It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Annual planning season! No? You’re not a self-proclaimed power planner like me? I get ya. This cycle has been particularly rough with the added stress of “recession talk” on top of normal budget balancing. The WSJ just reported that predictions on 2023 ad growth were down compared to their June predictions, citing economic uncertainty. WARC predicts a slowdown in global markets as well, with social media accounting for the majority of the cutbacks. And surveys out of the World Federation of Advertisers reports that 74% of the companies indicated that economic downturn is influencing their 2023 budget decisions. For our portfolio of tech startups, the onslaught of doom and gloom started way back in Q2, and I’ve pretty much grimaced and squirmed every time I’ve opened the NYT since.
My recent LinkedIn feed has had far too many posts from friends who are anticipating, or have already had, company-wide layoffs; they are trying to facilitate connections for their newly and soon-to-be unemployed colleagues. As marketers, we’re used to being in the first wave of cuts when the market has a downturn, so we’re used to this. But it still isn’t fun.
FWIW, anecdotally, we hear from our clients that there was such a rush on good talent as a result of the pandemic that companies were especially quick to hire talent once they could actually find it. No open req? No problem! If they could snag a strong candidate, the hire was approved. The result was lopsided or bloated teams that weren’t necessarily calibrated to the department’s need. The COVID-fueled “rush to digital” only exacerbated marketing hires, and the resulting talent grab further led to team rosters that didn’t match long-term needs.
At the end of the day, I believe that the holistic shift to digital has been a net-good shift for consumers. But it sure was a bit of a fire drill for many of the companies caught with their digital pants down at a time when everyone was stuck at home staring at screens. We’re hearing that some of the layoffs are a bit of “correction” as we phase out of the pandemic and that they would have happened regardless of economic conditions.
If you know me personally at all, you know that I’m generally a glass-half-full kinda person. Or at least I try to be. So here are my 3 reasons to not panic, even as you’re staring at your 2023 sales numbers and have no idea how you’re going to do it with less money, fewer headcount, and more pressure to deliver.
1. Now more than ever, marketing impact and ROI can be proven. And you’ve been building the infrastructure you need to empower yourself as a true champion of smart spending. In times of volatility, efficient operations and data-backed strategies are going to move marketing from a cost center to a revenue-driver in the eyes of your CFO. If you don’t have a lock-tight reporting machine, we can still be optimistic! Here are some ways to start moving in that direction today.
First, align with your C-Suite on key metrics and build your KPI scorecard to directly roll up to what’s important to leadership. It’s so, so easy to get distracted by traditional marketing or vanity metrics. This is the time to be super discriminating about how you’re measuring success.
Next, get to a place where you can actually translate your marketing metrics into dollar figures. If you’re not there yet, establish benchmark conversion rates where you do have data and aggressively hunt for the data you need to fill in the blanks. You’ll need to be able to look at your funnel by marketing channel so you can make strong recommendations about how and where to spend.
Now that you know what valuable data you do have and where you have gaps, review your tech stack. Chances are there are tools in there that you don’t use, that you can do a better job of integrating/calibrating, or are underperforming compared to their cost. In addition to getting better data out of your martech stack, you might even be able to cut some costs via elimination.
Finally, build a culture of performance management on your team. Make it the backbone of every conversation and decision. As a marketing leader, this is your cross to bear, so make it a priority, no matter how hard it is or uncomfortable the results make you.
2. You’re flexible, intentional, and genuinely focused on only doing things that you know work. I think it’s a knee-jerk reaction to want *more* budget. Every new year, every new market, every new product. But in volatile times, maybe more isn’t better? Maybe a rigorous, disciplined approach that’s rooted in data and open to iteration is enough? (I know that will be a very unpopular sentiment.)
Hear me out. Take the budget you have and spend it super judiciously on efforts and initiatives that impact multiple audiences. Invest in the creation, promotion, and use of assets and tactics that are organized with efficiency of conversion in mind - then refine religiously along the way, and don't be afraid to cut bait when something’s not working. 2023 is not the year to throw spaghetti on the wall and see what sticks. It’s the time to double down on a thoughtful, iterative marketing strategy.
I believe that this strict approach will not only drive up your team’s ROI, but it’ll also align you with leadership as a good stewards of the company’s resources. In my 25 years as a marketer, I’ve never had a CFO shoot down additional budget requests when we could show hard proof that it was a good investment.
3. You’re crafty about where you turn for help, and know that good agencies are key. Sure, in a perfect world, every team at your company would have a generous headcount that’s always staffed with the best, brightest individuals who not only know their craft inside and out, but know your industry, too. But very rarely does this fantasy come true, and more likely, you have a few marketers burning out while burning the midnight oil, trying really hard to wear multiple, unfamiliar hats. (Insert hand-raise emoji here.)
When you can’t hire your dream team - either because you don’t have the headcount, you don’t have the budget, or (let’s be realistic) the unicorn described in your JD doesn’t exist, you need specialized, competent talent. In my experience, freelancers and contractors are difficult to bring up to speed and almost always end up taking more oversight and management than anticipated. Even though a contractor is temporary, they are still headcount you need to manage.
The secret sauce to your 2023 resource dilemmas may just be investment in a solid agency. Agencies are adept at identifying and onboarding the right talent and building the processes needed to jump into projects and execute quickly. An agency engagement gives you on-demand access to a whole team of ringers who each specialize in their areas of expertise. You get email marketers, web designers, paid advertising pros, social media specialists, public relations, product marketers, and more – without having to go recruit each and every one of them. Best of all, you get to lead them to execute on your vision with a set budget and timeline and march toward intended outcomes without any of the arduous oversight or day-to-day management internal hires would need.
In closing, hire an agency and sit back and watch the magic happen! (Ok that might be a little self-serving and overly optimistic.) But seriously, the economy may be changing and scary right now – and you’ve got this. Good ROI hygiene, intentionality, and clever resourcing are key. Need help? We’re here. My favorite thing to do is talk shop with marketing leaders, so grab time on my calendar and let’s get creative.