Six ways to apply marketing skills to get the budget you need

How to influence the ‘influencers’ in the company

As marketing practitioners, we should apply marketing skills that we use to understanding and persuading external audiences to the people inside our businesses. Here are six steps to help you get the budget you need.

The recently published IPA report, Marketing is an Investment, unpacks evidence and arguments for treating expenditure on brand building as a sustained strategic investment by a business. It also shares findings about how UK and US investment analysts view advertising and promotional spend by the publicly listed companies they cover.

It comes at a challenging time in which to drive change in these areas. In our post-Covid environment, with inflationary cost pressures and higher interest rates, it is no surprise that a Deloitte UK CFO survey identified controlling costs and building up cash as priorities for UK finance chiefs. Although according to the FT/IPA Board-Brand Rift study, over 76% of C suite business leaders understand strong brands continually deliver to the bottom line, many boards are feeling immense pressure to focus on meeting short-term financial targets rather than developing their brands as sources of longer-term business growth and competitiveness.

It does not help that financial accounting rules do nothing to encourage companies to take a longer, multi-year view of their marketing expenditure. In some circumstances these rules can even be an incentive to reduce marketing spend to create a short-term boost to profits, especially in tough trading conditions.

The Q1 2024 IPA Bellwether Report reported more businesses revising marketing budgets upwards than downwards, which is an encouraging sign of the green shoots of recovery. But marketers need to practice what they preach and be prepared to take a long-term view of expenditure trends if they are genuinely going to shift the conversations across businesses about brand marketing investment.

It is vital to lay the groundwork for this shift – ideally in the good times – so that when the pressure is on to cut costs you are well prepared, have built credibility, and are far more likely to be successful in influencing the people who need to be influenced to get your budget signed off.

Jet Cooke, Former Head of Marketing - End Investor, Fidelity International

1. Understand the internal audience

It might sound obvious, but client-side marketers and their agency colleagues need to understand the internal business audiences, their background, attitudes, and behaviours right from the board and senior client management to the finance department and sales teams.

Know your supporters and your challengers and the functions in which they work and apply your well-honed marketing skills to the key ‘influencers of investment’ in the business who can make the difference in how your budget request is treated.

2. Size up the challenge

It is critical to understand the way ‘marketing investment’ is viewed within the organisation, and the processes for approving budgets, and to gain insight into it how this expenditure is seen relative to that in other areas of the business, such as new product development or technology.

In many organisations, marketing is viewed as a partner to sales, and business cases and funding requests should be developed by these functions together. All too often, however, they are submitted individually without mutual consultation.

Knowing how differently marketing investment is treated to other areas will give you clues as to how big your challenge will be.

3. Read the room and timing is everything

I have worked for organisations that wholeheartedly support brand investment and have whole brand departments dedicated to the cause. But I’ve also worked for others that think of their brand as just a logo and don't even have a single role dedicated to brand. In these cases, the conversations need to be completely different. It takes time to turn an organisation from holding the view that ‘marketing is a sales support function’ to believing in the role of investing in brand long term.

Timing is crucial. If all areas in a business are being cut back substantially, is this the best moment to lobby for a long-term view or sustaining promo levels?

Build credibility by showing how you are in touch with what is happening around you and be prepared to flex appropriately. During my career, I have handed budget back (during the Covid pandemic) and moved it across accounting years to flatten out ‘feast and famine’ type budget cycles. These practices show a long-term considered view and demonstrate the marketer’s credibility.

4. Know the category norms and what your competitors are doing

Know and talk about the levels of marketing investment within your category, relate it specifically to your competitors’ investment, and show how your firm sits within this context. 

This often can really help change the conversation from ‘what can we afford?’ to ‘what level of investment do we need?’ For example, ensuring the board knows that the market leader is spending seven times what your company is on marketing can raise the conversation about the right level of investment to a more strategic level.

5. Have the right key reports and trend data

Tracking competitor spend over a longer timeframe gives you an indication of the longer-term trajectory of competitors and of which of them is increasing investment over time.

The marketing media mix of rival brands can also give you clues, especially if competitors have been shifting their media selection to longer-tail brand building channels and away from activation. All this kind of information builds a context for your ask.

6. Investment is a relative ask not an absolute

Show that you understand that the investment goes further if others are cutting back. Conversely, if others are increasing their budgets, you will need to increase yours to maintain your position in the market. You need to persuade finance that your needed level of investment is a relative ask depending on the market circumstances.

And if all your competitors are reducing their brand marketing spend, then pro-actively proposing that you cut slightly less of your budget proportionally in reality gives you a competitive advantage.

During the pandemic, many budgets went much further as overall spend in certain media reduced, so effectively share of voice was much cheaper. I know of one case where marketing budget was handed back to invest in other areas of the business – to the surprise of the finance team!

The role we can all play

One of the IPA’s roles is to provide thought leadership and elevate the practice of marketing in realising its true value in growing businesses by supporting and empowering its members on an industry, agency, and personal level.

Reports such as Marketing is an Investment highlight how City analysts can be external influencers of the decisions companies make about marketing expenditure, but we are internal influencers of budgets in any business or organisation.

We need the support of our marketing practitioners (whether in agencies, media, or the client side) to help change conversations around marketing investment with boards, senior management, and finance teams in day-to-day interactions.

In practice, marketers need to demonstrate their mastery of the ever-changing dynamics of the right levels of investment, assessing the macro environment, the category they are in, and the competitor set, as well as the internal norms of the business.

Ultimately, demonstrating this will build you the credibility and a stronger platform to secure support for marketing investment’s significant role in creating long-term business value. 

Jet Cooke ([email protected]) has held senior marketing roles at Fidelity, Aviva Investors, Barclays and British Telecom among others.

The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and were submitted in accordance with the IPA terms and conditions regarding the uploading and contribution of content to the IPA newsletters, IPA website, or other IPA media, and should not be interpreted as representing the opinion of the IPA.

Last updated 23 May 2024