Budgets are traditionally one of the most straightforward aspects of business planning, especially for established businesses. You know how much capital you have on hand, you generally have a good estimate of your cash flow, and all you need to do is a little bit of math to balance it all out. However, budgets become much more complex when uncertainty is introduced, and marketing can often be the most uncertain part of a business strategy. The need for certainty in an uncertain department raises a unique challenge: How to reliably budget your marketing strategy such that your business grows and doesn’t lose money on marketing materials that don’t follow through.
When it comes to marketing, the first step is to ensure you have a rock-solid foundation on which to build your strategy, and the foundation of your company’s public presence is your brand.
Assessing Your Brand
Before you can even approach a marketing budget, you need to be sure you understand your brand. Brand is more than just a name or a logo or a commercial jingle; brand is the heart and soul of your company. Brand is what your company is, inside and outside. Your brand is what draws new talent to your team and new customers to your products and services. Brand persists through generations of employees.
The best companies in the world all have indomitable brands. Coke, Pepsi, Apple, Microsoft, BMW, and Mercedes alike all have a corporate personality that consumers and professionals can immediately identify. No matter your industry, brand is important. Even the least aesthetically-focused industries still have identifiable brands, whether in the form of design flourishes, logos, or even just business approaches.
If you’re doing business online (as most businesses are,) brand becomes even more important. Both because of the sheer number of participants in the online marketplace and the lack of physical location for online customers, your brand is everything that will distinguish you from your competitors before your product is actually bought. You won’t sell a product or a service at all if your customers cannot see your brand rise above the cacophony of instantly-available websites and information sources the web brings to them.
As mobile rises in popularity, it’s becoming even more essential that your brand is honed and focused. On mobile, you’ll get less screen real-estate, shorter timeframes to make good impressions, and less devotion of potential customer focus (since so many people shop and research products and services on the go.)
Keep in mind that there is no shame in honestly assessing your company’s brand expression; those great brands referenced above are constantly in the process of analyzing, assessing, and revitalizing how they communicate their brand to the world. The process is vital to the long-term success of any company.
There are actionable ways you can analyze your brand today, without any immediate need for special tools or studies. The first step is to put yourself in the shoes of a potential customer and, then, of a potential employee. Imagine coming across your company’s website online for the first time. What would your first reaction be? Does the design of your page flow well? Does it portray the characteristics that your company embodies?
Color, shape, and style all contribute to the portrayal of digital brand, but the navigation, speed, and ease-of-use of your page also contribute to how your brand is received. If your website is clunky, what does that say about your products and your internal processes?
Websites are the red carpet that leads to your brand, your products, and your team. It’s vital to give your website the investment of thought, effort, and capital that it deserves, else you’ll find that your company across the board won’t get the attention it deserves. Your team works hard, you work hard, and your products work hard, make sure your website communicates your brand with pride.
Ask yourself what it is that your company set out to accomplish, what your products bring to the lives of your customers. Any area of your mission, products, or public-facing presence that gives you pause or makes you stumble for an answer should be further analyzed, because if it’s giving you pause, it’s undeniably giving your customers and potential new hires pause, too.
Broadcasting Your Brand
Once you’ve analyzed your brand and identified potential areas of improvement, it’s time to take action. Broadcasting your brand is, ultimately, what marketing is all about. Good marketing strategies catch the attention of those who need your services and your products and help them find your company. Both parts of this equation are equally important. If your marketing is flashy but doesn’t give viewers reason to follow through to your site, it’s going to be a waste of effort. If your marketing provides helpful connections to your services but doesn’t catch attention, you’ll have marketing materials that end up feeling like email spam.
Broadcasting your brand – succeeding in marketing – is more than just shouting the name of your company. It’s about delivering your brand directly to the audience that wants, or needs, to find you, and there are thousands of different ways to deliver. Everything from billboards to pamphlets to viral videos can serve as key parts of a working marketing strategy. Not all tools work for every brand though, and sometimes an over-investment in a single type of marketing tool can be a major point of financial failure.
Choosing the types of marketing that are going to most effectively carry your brand to the world at large comes down to careful assessment of your customer base. If your customer base is comprised largely of young, tech-connected students, radio or cable TV ads are unlikely to be a worthwhile investment for your brand. Instead, leaning heavily into digital video ads, video or audio stream ads, or special events near campuses are likely to be incredibly valuable investments.
There’s no catch-all, magic-bullet solution to marketing strategies; successful strategies are uniquely tuned to the companies and customer bases they serve. This fact brings us to the next step in the process: Learning the nuances of your customer base.
