process without coming across as self-serving. Talk about your efforts on your blog and on social media. Don’t focus the messaging around your company and how much good you’re doing. Instead, explain why you felt compelled to give back, why you chose the initiative you did, how you selected your partner or process, and how you plan to continue helping as the coronavirus pandemic goes on.
These types of efforts can also lead to earned (free) media in the form of news coverage or promotion from the organizations you partner with. Again, don’t let good press become your primary motivation, but it’s also not something you’d ever want to turn away if it results from a sincere initiative that helps people in need.
Need More Help? Give Us a Call
If you need help getting more results with less marketing spend during the current crisis (or at any time), our team at LaFleur is here to help. As a data-driven digital marketing partner, we help businesses of all types and sizes improve their marketing strategies and understand their return on investment so they can make the best decisions based on their needs. We have years of experience working with small or startup businesses and tight budgets, so finding ways to do more with less is second nature to us.
McCoy, J. (2019, August 7). The #1 Factor That Will Help Your Content Rank in Google. Search Engine Journal. Retrieved from https://www.searchenginejournal.com/factor-content-rank-google/319383/