Even before the pandemic, companies grappled with their marketing budgets. The casual mention of “next year’s campaigns” would send marketers straight to their spreadsheets months in advance to reallocate resources, figure out target audiences, and more.

These planning systems are designed to determine which variables can be controlled to get measurable results. The bad news is that the pandemic has set these variables into overdrive for your team members, but the good news is that 2020 provides an excuse to bend your budget in a way that fits 2021.

As decision makers plan their marketing budgets for next year, they will likely dedicate resources to long-term assets (think website overhauls). Also, marketers might prioritize ROI over other metrics and avoid high-risk options. Flexibility is key, and it’s time to reevaluate your marketing budget so that it actually meets your company’s needs.

Try Increasing Your Marketing Spend — or at Least Not Slashing It

It’s tempting to reduce your marketing budget when things get tight, but now is probably not the time to do so. Think of it this way: Your marketing strategy is the best way to tell your company’s story and build relationships with customers. Cutting this part of your business could shortchange your company in the future.

Much like regular old human relationships, customer-brand relationships require cultivation through a series of touchpoints. Marketing strategies enable these touchpoints to build trust between the customer and your brand. When marketing loses steam, customers lose visibility of your brand and disconnect with it. With the right approach, customers will remember your brand when they regain purchasing power and work with you instead of your competitors.

Again, it seems obvious to cut back on marketing when it may not yield returns in the short term, but resist the urge. Creating a solid marketing budget this year will ensure that customers remember your brand and stay loyal to it down the line.

Also, this might seem counterintuitive, but consider increasing your marketing budget. Survival is the name of the game this year, but what if you allowed your company to actually thrive? Studies show that investing in marketing during a recession achieves greater gains in market share than cutting back. Why? Investing in your marketing strategy keeps your brand top of mind for customers. At the end of the recession when more customers are in the market, your company will be ready and willing to meet demands.

When in Doubt, Remember the Essentials

Though it would be ideal to maintain or even increase marketing spend while budgeting for next year, some companies might not have this option. Still, it’s important to remember these basic tenets to maintain and build relationships with customers:

1. SEO: Never underestimate the power of an effective SEO strategy. SEO enables potential customers to quickly access your web content, often yielding surprising results over time. People have increasingly relied on the web for entertainment, shopping, social interaction, and more this year. A strategic approach to SEO ensures that more customers reach your brand online when other avenues are not available.

Additionally, improving SEO is incredibly cost-effective. Unlike paid ads, influencer collaborations, or live events, SEO only requires your marketing team to create stellar content and tailor it for specific algorithms.

2. Content marketing (including video marketing): Content marketing, especially video marketing, familiarizes customers with your brand, its personality, and its mission. Many customers currently prefer video over other types of content, and it’s especially pertinent now that they’re stuck at home. Plus, digital devices such as tablets and cellphones provide direct channels to reach your customers with optimized videos. Video is also a completely flexible medium, so leverage it to rise above the competition and really stand out next year.

3. Social media marketing: The sudden decrease in live events paired with work-from-home opportunities increased many customers’ reliance on social media. In fact, about 80% of the U.S. population uses social media, and over 500 million people watch videos every day on Facebook. With all of this, many brands can find success in reaching customers through video marketing on social media specifically.

Remember, though, that with a big audience comes big responsibility — or at least the need for precise targeting. Nail down your ideal customer persona and target by age, location, job title, income, interests, and other factors that are important to what you do. That way, you save time and money focusing on people who are most likely to purchase from you.

4. Basic marketing housekeeping: Larger projects might help your company see results quickly, but remember the little things, too. Invest in smaller projects (such as workflow approval processes) to get more done. This is also a great time to inventory your communication tools and test out or incorporate new ones that could work better for your team. When you take the time to line up the stepping stones, the bigger goals fall into place easily.

As you prepare for 2021, prioritize your marketing budget to improve your business’s bottom line. Though it may be harder to see immediate results from a more flexible marketing strategy, remember that your customers are bending in a few ways themselves. For more tips and tools for navigating your marketing budget, check out this free e-book: “How to Spend Your 2021 Marketing Budget.”