The Financial Marketer’s Guide to Surviving Budgeting Season

Rule #1: Go into budget meetings knowing Marketing's worth, but be ready to demonstrate it to other managers. Other ways to succeed through the season include devising agile budgets for your bank or credit union that adjust to changing priorities, and going into the process with cuts you can readily propose. That's a good way to retain what's essential for your marketing programs.

October through December is a busy time of year for financial marketers, and it gets even more harried with senior teams in financial institutions, who are getting together to draw up budgets for the coming year.

There tends to be a lot of questions and possibly some unwelcome finger-pointing. In order to ensure your marketing and sales teams come through budgeting season relatively unscathed, here are a few tips.

Gone are the days when you could accurately anticipate the fluctuations in the marketplace and plan accordingly on an annual basis. With the fast-paced changes in digital banking and frenetic changes in consumer behavior, it’s just too difficult to predict where your priorities must remain for a solid 12 months in a row.

“Gone are the days when you could accurately anticipate the fluctuations in the marketplace and plan accordingly on an annual basis.”

Instead, consider creating a more agile approach to your marketing budget and spending suggestions. According to Performance Analytics, static annual budgets are quickly becoming a thing of the past.

“An emerging best practice being embraced by many organizations is to use the annual budgeting process to set initial targets, then update budget assumptions on a periodic basis to re-forecast full year-results, and make mid-course corrections in resource allocations as required to achieve financial goals,” according to the site. Nowhere is this more important than with marketing.

( Read More: 5 Ways Financial Institutions Can Squeeze More from Marketing Budgets )

Consider blocking funds for large categories of spending, rather than drilling down into minute detail. Such categories could include community involvement/events, social media ads, Google pay-per-click, website development, commercials/media advertising, etc. Then outline first- and second-quarter goals, as well as metrics to be followed, in order to assess the effectiveness of your spending for the remainder of the year.

So, for example, if you’re looking to drive new mortgages in the spring, you’ll definitely want to spend in most every channel you utilize. Look at the results often to find your top-performing channels. A couple of weeks into your campaign begin making any applicable adjustments and continue throughout the duration of the campaign.

This may mean you’ll be spending more or less than originally planned. Fully summarize the results at the end of the campaign and use these results to inform your budgeting decisions and upcoming spend for a fall campaign or an ongoing campaign until the end of the year.

( Read More: How Bank & Credit Union Marketers Can Stop Wasting Search Budgets )

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Establish Visible Value Using the Right Numbers

To ensure you are proving value of your marketing and sales teams, thus keeping your budgets intact, you must be following (and sharing) the correct metrics on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.

“Many marketers make the mistake of reporting statistics that tend to mean very little to the C-suite or Board of Directors.”

But which numbers? Many marketers make the mistake of reporting statistics that tend to mean very little to the C-suite or Board of Directors. Believe it or not, open rates, impressions, click-through-rates and page likes may stroke your ego, but they just don’t pay the bills.

For this reason, during budget conversations, the marketing department can often get thrown into the expense category, rather than the revenue-producing department that it truly is. And we all know that when money is tight departments that lead to higher overall expenses are typically the first areas to have their budgets cut.

So it’s essential that you demonstrate how marketing positively impacts more essential metrics like overall revenue, new accounts and new loans. And you should be ready to do this before you jump into budget discussions.

Take the time to put together high-level campaign summaries in a rolling 12-month report, and share this with peers prior to strategic planning. This will help to ensure that everyone at the budget table understands the role of marketing and how your efforts have supported all of the revenue-generating areas of your financial institution.

Marketing Budget Analyses and Free Budgeting Tool from The Financial Brand: Two data-packed reports you’ll find helpful: Bank Marketing Budgets: ROI, Strategy, Profitability & Growth and Credit Union Marketing Budgets: ROI, Strategy, Profitability & Growth. Each article also includes a link to a pair of Excel spreadsheets containing extensive data, unique ratios, and more, one for banks and one for credit unions.

A good CRM system that ties your marketing efforts to revenue-producing results is ideal. If you don’t have a CRM system this may be a great budgeting season to request one and show why you need it. If a CRM isn’t in your future, and tracking with spreadsheets is too cumbersome, you can draw some fair conclusions by generating a list of consumers or members who have engaged multiple times over the last year with any marketing efforts that you can track. Then, use this list to ask for help in seeing how much they have deepened their relationship over the past year. You can use this data to put some revenue-generating numbers to your marketing.

Regardless of how you do prove results, it is your job to help fellow managers to understand the value of what you do. As a marketer you advertise products and services that are for sale to your marketplace, day in and day out. You explain features and benefits, and help people understand why they should believe in and bank with your institution.

Often, marketers don’t dedicate enough time to making similar efforts internally, to make sure peers understand the benefits of exactly what they do. Consider spending some time with peers and showing them the benefits and results of your marketing campaigns. Show them how you’ve helped them reach their goals over the past year.

Develop Allies and Be Proactive

When someone constantly asks for more it can eventually become habit to deny some of these requests. After all, why should someone get everything they ask for? And it’s difficult for a CEO or CFO to agree to give one person everything they want and deny others.

There are two main ways to fight this.

First, a few weeks before budget discussions get underway reach out to some of your colleagues in lending and customer service and talk with them about what they are seeing working well, and where they might have ideas for improvement. Perhaps discuss some of the channels you’ve been using to share products or promotions and make note of where they’ve seen growth or reduced interest. These kinds of collaborative conversations will create allies in other departments to help maintain budgets for marketing.

Second, you might also want to consider coming to the budgeting discussion with a few suggested marketing budget cuts. This practice will definitely help you appear more trustworthy.

If you take an honest look at the work you’ve done over the last year or two, invariably you are going to find a channel or initiative that has not been as effective as others. Be honest about these results — or lack thereof — and suggest shifting spending accordingly.

Along the same vein, if you prioritize budget line items based on the strategic conversations you’ve already had with your peers you can be first to recommend where sensible cuts should come from.

Then when your CFO says “We need to cut $25,000 from our Q2 & Q3 budget,” you can immediately come back with “fair enough … based on recent team conversations, I feel like cutting XYZ initiatives will have the smallest negative impact on our annual results.”

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