Maximizing ROI During A Recession

Discover the key tactics for building organic presence, fueling all marketing efforts with SEO, customer-first marketing strategies, investing in the future of what works, refocusing your martech stack to be more productive, and making your assets work smarter.

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Joe: Hello and welcome to the Essential B2B podcast. I am your host Joe Ducarreaux. This episode is the audio taken from our webinar Maximising ROI From Your Marketing Budget in a Recession. I was joined by Claire Daniels, CEO of Trio Media to have a chat about making the most of your marketing budget during a recession. As usual with our webinars there’s loads to take away from this session.

So get ready to make some notes and without further ado please enjoy this episode of the Essential B2B podcast.

Joe: How are you doing today Claire?

Claire: I’m great, thanks Joe. How are you?

Joe: Yes, very well thank you. All the better for chatting to you about tactics during a recession. So in a recession, marketing is normally the first department that can get affected, but in your opinion, what should people still be aiming to achieve even though budgets are tight?

Claire: Well, I may be the anti-person here on the topic because I really believe marketing should be something that you lean into during a recession. It shouldn’t be the case that it’s the first thing where budgets get cut because we’ve seen it in examples time and time again; during the financial recession in 2007, 2008, during more recent financial difficulties and during COVID.

Actually, the people that continue and keep going, who lean into marketing and they invest, are the ones that come out fighting and on top when things improve. Whereas, divesting and taking your money out of marketing is a surefire way to guarantee you’re less likely to survive and to retain market share during a recession.

So the first thing I would definitely say is just consider not taking the easy route and pulling everything out of marketing. I understand it can be hard and actually in my experience, I was client-side strategic marketing for 10 years before coming agency-side. So I’ve worked on both sides of it. My experience from the client side of marketing is actually you may spend a lot, you have high budgets but you may struggle in measuring where the results are coming from for all the budget that’s being spent.

So the biggest piece of advice I could give is to really get to know your numbers, get to know the data on what is delivering a return for you for your marketing budget and efforts. Because ultimately if you can still generate a return, why would you stop? So if you can still see you’re getting a return on ad spend, you’re getting an ROI, your conversion rate is good, with those metrics, there’s no argument for stopping. If you’re just looking at vanishing metrics like traffic or leads coming in but you’re not actually seeing, well, are we making money off the investment that we’re putting in?

Then, yes, it could be very easy to just think, well, we’ll stop and we’ll pull away because maybe the number of leads is dropping. Are we still getting a return on your spend? If you’ve cut back your spend, you need to be fair to yourself that you’re going to get less leads but actually, is the return still good?

So the biggest tip I guess from this, is keeping on top of the data and the results so you can measure what is working for your business. Because I’m guessing there’s going to be B2B, potentially some B2C marketers listening to this as well. Ultimately, there’s not going to be a one size fits all approach. Some people may need to lean more into social media, some into more events, like whatever their business model is. It’s not up to me to say this is the one channel you should invest in or move away from, but actually what works for your business and as long as that’s still working, there’s no reason to stop doing it.

Joe: You touched on the online side of things. Most companies watching this, listening to this today will have some sort of online presence already. What tactics could you suggest to improve their organic presence? You mentioned social media as one. Perhaps that’s a route we can explore?

Claire: Yeah. With anything really, I would say, if we’re looking for a key tactic, what I would say is consistency. Again, in terms of the type of content you put out is going to vary massively from industry to industry. If we’re looking at social media, you definitely do need to be leaning into video content, regardless of what you do. But whether you’re going down a TikTok route or LinkedIn or Facebook or Instagram or another platform based on where your target audience is, spending time and what it is that you do. It’s not for me to say it’s that particular channel that’s going to work for everyone but whatever it is that works for you.

Again, taking the data, which channel generates the best return, engagement for you, where are your audience spending the most time and lean into showing up there consistently. I think one of the key things really and that I want to get into in this piece is around a recession, the main thing that we need to look at is your messaging.

Because do you need to change the way you are positioning yourself to your target audience to be more accepting and acknowledge the recession. Do you need to think could we do more sales? Could we do more things that are price friendly to people? Can we lean into something where we’re not so much acknowledging as if everyone’s got loads of income to be spending at the moment?

It’s really about, for any business always, it’s about understanding who your target audience is. Is your target audience likely to suffer during the recession or not? Because some people won’t. Then if they are, how should you talk to them differently to how you would normally talk based on the fact they have got less money to spend?

Aside from my work at Trio, I’m a trustee at a charity. Obviously, one of our big concerns is, in a cost of living crisis are people going to reduce the money that they donate to charities? We’ve had conversations about changing our messaging to lean into it. We’ve still got a job to do. We’ve still got to get donations and so how do we acknowledge that and address it and actually target the people who will not be affected by the cost of living crisis.

The people that are affected who can’t afford to pay their energy bills or to have the heating on at night, we can’t even speak to those people. There’s no point trying to speak to those people. But there’s loads of other people out there who still have money. So let’s go after those people. It’s about really just honing in on the people that can keep spending during a recession and how to position yourself to them.