Intuition or Effort? Understanding Your Customers
The customer base of each and every company varies wildly when compared to one another. In fact, it’s possible that the customer base of the same company at different points of that company’s history could appear dramatically different when intercompared. What does this fact illustrate? It illustrates that understanding who your customers are is a process that requires continual refining and a sharp eye.
While some companies are able to get a kick-start to their marketing strategy by riding off the natural intuition of a leader or veteran employee, no amount of intuition can outweigh the value of sustained effort. Providing the ability for customers to give meaningful feedback, listening to customers, and acting effectively to address changes in your customer base will go considerably further towards long-term growth via marketing.
Some of the most shocking market upheavals of the modern era were the result of small companies pinning down exactly what their customers needed and large companies losing touch with the very customers that made them great in the first place.
A famous example of this came up in an interview with Apple Co-Founder Steve Jobs. When asked about the sudden fall of tech giant Xerox, Jobs explained that he believed Xerox failed because their current leaders, who were once marketers and salespeople, had forgotten what was important to their customers. This led to product and design decisions that were out of sync with what their customer base wanted going forward into the future.
A similar phenomenon can be seen when companies refuse to change as time goes on. Cable companies, for example, are grappling with this issue in the current day, when confronted with new innovations from companies like Netflix and Google. Cable television was once one of the most lucrative industries worldwide, but as technology advanced, the customer base for cable TV experienced changing needs.
What these examples give insight to is that good marketing strategies plan for change, which means that your marketing budget also needs to leave room for change.
Building the Budget: Combining Brand Confidence and Customer Understanding
To review, the reason budgeting for marketing strategies is so complicated is because, by its nature, an effective marketing strategy will induce change. A quality strategy will invite new customers to your door while bringing old customers back for more. Growth, what all companies desire, is a form of radical change for many companies because it affects every aspect of business. If you want growth for your company, you’ll need to budget with change in mind as a foundational part of that budget.
So, how can an ambitious company that has come to understand its brand and its customers build an effective marketing budget? The answer arises from a little bit of business chemistry. Businesses need to combine the knowledge they gain from each of the previously explored pursuits to create a formula for success.
By understanding what their brand means, who they are in the world, a company can seek out designs for their marketing materials that match their character perfectly. Logos, color schemes, and even more subtle motifs become clearly valuable. By understanding brand, a company can negotiate with and hire designers with confidence. They’ll end up with marketing materials that match their mission, their products, and their culture.
By understanding their customers, a company can know where to put their materials and what types of marketing to pursue. They’ll be able to combine nuanced knowledge of customer needs and wants with the characteristics of their brand to know what types of marketing simply won’t bring a return on investment. From that point, it’s a matter of research, innovation, and preparation for inevitable change.
Research and innovation should go hand-in-hand. As your company’s marketing teams investigate the costs of implementing each type of brand promotion, there should also be a focus on new and rising alternatives that can save money. If you run a smaller company that doesn’t have a devoted marketing department, one of the best ways to get more for your money is to work with digital marketing agents or agencies.
The best digital marketing agencies are experts at blending customer and brand knowledge into an effective array of marketing techniques customized precisely for your business. Digital marketing agencies are able to maintain a synchronized web presence across social media, email, digital video services, and your company’s blog, which can result in massive savings in your budgeting.
While calling upon the expertise of digital marketers is a great example of combining innovation and research into a single process, it’s hardly the only way you can boost your budget with modern tools and services. There are hundreds of completely free services, from professional-quality, free-to-use stock photos to email design suites and social media management suites that can add shocking levels of flexibility to your budget.
The last step in building your budget is the most complicated: Planning for change. While you’ll never be able to predict all fluctuations in your business to an exact number, you can certainly prepare for growth in advance. Projections and statistics here are your friends, they’ll allow you to take all of the work you’ve put into your budget and use it not only to inform your planning for the immediate future but for the long term, as well.
One of the most important parts of building a marketing budget for growth is revisiting the budget regularly. If you keep connected with your customers, keep watching for new services that can save you money, and utilize all new information to improve your budget, you’ll have a budget that evolves in lock-step with your company, which is a surefire recipe for success.
In Review: The Keys to a Masterful Marketing Budget Are in Your Hands
While the basic skills to build a budget are rooted in mathematics and accounting, what you need to build a marketing budget that is prepared to handle growth, change, and evolution is an insight into more abstract business concepts.
Brand, customer needs, demographics, and social trends all contribute massively to how far a marketing budget will go. Marketing is a uniquely human field, and humans are uniquely difficult to predict. The key detail here is that they are difficult, not impossible, to predict. Keeping a continual flow of customer feedback and brand performance will provide a steady supply of data points for you to build the future of your budgets with.
What many business leaders don’t realize is that the building blocks of a top-notch marketing budget are often already at your fingertips, they just need to be analyzed from the right perspective and given an investment of time.
