When you’re looking to cut business expenses, marketing can be one of the first things to go. Advertising campaigns come with major price tags, but that doesn’t mean that you can totally neglect your brand presence. 

In fact, Harvard Business Review describes how even during a crisis, “building and maintaining strong brands—ones that customers recognize and trust—remains one of the best ways to reduce business risk.”

In order to lead in marketing and sales, even in tough times, you need to be smart about the way you cut costs. Here are seven recommendations for improving your marketing strategy while eliminating redundancies and inefficiencies.

1. Start with a marketing audit

Marketing efforts can range from paid search advertisements to simple word of mouth, so the first step of cutting spend in this area is understanding the full scope of the tactics you’re currently using.

Review all upcoming planned spend, vendor relationships, and analyze the ROI for every marketing activity possible. When money is tight, you’ll want to cut ad spend for low performing campaigns and keywords. If certain channels aren’t bringing in high quality leads, then stop using them. Rather than testing new messages, focus on tried and true strategies. 

Once you’ve got the big picture for what your current marketing strategy looks like, reduce your active marketing channels to match current budgets. This could mean transitioning to free or lower-cost marketing tools (including analytics, auto-responders, etc) or transitioning to freelancers rather than a marketing agency. Remember, these cuts may not be permanent, but can help reduce money going out.

2. Improve customer targeting

If the leads you’re bringing in don’t match seller intent, you’re wasting money. One way to optimize marketing costs is to tighten up your pipeline with improved customer targeting. 

Study existing customer profiles and get feedback from your sales team. Do you know who your target audience is? Which prospects convert to customers most often? Which platforms and campaigns bring in the most qualified leads? When you’ve discovered which customers have the greatest lifetime value, ruthlessly market to these profiles. 

And don’t forget the old adage: it costs more to get a new customer than retain an old one. As you’re updating targeting strategies, don’t neglect the customers that you have now. In times of crisis, customer service is one area that you don’t want to cut; bump up your efforts instead.

3. Focus on referral programs

If you’re not already leveraging customer referrals, now is the time to start. 

Consider offering an incentive to potential customers willing to recommend your business—things like rewards points, discounts, or gift cards. It’s not a bad idea to make these incentives contingent on referral sign-up (so you’re not just handing out prizes for every random email address customers share).

Of course, the best referrals come from customers who genuinely love your product or service. So while you can use incentives, focus on providing true value first.

4. Consider marketing automation tools

When you’re cutting advertising costs, adding additional software may not seem like a desirable option. However, you should consider using automation tools if possible, as this can be much more inexpensive than funding a manual marketing campaign. 

Plus, there are a ton of free options available for reporting, email, SEO, or social automation. Consider cutting back on hefty subscription software and using a lighter plan in the interim. Even the most popular marketing automation platforms like HubSpot, Moz, and Trello offer free plans for basic tasks and needs. 

As you discover the tools that you like best, it’s worth it to invest in reliable chatbots and email autoresponders, to save valuable time for your team members. Typically, you can choose from a list of pre-existing automations, or create your own paths based on your team’s workflows.

5. Build your organic channels

Many marketers’ go-to campaigns depend on expensive ad platforms like social media or paid search. While these efforts can drive significant results, a simpler and less expensive way to promote your brand is to create well-researched, authoritative, evergreen content. 

Marketing materials that have long lasting relevance can provide value to prospects and customers for years to come. Deliverables like an eBook, blog post, or video may require greater lift upfront, but if they’re well done, the effort will be worth it and may even be promoted through natural link-building.

A consistent presence and engagement with your social networks will solidify your brand awareness and messaging. In addition to your own social pages and website, find other avenues to promote your brand by collaborating with similar companies or influencers. Consider appearing on a podcast or webinar or swap a guest post with a partner. 

The best part about an organic marketing strategy is that it is free or incredibly low cost. If you’re looking to reduce business expenses, consider investing in high quality content marketing.

6. Repurpose and refresh existing content

After investing in your content marketing strategy, take advantage of every way to repurpose the assets you’ve created. 

For example, you could turn a series of blog posts into an eBook, or you could use that content as the topic for your next podcast episode or newsletter. Adam Lambert of Calendly explains it this way, “[Content marketing] is present when you’re not. It’s selling when no one’s there and everyone’s asleep. Content marketing just works for you.”

Whether your content is old or new, you can repurpose your work and promote it on every platform. Take the time to update old content when necessary as well, as Google is more likely to feature fresh content higher up on search engine result pages.

7. Don’t forget social media marketing

Social media is a marketing channel with a wide reach and low cost. Posting regularly on LinkedIn or Twitter may not require a lot of effort from your team, but it can help to grow your brand and engage with customers. 

Take a look at how your competitors are using social channels and where your prospects are already engaging with content. Make sure that you have a consistent brand voice on social media and try to establish a posting schedule that you can maintain. Influencers can also help you reach a new audience with a little incentive for them. 

Responding to comments and mentions on social media is one of the easiest ways to turn current customers into advocates and to show prospects that you care. You should also manage feedback pages on these platforms, like Facebook Recommendations and Google My Business Reviews, so you’re not neglecting the current conversations happening around your brand.

Use your marketing budget more efficiently

Cutting marketing costs doesn’t have to mean decreasing ROI. If done right, you can actually bring in more returns by focusing on the marketing channels that really work rather than juggling tons of marketing campaigns that are ineffective. 

Regularly check in on your marketing budgets to make sure that money is being spent where you think it is. Real-time expense management software can help you see every marketing transaction—as it happens—so you never go over budget again.

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