How SMEs can maximise limited marketing budgets in a challenging climate

Recent research found six out of 10 SMEs reported losses of up to 75 per cent this year. This is undoubtedly the most challenging economic climate that we’ve seen in our lifetimes. But whilst many are continuing business as usual, they’re considering where savings can be made.

Considering what is essential will always differ but when we surveyed over 100 SMEs in June as part of our white paper “Why Business Leaders are turning to Virtual Marketing Management”, nearly half (47 per cent) stated they planned to reduce their in-house marketing function due to the recession. Furthermore, 30 per cent have ceased their entire marketing activity altogether, including any outsourced specialities.

This makes for troubling reading. But we would urge business owners not to act impulsively. When looking at the balance sheet to ascertain how to continue to market products or services, but on a limited budget, here are some steps to maximise resources:

Invest in a targeted, agile and accountable digital marketing strategy 

Digital is a more cost-effective approach than traditional mediums, so should be prioritised. There is no point spending money on marketing if you don’t know who you’re talking to, what you want to achieve, and how to measure its success. This strategy needs to relate to business objectives, and crucially, needs leadership buy-in. 

Determine the most suitable marketing structure

Once the strategy is finalised, the tactics, platforms and specific expertise needed to reach your goals needs to be decided. There’s no one size fits all solution. 

Historically, businesses have explored one of two options:  

Traditional approaches

First, hiring an in-house digital marketing manager. It’s unlikely they’re an expert across all marketing disciplines – design, content creation, UX, digital marketing – but they will be close to the business’ core activity. The alternative is outsourcing to an agency with different experts skilled across all marketing disciplines (e.g. SEO, digital advertising, web development). But this comes with a hefty fee and the challenge that a third party can never truly understand your business. 

The next generation, hybrid approach

Perhaps the economic constraints of the pandemic have led many businesses to rethink the “norm” and consider throwing out the rule book altogether. That’s where virtual marketing management comes in; a new age, hybrid approach. It sits between the in-house and agency models, where an expert digital marketer manages the function from within the business by partnering with an internal marketer (who could be junior, or part-time). They’ll carry out the day-to-day tactical requirements under the guidance of the Virtual Marketing Manager (VMM). 

The VMM leverages this internal marketing resource but provides the strategic direction that would traditionally be out of reach of SME budgets. In fact, based on average salaries for digital marketing managers in Australia, it translates to up to 70 per cent cost savings.

Don’t go to ground

No-one is pretending that the next few years will be easy, but when times are tough, don’t go to ground. In fact, it’s more important than ever to share your story and promote your offering, through clever, targeted marketing.

When we asked SME CEOs what they thought of the new VMM concept, 85 per cent of respondents believed they could benefit from it. 

Seemingly insurmountable obstacles often result in businesses having to rethink and “disrupt” their industry. Companies like Airbnb and Uber would probably not be thriving today if the GFC hadn’t hit in 2008. Small businesses considering cutting marketing would be wise to think twice. By reimagining their budgets and the allocation of marketing spend, they may well be gaining more share of voice and be flourishing into the future. 

Stephanie King and Alexandra King, Co-founders, Ask Marketing

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