Sian Burton, Strategic Marketing Consultant

A new year, a new goal? It may be clichéd but January always spurs businesses into setting new targets, giving people the ability to approach challenges with a clear head and a fresh perspective.

I had so many conversations with CEOs around the world last year – from Adelaide to Miami – who all had the same question, ‘why isn’t our marketing working like it should be?’

This is a very valid question, and one that should definitely be asked of your marketing team if its activities aren’t hitting the mark, but too often I see CEO’s pull back in this situation rather than leaning in to uncover what’s really going on.

If the results coming from your marketing department are less than inspiring, it’s likely that your strategy is off….or missing entirely.

Without a clear strategic plan, your marketing team is flying blind. Is your team essentially just throwing stuff out there and hoping something sticks, which, more often than not, it doesn’t?

Hence the situation so many CEO’s find themselves in where their marketing team aren’t generating any measureable ROI on the marketing budget and are, in reality, just an expense on the business balance sheet.

If you’re in this exact situation right now and are feeling frustrated and unsure how to progress, here are three things to avoid doing this year…

Tip 1 – Don’t cut your marketing budget…

When sales fall behind forecast, the first thing that many leaders do is reduce spend. Rightly so, but don’t do this in areas that need to power your growth.

Marketing teams are experts when it comes to spending, or ‘allocating’, money before the annual budget cuts because they know theirs is the function that always takes the first hit. Cutting the marketing budget first, however, is a real mistake!

If it’s working smartly, the marketing team is your growth engine. Place your emphasis, therefore, on making your team work smarter by tightening up the sales and marketing strategy and sense checking whether you have the right capabilities in your marketing team.

Change is always scary and asking entire teams to re-focus and target their efforts is always going to be met with caution but ultimately, teams and businesses work better with clarity and strategic direction.

Tip 2 – Don’t waste money on immeasurable ‘branding’

Yes, this might be controversial but if you really do need to cut the marketing budget look closely at where your team is spending the money.

There is certainly a place for branding but too many marketing functions make the mistake of simply doing random, adhoc activities – such as a New Year radio campaign, or the annual summer trade show sponsorship, without being consistent or true to what actually needs to be achieved.

Laddering everything up under the banner of ‘branding’ for budget purposes should no longer cut the mustard in the measurable, digital marketing world that we now operate in.

Please don’t mistake this tip as you not needing to do any branding but when budgets are squeezed, it’s time to make your money work harder, producing real ROI from any spend.

Tip 3 – When your sales drop, focus in on your existing customers…

A mistake I have seen time and time again is when companies, in their desire to grow, widen their customer targets through diversification, rather than focusing their efforts and investing in serving their existing customer better. When sales fall behind forecast businesses start looking for new customers to sell to, rather than looking at what they’ve already got.

Instead of wasting time and investment looking for new prospective customers to market too, ask yourself the question: ‘what would make our best customers buy from us more and how can we find more of them? It’s universally acknowledged that 80% of sales come from just 20% of customers – so knuckle down and figure out who your 20% are.

It goes back to our favourite term of the day ‘smarter marketing’, you really do have to spend so much more to acquire a new customer than to increase sales volume with an existing one. So why not tackle this from a different perspective and see how you can get your current customers even more engaged.

So, could 2019, be the time for your marketing function to be held to account? Trust me when I say, if you can do this, the results will be significant and you will start 2019 in a far stronger place than you have started 2018.