With budgeting being vital to business function and marketing being more important than ever in the digital age we live in, budgeting your marketing department can be the detail that makes or breaks your company. Thankfully, in some ways at least, the playing field has been leveled for businesses across the board with regard to the cost of marketing.
In the past, if you did not have considerable starting capital, you would be stuck relying on local word of mouth as your main source of new customers. In an age of free-to-access social media, no or low-cost basic marketing tools, and instantaneous, global word of mouth, anyone with the will to work and a willingness to listen to the needs of consumers can get ahead.
Even the most financially-limited company can budget time and man-hours to the management of a set of social media accounts, which means that, at least on one front, even small businesses can strive aside the titans of industry that (for now) dominate world markets.
The digital age is all about making use of every tool available to you, and there’s an impressive number of them. Gathering data, recording feedback, and implementing your marketing techniques has never been easier than it is today, and all it takes is a willingness to do. Companies like yours – whether large or small – have options. It’s the freedom and flexibility of opportunity that is shaking up the world of business as we know it. Set out to grow your business by using what you already have: Customers, a brand, and a mission.
How can I make sure what I spend will truly benefit me?
Now you understand what it takes to properly create a marketing budget, but how do you make sure that everything you’re paying for is really benefiting your business? When it comes to budgeting for marketing and website services, like design and development, it’s important to make sure the services you’re paying for align not only with your budget but with your company’s overall goals for growth.
So once you finally pull the trigger and hire a web design company, it’s important to know exactly what you’re getting and why those services are important. The company you hire might offer design, development, SEO, branding, paid search, copywriting, and more.
You may think your job is done once you sign the papers but think again. This relationship between you and the design team is ongoing and needs to be nurtured over time. After all, your website isn’t a “set it and forget it” purchase, so neither is your relationship. Communication and mutual understanding should be practiced regularly to keep this going. But how? Here’s how to get the most out of your marketing budget when purchasing web services:
Expectations and transparency
Knowing what you’re getting into as far as timelines, results, and processes go more confidence on your end. Setting expectations and expected deliverables from both sides will result in fewer surprises and more conviction. Your design company should never mislead or over promise on future results.
Furthermore, your relationship should be filled with authenticity and transparency. Never wonder about what is going on—let the experts explain in full detail their strategies and wisdom. Trust us, you’ll feel more well-rounded, and the company will feel happy to serve someone who’s interested.
Trust the experts
A lot of businesses feel the need to micromanage their web services, showing their distrust in the design team they hired in the process. If you don’t believe in the skills of the designers, then why did you hire them? These professionals have worked their entire career in this field, so they know a thing or two. A good web design company will know exactly how to showcase your brand effectively online. We’re not saying they’ll be right every time, but remember that their decisions are based on experience. Just let them do their job and keep an open mind.
Understand the budget
Sometimes, it might seem like magic is happening behind the scenes of your website. Whether you’re paying for a total redesign or inbound-marketing campaigns, you should know where the money goes. The design company should communicate step by step where you’re getting value. It’s OK to ask for clarification—you need to feel you’re getting your money’s worth. However, it’s also important to remember that you get what you pay for. Don’t try to skimp on costs, or you might end up with a less than desirable site.
Like with any relationship, effective communication is critical. To maintain this connection, it’s crucial for both parties to respond to emails and calls within 24 hours and to set up quarterly check-ins to make sure everyone is on the same page. There should always be a clear understanding of the next steps. It’s easy to sit behind a desk and shoot off emails every day. If you have a concern, your company contact should be available for a quick call to set things right. The same goes for you, too.
Have efficient meetings
When you do meet with your design firm, make sure the time is well spent. Each meeting should be valuable to everyone involved. To do this, share agendas ahead of time, stick to the scheduled time, don’t get off topic, and make sure everyone knows what happens next. Don’t get caught in an endless loop of long-winded emails.
It’s easy to get sucked into daily tasks while feeling the need to get down to business straightaway. However, it’s important to take the time to get to know the people you’re working with. There should be some small talk and light conversation in meetings, so everyone remembers the human aspect of their working relationships. Try setting up in-person meetings to get an even more personalized connection. This strengthens relationships while showing dedication from both sides. All work and no play isn’t significant these days.
Once you establish a working relationship with your web-design firm, maintenance is essential for success. Continually building effective communication and understanding will help you get the most out of the services you’re paying for which in turn will keep you on track with your entire marketing budget. Utilizing the tools you already have and being specific and careful with the services you choose to outsource will help you to stick to your marketing budget and really see business growth.
If you have any questions or would like to discuss your web service or marketing needs with our team, please contact us today.