In times of crisis, marketing budgets are usually among the first to feel the pinch. Indeed, as tough economic conditions persist, marketing budgets as a share of corporate revenue have been shrinking to the extent that 71% of CMOs polled by Gartner in May said they wouldn’t have enough funds to fully execute their strategies this year.
What would they be trying to achieve if they weren’t limited this way? If they had just 10% more spending power – almost enough to return their budgets to 2019 pre-permacrisis levels – how would they wield it? Raconteur asked three marketing chiefs what moves they would make, given the extra money.
Every year, Patricia Corsi places about a third of her firm’s marketing budget into a separate pot that she calls the “pitch fund”. She then invites members of her senior team (13 people report directly to her) to present business cases for ideas they think should be prioritised.
This fund is then typically spent on the development of minimum viable products – versions of new goods with just enough features to be usable by early-adopting customers, who can provide feedback to inform refinements.
Given 10% more money for the year, “I would apply the same principle”, says Corsi, whose 300-strong marketing team covers a portfolio of global brands including Berocca, Canesten and Claritin. In other words, she would immediately put a third of that extra cash into the pitch fund.
“In any given year, there will be areas that you’ll need to invest in much more. But, of course, we don’t get much more budget every year,” she says. “So, instead of counting on the business changing, we’ve decided to take control of what we can.”
This year, Corsi is channelling investment into areas where she already knows that artificial intelligence can benefit the business. She would devote another significant chunk of her hypothetical extra budget to accelerating projects that are going well and reactivating some longer-term work that was deprioritised because of the need to focus on more urgent matters.
“AI is one of the weapons in our arsenal in which we would invest more,” she says. “There are some areas where there isn’t much clarity on whether AI would add value to the business or not, so I would experiment in those.”
Crucially, as marketing teams around the world come under growing pressure to justify all their investments and prove their effectiveness, a modest budgetary boost might offer a chance to experiment in relative freedom.“
A principle of experimentation is that half of what you try might not be successful,” stresses Corsi, who adds that, if such work ends up delivering growth, “you’ll have an upside that wasn’t in the books”.
It must be the entrepreneur in Samuel Day who’d be pushing for far more than a mere 10% extra to spend. Confused.com’s CMO says that he would look to double his department’s budget “immediately”, thereby enabling the brand to do something it wouldn’t normally have the scope to try.
“I’d want to make our own special, distinctive campaign to run for a defined period,” says Day, who’d find a media or brand partner to co-fund a project that would make “more impact than just iterative gains. Rather than distributing that money across everything you’re doing and making it all slightly better, make it make a real difference.”
He would get things started by bringing everyone from his own team and its external partners together in the same room to put their ideas on the table and work out “the biggest bang for our buck we can get”. This is often when the “gems” are discovered, he says. But it can also lead to some quite parochial ideas, with various parties trying to attract as much money as they can their way.
Day would particularly like to extend the brand’s reach to more younger consumers. While Confused.com’s sponsorship of TV soap Emmerdale has “nailed” the middle-aged-plus demographic, fragmented younger audiences remain more elusive, so he would be looking at partnering with TikTok or YouTube, or mounting a big PR campaign. All the while, he would be paying close attention to his econometrics and attribution models.
“The return element of any marketing investment is always a risk,” Day explains. “Because you must deal with this balance of risk, you’ve never got enough budget for your ambitions.”
But he adds that more money doesn’t necessarily mean better marketing. Marketers must be smart with their investment decisions. If, for instance, a campaign is already “optimised”, going beyond it with a bigger budget might not be the best move.
“You’ve got to get it right, knowing that every pound spent has a significant impact until it doesn’t,” Day stresses. “Any business should maximise that optimised ROI before it goes too far. You have to work hard for that budget.”
It’s been a particularly busy year for Jane Stiller so far. She has overseen the commercial broadcaster’s biggest marketing campaign to date, with the arrival of the ITVX streaming service, and also led major content campaigns based on high-profile shows including Love Island and A Spy Among Friends.
“We’ve actually increased our marketing expenditure to exceed pre-crisis levels, recognising the need to cut through a cluttered market and demand viewers’ attention,” reports Stiller, who has been investing confidently in the ITV brand to “drive awareness and consideration”.
Of course, she’d always welcome an extra 10%. That would enable her to ramp up her investment in ensuring that ITV remains “top of mind” among its target audience.
“Every marketer would like a larger budget if they know they can drive profitable growth with that extra money,” Stiller says. “There’s huge competition in the TV content market, so an incremental increase would help us to achieve our goals of bringing in more viewers more often to deliver our commercial objectives.”
Stiller typically prioritises “working media” – what the audience sees. She would put more money behind her company’s Q4 output, which includes a revival of Big Brother on ITV for the first time, and increase investment in digital acquisition channels.
“My focus is always to increase investment in working media to deliver the greatest commercial results,” she says. “I’d be looking to mass-reaching media channels, such as TV and out-of-home advertising, as well as targeted digital channels that perform well for acquisition and retention.”
But a bigger budget is not the “be all and end all” if fundamental elements of a campaign don’t match up, stresses Stiller, who explains: “Nothing will perform as well if the creative execution isn’t fantastic or the targeting isn’t good.”
With this in mind, Stiller might use any remaining extra money to invest in the best creative talent she can find and sufficient data infrastructure to ensure that ITV can personalise its communications on a large scale.