Your Guide to 2021 Marketing Budget Planning

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  • 9/1/2020

    The impact of COVID-19 has led to strange times for marketers. We’re seeing new paradigm shifts every day, and at thunder::tech, we are working hard to help you navigate its impact on your business. This content is one of many resources we are creating for marketing and management in the midst of the coronavirus.
    As things continue to change, we’re helping by providing marketing advice, fresh perspectives and strategic planning for companies during and after the pandemic. You can view our extensive library of COVID-19 content, resources and research here.
    Marketers have had it rough in 2020—a pandemic, protests and civil unrest, rising unemployment, a crazy stock market, supply chain problems, lock downs, elections, oh and murder hornets.
    So how is a marketer supposed to develop a marketing budget for 2021? Flexibility, transparency and scenario planning are the best tools to guide you through a 2021 marketing budget season.
    While there's no crystal ball, you can still keep an eye on the market and factor in potential disruptors. For example, in 2019, though no one saw a pandemic coming, marketers factored in 2020 the election many were already foreseeing a possible recession in 2020/2021.
    We know we’ll be living through a pandemic or the aftermath of a pandemic in 2021, but for the rest of the story, here's what thunder::tech is hearing, especially from middle market-sized brands.

    Flexibility & Measurement

    Flexibility will be the keyword for marketers in 2021. You may have to lurch from quarter to quarter next year as forecasting at the moment is rife with variables out of marketers' control. Set up these budget reviews now and speed up what your typical cycle used to be.
    Measurement and ROI need to be more transparent as you head into the New Year. Measure your cost per lead, return on ad spend (ROAS), average order value (AOV) and any other factors important to the success of your organization. These will be critical to showing your value and defense of your budget, including making the case for any increases.

    Alternative areas of investment

    Especially for brands that don't have a Fortune 1000 budget, focus on activities that have a lower upfront investment than your traditional marketing line items, but still provide a solid return for your budget. This can include:
    • Brand building activities - These will likely continue to decline in favor of direct response tactics, now better known as performance marketing. However, awareness and brand investments shouldn't ever disappear from a budget.
    • Activating existing clients - Allocate a higher percentage of the budget than usual to market to existing clients for repeat purchases and higher order volume
    • Bottom of the funnel marketing - Market towards the end of the funnel with more budget emphasis on search and digital retargeting activities
    • Creating earned media opportunities - Focus on establishing a consistent program of earned media opportunities to easily reach new audiences.
    • Strategizing your content - Gather budget and develop strategy around audience building (email, CRM, social) and content development (blogs, whitepapers, video, podcasts, etc.) to assist in audience building.

    Partners within your organization

    Here are some tips we've compiled from other smart marketers on how they are pulling budget from other departments or showing value with closer internal partnerships:
    • Reallocate forgotten budgets - Go hunting for other line items that are sidelined. Trade shows, travel and entertainment, those corporate season tickets, etc. that were sidelined in 2020 and likely in 2021.
    • Team up with Sales - They need you as their right hand - lead generation, sales support, virtual offerings, and more.
    • Focus on your HR marketing - If your brand is hiring, HR needs you. The recruiting game has definitely changed because of COVID-19 and most brands are woefully behind on developing and marketing a modern employer brand.
    • Get buy-in from the C-Suite - Your brand’s digital transformation efforts need you & this means sponsorship (and budget) from higher ups.

    Scenario planning

    There are many ways that marketers plan for scenarios during product launches, trade shows, and other big events. If you aren’t already scenario planning, 2021 will be the time to start. At the very least you should have down, flat and growth scenarios drawn up to discuss with your CFO. 
    Wherever the business is projected to be, you need to ask: Will my budget align normally with the forecast if I use a percentage of sales model or other predictable model, or will I make the case that I need more than normal because of an explainable variable or investment? Always remember that in downward trending scenarios, the CFO needs to understand what will be sacrificed and the short and long term effects of that choice.
    Other scenarios to consider are the tactical ones that we've already experienced. How likely are they to repeat themselves in a way that will affect your budget?
    • Will screen time (including social media usage) dramatically rise during the winter months as it did during the spring 2020 lockdowns?
    • How will travel and entertainment be affected?
    • Will trade shows, conferences and meetings be cancelled the whole year or part of the year?
    • If you're a B2B marketer, will postal mail to corporate offices be wasted if remote work sticks around?
    • If you sponsor or advertise around live events such as sports, what could happen next year?

    Plan to plan

    The roller coaster will continue for most marketers, but the fundamentals of marketing are always there: Meet your customer where they are and show value for the activity you provide the organization.

    There's likely to be a lot more planning and budget reviews ahead, but you’re a pro—you've got this. Happy marketing!
    We’re making the planning process easier with content made specifically for marketers to help you come out on the other side of the pandemic unscathed. Take a look at our COVID-19 resources page here.
    About the author::Jason Therrien is the president of thunder::tech. He is a fan of entrepreneurs and trailblazers, a proud dad and he liked scotch before Mad Men made it cool.
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