Marc Michaels
By Marc Michaels on 07 Dec, 2022

With budgets once again being cut, marketing leaders are under more pressure to innovate, stand out from the crowd, and deliver results. More for less.

We’re likely at the start of a new global financial crisis. Costs of doing business are going up. Consumers are buying less. Businesses are facing yet another big threat to their survival – just a few years after the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The automatic reaction most businesses take in such times is to slash marketing budgets.

That would be unwise.

We saw the same at the start of Covid, with many companies falling silent – but some of the braver ones stood their ground and switched tack. There is widespread agreement and data available on the strategic advantages of investing more in marketing during times of trouble and financial hardship – to stand out from the crowd and emerge more strongly from the crisis.

Amid all the doom and gloom of the past four years, there’s the odd bright spot. Many marketers say they have seen innovations in customer communications and they’re looking to implement these right now.

Marketers agree that it is important not to ‘go dark’ during a period of uncertainty (and nothing shines a light on brands like innovative customer communications and exciting, persuasive creative).

But what if they’re being told the cash isn’t there? How can marketers be bold and brave, and support their brands with innovative and exciting customer communications? How can new ideas that could be game changers be tested?
The answer comes from the weekly supermarket shop. Save money on the everyday ’bread and butter’ items or shop clever for better deals, and you can perhaps then splash out on some tasty treats.

In short, you need to save to spend… and find a partner to help you:

  • Reduce overall print costs – go digital (where it’s appropriate)
  • Reduce the cost of avoidable non-value inbound demand by taking out the root causes of those
  • Replace non-productive communications with ones that work harder and better
  • Be brave, stand out from the crowd – commission new work (and even be a little subversive)

Reduce print costs

At first glance, the drive towards digital communications for transactional and marketing activity is a no-brainer. Investing in paperless communications can help businesses save time and money.

As well as saving money on print and postage, digital communications can create a more immediate and improved customer experience – and encourage a better customer response (say, when it comes to paying bills or providing important information).

When combined with intelligent data management, migrating certain transactional and marketing activity to digital can also support more effective and more individualised communications.

An increasing number of companies are achieving huge savings by putting on-boarding paperwork onto digital portals (many with e-signature capability). Others deliver bills and statements direct to customers’ email inboxes via encrypted email attachments, or support marketing campaigns with trackable links on transactional items.

However, before we predict the end of paper, it’s worth noting that digitising Ts&Cs and other word-heavy content can free up space on printed materials for more productive, effective, and ‘human’ content.

Indeed, research by London Economics suggests that some people ‘understand information better and are more likely to take appropriate actions’ as a result of receiving mail by post rather than electronically. Furthermore, printed direct mail is experiencing a revival as it’s seen as a novelty or a ‘piece of theatre’, especially among younger audiences.

So, print or digital? The answer lies somewhere between, depending on the subject matter, the complexity of the message, and the audience. And remember, Covid-19 has changed people’s digital habits dramatically. But effective, compelling mail and door drops also enjoyed a bit of a resurgence, too.

Reduce avoidable non-value inbound demand

Reducing outbound print costs for transactional and marketing activity is one thing, but what about the (often hidden) costs of inbound communications?

For example, what are the costs of processing inbound mail? It’s estimated that 40% of all inbound paper is prompted by outbound paper – businesses still ask their customers to write in. And what about the extra resources required by customer service contact centres to deal with phone, email, or postal queries arising from poorly-worded communications or a design that doesn’t highlight alternative web details, FAQs, or chatbots for self-service?

Customers don’t wake up every morning anxious to contact a company. They only do so when something is not clear, something is harder to do than they thought, something has gone wrong, or they haven’t got their issue resolved by their previous contact. This all represents time and money that – when saved – could be re-channelled to projects to attract new customers or retain existing ones.

The first step to finding a solution is to identify the problem. In detail.

Root cause analysis is a strategic discipline that gathers and interprets data to develop strategies that will ease customers’ pain-points. This may involve text mining and sentiment analysis, call listening, and other analytical techniques. It also includes mapping customer journeys, understanding where (and why) customers are having problems, identifying where resources are being used unnecessarily, and being brave (the way it’s always been done may not be the best).

Following on from this process of analytics and planning comes the need for preventative or corrective communications to intercept the problems.

Intelligent copywriting and crafted design can create timely, relevant, persuasive, and better-understood communications that (far from being a strain on stretched marketing budgets) can actually generate a positive return by helping prevent avoidable demand in the first place.

Replace non-productive communications with ones that work

Replace communications that don’t work with ones that do.

Stating the blindingly obvious. However, converting it into action is not always straightforward.

For example, how do you know which communications work, and which don’t? And what if some audiences respond better than others? What guides copy and design – the skills and experience of creative professionals or a deep understanding of the customer journey? What messages are people taking out of your communications. Indeed, what are they seeing at that crucial first glance? Use of eye tracking and creative critiques may help prioritise competing messages so that your and the customer’s needs better align.

The quick answer is to engage a partner who understands the complex relationship between insight and creative, message and media, and sender and receiver. Making sure that you translate that insight into a winning proposition to guide the creative output.

For a longer answer, it’s also necessary to understand the science of marketing attribution.

Marketing attribution evaluates the various touch-points a customer encounters on their purchase journey – to determine which channels and messages have the most impact on the decision to engage or, ultimately, convert interest into action or sales. From various tried and tested modelling techniques, the insight gained helps marketing teams customise campaigns and communications to meet the needs of audience segments (or even individual customers) and reduce wastage.

By understanding customer journeys and motivations, and by the use of profiling and predictive modelling, brands can shape their proposition, and refine creative messaging and visuals to encourage better engagement and conversion. Ultimately, by targeting the right customers with the right message, and delivering a better user experience, brands can improve the returns on their marketing investment.

With reduced wastage and increased sales income comes opportunities to invest in more innovative, targeted, and intelligent marketing communications... and so the positive cycle continues.

Stand out from the crowd – commission great work

So, you’ve saved money from business-as-usual operations. What next? Squirrel it away to protect you from the next financial downturn, or make it work harder for you and your brand right now?

Maybe. Our view – and we know this works, because we’ve done it for numerous organisations and delivered game-changing results – is to be brave, and commission new work that makes you go against the curve of budget cuts and ensures you stand out from the crowd, get noticed, and influence consumers to act.

How we can help

Your board might be about to cut your marketing budget. Many marketing leaders accept this as they want to be seen to be doing the right thing.

It’s not. Push back. Cutting your marketing budget would be a mistake.

Now is the time to mine for insight, to define and refine strategies that are bold and brave with innovative and exciting customer communications, to stand out from the crowd and emerge more strongly when the crisis ends.

Easy for us to say. What if your finance and leadership teams are holding on tightly to the purse strings and you have no say in the matter.

Well, we hope we’ve shown here that it’s possible to free up money from other areas – such as moving from print to digital, reducing avoidable inbound demand, and improving non-productive collateral.

Do business. Better. - by embracing a strategy of intelligent, data-driven, compelling creative communications that will deliver better outcomes during the coming crisis and set you up for success thereafter.

Do Business. Better.