It’s time for marketers to shift from defense to offense

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A recession — or even the threat of one — tends to put marketers on the defensive. Our budgets are seemingly discretionary, at least compared to product development and manufacturing. There’s a misconception that, unlike sales, our results don’t directly drive revenue. So it’s not surprising that many marketers start to retrench when the economic weather starts looking nasty.

Bad move. In fact, the smart move is to shift into offense. However, you need to do this in the right way. Throwing more dollars into advertisements in hopes of increasing the number of marketing-qualified leads is not going to pass muster with increasingly nervous CEOs and boards. 

Cuts are coming; deal with it

Let’s get one thing straight: Marketing budgets will be cut. Based on my conversations with marketers and Twilio’s internal research, I expect marketing budgets will be shrinking by an average of 25% in the coming year — much more at some companies, and less at the lucky ones. 

For the past 12 years, many marketers have been living in a cash-rich, grow-at-all costs environment. That’s changing now, as the shifting economic conditions lead boards and executives to return to business fundamentals: margins, profits and long-term customer value. According to Twilio’s Growth Report, which surveyed 1,300 marketing and customer experience professionals in the UK and the U.S., 93% of businesses are starting to plan for a recession. So marketing budget cuts are inevitable.


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It’s worth remembering that companies that cut their marketing budgets too much will wind up losing ground when pulling ahead matters most. That’s especially so in digital media, where it’s difficult to attract the attention of new customers. Indeed, marketing can help brands stand out when things get more competitive online. 

But it might take a while before that argument starts to carry weight in the boardroom. In the meantime, what is a resourceful marketer to do? Here are four smart moves you can make to gain leverage in a tough economic climate.

1. Re-engage customers

It’s cheaper and easier to reconnect with customers who have drifted away than it is to find and convert brand-new customers. For one thing, you already have their contact information and a lot of data about their preferences, purchase histories and interests. For another thing, unless you’ve done something to drive them away, they’re probably already predisposed to connect with you. You just need to give them a good reason to re-engage. Indeed, the Growth Report revealed that 67% of businesses are prioritizing keeping current customers happy over acquiring new ones.

For example, one multiparty marketplace has been able to re-engage millions of dormant shoppers of handmade gifts and vintage items. It has done this by unifying its customer profiles and using those profiles to micro-segment its audience. It used to rely on building broad campaigns that took one to three days to launch. But with this new, user-first approach, the company can now personalize every message in real time.

2. Build cross-selling opportunities

Don’t wait for customers to drift away. Look for opportunities to help them discover adjacent product lines that they might like. One apparel company we work with, for instance, is engaging customers of one of their brands with offers from a related brand. This allows the company to increase its share of wallet (getting more dollars from each customer) while diversifying its brand equity among those consumers.

3. Embrace first-party data

You’ve heard by now that third-party cookies are going away; they are already blocked in Firefox and Apple Safari and will be unavailable in Google Chrome in 2024. That might seem like a distant milestone, but make no mistake: The sooner you start building your own customer data platform the better prepared you’ll be for this transition. It can take 12 to 18 months to roll out a robust platform, so the time to start is now. 

When planning this shift, make sure that you not only collect rich data directly from consumers, but that you do so with their explicit consent. 

4. Use data to increase LTV

When you’ve got robust first-party data, you can start using it to identify your best customers. Offer them customized experiences, discover what makes them even more engaged and upsell/cross-sell them additional products and services. In short, find ways to make your best customers even better by delivering real-time value and personalization. Do this, and you’ll be generating additional revenue without spending a dime on customer acquisition costs (CAC).

This strategy will increase the lifetime value (LTV) of your customers. When LTV rises and CAC goes down — and marketing is responsible — that’s not only good for your budget, it’s good for your career. Marketers who aspire to move into operational and executive roles will win with savvy marketing strategies that improve business fundamentals.

Build resilience into your game plan

The economy is uncertain and cuts to marketing budgets are likely. But savvy marketers won’t just sit there waiting for their budgets to be taken away. It’s important to make a plan that enables you to do more with less — and in marketing, that means leaning into consensual customer data and being ready to use it in a variety of ways depending on the situation.

Customer data is basically straw until you spin it into gold, which means collecting it, identifying it, cleaning it and incorporating it into a growth-oriented strategy. Don’t wait to make the shift. The time to go on the offensive is now.

Katrina Wong is VP of segment marketing at Twilio.


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