In terms of that piece around showing up and your online presence and whether it’s on social or across search or anything like that. It’s about creating relative content and showing up and being appropriate for your audience.

Joe: So consistency and almost tone. It’s almost sensitivity, isn’t it, I suppose? When times are really tough, it’s important to make sure that you’re not coming across in a way that you don’t want to. To go back to your earlier point, you did mention a couple of KPIs and that sort of thing. What sort of KPIs and goals should people look to adjust or put in place when experiencing budgeting constraints, would you say?

Claire: Definitely it needs to be looking around return. I think marketers should be measuring this all the time and actually too frequently they’re not. So a lot of people may know their overall budget and the overall revenue but they’re not looking at how each pot of budget spent in certain areas is then resulting in what amount of revenue.

It’s about just really nailing down on that. Definitely return on ad spend if you’re doing any advertising. What do you get out of what you spend? Is that profitable for you? Because if it is, and that continues to work during a recession, why would you stop? What is the reason to? You have data to show you can still make money. So unless your business doesn’t want to make money, why would you stop doing that?

With anything else, obviously, the return on investment. I would say the areas we might see slip are the places that don’t bring as much of a direct return. If you’re doing PR, for example, could be one of those in terms of it’s great for brand awareness and building shareholder value and all these things in terms of getting your brand out there in a positive light. But it is very difficult to measure specific sales and the financial return from PR and PR is usually an expensive investment. So that is one of those areas that obviously, if you can’t track it and you’re not able to demonstrate a return, those could be some of the areas that are likely to slip.

However, I would challenge if that was the case anyway and you knew you couldn’t track it and you knew you weren’t getting a return, why were you doing it? Or if you were doing it and you felt the value, as much as the value isn’t financial, are you still seeing that value in other ways? Because that is the reason for doing something like PR.

For me, working and running a digital agency, a lot of digital marketing that we do is very trackable and measurable. So we can put a financial return on everything that we do. For anyone who’s investing in social media, whether that’s just the content creation or they’re doing any advertising, you can see how many clicks to your website you’ve had from the social post. You can see how many conversions you’ve had from social. If you can’t see this, it’s possible. You’re just not looking in the right places. So not everyone knows how to go find this data, but it’s there.

So go look for the data in terms of the traffic sources that are driving the conversions on your website. That is the place you convert people, whether it be via a form or if it’s an e-commerce checkout. But look at those channels that are driving those sales, then look at what you spend to put into those channels each month and is the return greater than what you spend? Is it profitable for your business? If you’re not sure, go and ask those questions because actually what you probably can’t see straight up as a marketer is the profit margins.

So you know how much money is coming from it. But actually, if you know decisions are getting made by your CFO or FD in terms of profitability, just go and ask those questions and find out so you can clue yourself up on what’s really working for the business beyond just we know we generated 300 leads from doing this activity. But what actually did those 300 leads result in for the business?

Joe: So just continuing on ensuring you’re only using things in your stack of value to you, then. Are there any tools or software that you use to keep track, any tools or software that you use to help you succeed and make sure that everything is in alignment then?

Claire: I think everyone in marketing is going to use Google Analytics and I know it’s an obvious one, but actually everything I’m talking about, all that data is available in Google Analytics. So it’s definitely worth paying a mention to it. Going on there, being able to look at where your traffic has come from, where your conversions have come from, what’s working on your website and what’s not, is invaluable.

We work with a piece of software called Agency Analytics that ties in analytics from all the different data sources we use. That’s what we use to provide the monthly reports to our clients. So that pulls the data not only from Google Analytics but from Search Console, from Lighthouse, from Semrush, SE Rankings, from Meta, TikTok, LinkedIn, YouTube, Trustpilot, Shopify, WooCommerce, you name it, everything can pull through into there. That gives a bit of an insight to the tools we use. A lot of our time is spent on SEMrush. We do a lot of SEO work for our clients. We also use a tool called SpyFu, which allows us to look at organic and paid search content and strategies for any business. We can look at it not only for our clients, but also for their competitors as well.

I totally agree you need to have what’s right in your stack and we regularly do reviews. I’ll challenge and question people on, are we using this? Are we getting the most out of it? Otherwise, I’m not paying for it. Those are the areas that can sometimes run away with you in terms of your marketing budget. You sign up for all these things and then the money gets tight. You start going through your bank statements and going, hang on, we’re spending this much there, this much there, this much there, are we using it? I asked that question of my team literally the day we came back after New Year’s. I’ve been looking at everything and I was like, is everything that we’re spending money on getting used and adding value to the business? I’ll spend more if it is. If you need more, I’m not necessarily making cuts but also I’m not spending money on something that we don’t need.

Joe: I guess, the frequency of those checks will increase, I imagine, in the coming months, I’m sure.

Claire: That’s the thing. It’s just about being savvy and knowing your data. I always say to the team negotiate from a position of power. If anyone ever comes to us about anything, we straightaway go back with the data. We show them the results they’ve got and stuff like that, if anyone’s ever not sure of the value they’re getting. That should be the way we all approach it, in terms of, we should know our data.

