Marketing Budget Shrinking? It’s Time to Refocus Your Strategy

Needless to say, it’s been a challenging few months. The impact of the COVID-19 has been felt across the business landscape. And inevitably, it’s meant a major reallocation of resources, with 80% of marketers adjusting their plans and activities according to our latest research.

Budgets have been cut across the board – and that includes sales and marketing. You’d think that this would lead to a more conservative approach: projects being shelved, and businesses doubling down on the tried and tested approaches.

While this is the case in many organisations, some are using it as a chance to challenge the norm and re-think how they connect, engage, and convert leads.

As many as 80% of our respondents said that since the outbreak started, they have used the time to revaluate their marketing strategy. And 83% said they’re making changes and preparing to bounce right back with a charge towards the end of financial years.

This is one of the key themes from our research, where we asked 210 CMOs and senior marketing decision-makers about the pressures they are feeling during the pandemic. This blog will outline a few of the trends that the survey uncovered and explore how the disruption caused by COVID-19 provides an opportunity to reimagine the way we market.


Under pressure

While budgets have shrunk, the pressure to deliver hasn’t.

While seven in ten (70%) respondents revealed that their marketing budgets have been reduced as a result of COVID-19, over three-quarters (76%) of marketers said they and their teams have been under increasing pressure to deliver during COVID-19. Yet despite this, 77% agree that new business leads have reduced since the outbreak.

Budget has been taken away from traditional routes to market, decreasing by 50% in advertising and 43% in events. But another important point to make is this budget isn’t disappearing entirely. Instead, much of it is being reallocated into initiatives that offer customers support and guidance.

Thought leadership, for example, has increased 21% since the outbreak according to our survey. Offering guidance to customers is being used as an opportunity to drive website traffic and enable the collection and optimisation of customer data to inform further campaigns.

Quality, not quantity

Marketing activity hasn’t necessarily decreased, but rather, changed. The focus has shifted away from chasing leads in favour of precise outbound messaging.

The sentiment is less sales driven. CMOs and senior marketers are focusing on customer consolidation and trying to better understand and engage those with a higher propensity to buy. It’s not about trying to reach more customers, but instead better, higher-value customers. And one of the best ways of doing this is through empathy.

Offering support and advice is a key way to engage customers. Part of this is through thought leadership, but it’s also about having helpful conversations with current customers; keeping them up-to-date on the impact to services and finding new ways to support them.

Doing more with less

With fewer resources available, it’s important to make marketing budgets work harder than before. To be able to engage with customers on a personal level, you first have to understand them. And inevitably, this comes down to data.

What’s your customers’ situation? What are their concerns? What are their biggest pushbacks? The answers to all these are hidden in businesses’ analytics.

Before the sales team drafts an email or picks up a phone, marketing needs to have teased out the answers to these questions and handed them over. Doing so will optimise comms and give marketers the best chance of success.

This is something our respondents seem to have taken on board. Since the outbreak, 67% of CMOs and senior marketers said they have increased their tailored offerings to customers to help accelerate their sales processes, highlighting how businesses are increasingly understanding the value in a more targeted, data-driven approach.

The ‘new’ normal

Although the pandemic continues, we can see glimpses of how the marketing landscape will have changed in a post-COVID world.

As many as 80% of our respondents said that since the outbreak started, they have used the time to revaluate their marketing strategy. And 83% said they’re making changes and preparing to bounce right back with a charge towards the end of financial years.

It’s encouraging to see this kind of challenger thinking – particularly during stressful times. And it’s exciting to know that, more than ever, data is being used to drive success within marketing departments.

Today, it’s no longer enough to ask, “How much are we getting through the door?” It’s about finding out how much organisations can get back – and that means optimising every website, every form, every email and every conversation so it has the best chance of making an impact.

The new challenge to CMOs, once their budgets are returned to them, is to remember the lessons they’ve learned and to keep data at the heart of their marketing operations. As the results of the survey revealed, and as we see trends take shape, marketing is going to be a key capability in the restarting of business, much the same as compliance was after the last financial crisis. Data will be critical to the success of high-performing businesses, building momentum and demand generation through data-driven online strategies. The era of traditional marketing is over, and digital momentum is most definitely the future.


In May 2020 Dun & Bradstreet interviewed 210 CMOs and senior marketers/decision makers in the following sectors: financial services, technology, healthcare, construction and building materials and logistics/transportation.

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