We should know our stats on what we’re doing, so that actually, Marketing Directors, CMOs, anyone like that or anyone in charge of marketing, if you’re getting pressure from other members of the board, who are coming to you and saying, well, actually, we need to cut back. If you’ve got the evidence and data to say what you’re spending in this department is delivering you a six times return, whatever it may be. It then gives them not much of a leg to stand on at all. It’s just about getting really clued up on the stats that are going to work in your business to guarantee that you actually can continue spending in the right areas.

Joe: I want to change tack ever so slightly now because I saw the other day you were posting about AI and specifically ChatGPT. What do you think the financial implications of AI will be in the future in terms of marketing?

Claire: Well look, I don’t think it’s going to be free for much longer. ChatGPT, which is created by OpenAI, is what I was posting about on LinkedIn. So we’ve started having to dabble around with it. Because as a digital agency, we need to stay at the forefront of technology. We can’t shy away from AI just because we all think it might replace our jobs. We have to lean into it and see what support it can give us. Currently, that is free. The knowledge and skill that that tool has got, it’s insane that it can be used for free right now. But I think it’s to drive adoption and I think very quickly people will start paying for it.

I was having a conversation with a tech expert that I know on LinkedIn and don’t quote me on this because I don’t know where he got his figures from, but he said that it’s costing something like $3 million a month to run ChatGPT on AWS. There’s no chance that can continue for free for much longer. I actually think it’s going to start being chargeable. So I’d probably encourage people to start seeing how they could get value and benefit from it whilst it’s free, to then learn whether this is something that’s worth investing for them in the future.

In my opinion, I definitely see AI working alongside marketers. No, it’s not going to replace anyone’s job. I really don’t think it has the grounds for that. But actually, it’s going to make us all a lot more efficient if we can embrace it in the right ways.

For example, I was on a Google Meet earlier that I wanted to record and now you can transcribe the recordings on a Google Meet. So I could transcribe a meeting. I could then put the transcription into ChatGPT and ask it to summarise the key points from the meeting. Straightaway, that then gives me my follow up for the meeting or whatever it may be. Or if we were recording this and transcribing this right now, you could then get a summary of it to put out.

Like, this is just making our jobs far more efficient. So I don’t think it should replace the human touch of being able to create content that appeals to different target audiences. This tool can’t speak as a 20-something woman. If that’s your target audience, you need to speak in her tone of voice versus you need to speak in the tone of voice of a 30-year-old male for another campaign. It’s not going to be able to get to that. Maybe it will one day, I could be speaking out of turn there but I don’t think it’s there yet. I think it’s definitely something that will work alongside us.

The recession could slow its adoption if it does start charging and people aren’t ready to invest in new technology. They want other people to test it out first, wait for it to take up more mass market adoption, then maybe more marketers will start getting involved in it. I would definitely recommend giving it a go because we’re already seeing advantages to us in our business.

Joe: It’s very encouraging as the more webinars and podcasts I do under the Essential B2B banner, the key message that I keep receiving again and again is people buy from people. So it’s really encouraging to think that you don’t think that the AI could take that human element out yet. So we’ll be in a job, so that’ll be nice.

Claire: Don’t get me wrong, I think absolutely there’ll be a version of this where an avatar could come on and have a conversation with you and completely do this podcast and probably give you even better advice than what I’ve given. But it’s not real and none of us want to be engaging with robots.

It’s quite a fun trend at the moment, people are getting AI versions of themselves. Submitting a picture and getting the AI versions of themselves created, because it’s a bit of fun. As soon as you step over the line and go, OK, that’s now the version of you and people aren’t interested in the real you, they’re going to interface with the AI version of you instead, everyone’s going to rule them out of that, I think. We’re just not ready for it yet.

It’s going to help and support us, but it’s definitely you need a human touch at every stage of the work that we do as marketers. From dealing with people and talking to people, to the content you create, to the ideas you have. It’s not going to be able to think of ideas. If someone comes to you with a business and a new campaign and says, tell me what I should do, it’s not going to have that, yet. Don’t quote me on anything because bloody hell, I’m not an AI expert and the technology is probably far beyond what we’re even dabbling into right now. But that’s just my opinion on where I think we are today.

Joe: Well, let’s come back in five years time, Claire and then we’ll see if you can detect if I am actually a robot or if I am my authentic self.

Claire: Deal!

Joe: Amazing. Claire, this has been a really, really fascinating conversation. I’ve really, really enjoyed speaking to you again. If I could push you for one top tip for everybody watching this about maximising your return on investment during a recession, what would that one tip be?

Claire: Get to know your data. Like I said, there is no one-size-fits-all. So you’ve got to figure out what works for your business and actually, from my experience, not enough people do know what’s going on to the level of we know this is resulting in that. So get to know your data. Know it inside out. When someone comes knocking and asks you to reduce your budget, slap them across the face with, actually, this is working fine and we’ll keep our budget, please. And actually, if you give us more, we can sail our way out of the recession because we know what we’re doing is working.

Joe: Fantastic. Claire Daniels, thank you so much for joining me. Fantastic. Claire Daniels, thank you so much for joining me.

Claire: Thank you.