You’ve heard it before: "Ideas are nothing; execution is everything."
But what happens to ideas and execution when resources become scarce? When your creative team is downsized, when hiring freezes and mass layoffs become commonplace, when there are fewer hands on deck, when every expense is carefully scrutinized?
Companies of all sizes—from the scrappy startup to the biggest enterprise—are grappling with this reality right now as the world braces for a global economic downturn in 2023.
The only thing "business as usual" is businesses still need to bring in revenue to stay afloat, and so more is expected of marketing and creative teams, many of whom are now working with less.
Growth is a land grab. Companies could gamble on several experimental ideas at once, knowing they might not pan out:
A year ago, you could throw spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks, and it was easy to get the green light to execute almost any if it sounded the least bit interesting.
In these times…
Marketing is forced to contend with limited internal resources and declining market demand as businesses and consumers prioritize must-haves over nice-to-haves.
Throwing spaghetti at the wall is no longer a viable option—the price of pasta has literally gone up.
When marketing can't afford to be a game of chance, it becomes one of choices.
Suddenly, all those ambitious ideas come crashing back down to earth:
So, how can we adapt?
With less capacity to execute and fewer “chips” to gamble on marketing ideas, the knee-jerk reaction is to hedge our bets by reigning in costs and sticking to what's safe.
It's a sound strategy in theory, but in practice might backfire for three reasons.
Forced to choose between reliable, incremental growth tactics and creative high-risk/high-reward ideas, it's easy to choose caution.
But prioritizing safer demand capture tactics when demand is dwindling across the board leaves marketing and creative teams playing defense when they should be playing strategic offense.
Recessions are the worst time to fight for demand. And recessions are a great time to create demand.
—Christopher Lochhead, Author of Play Bigger
With fewer resources, shiny objects are now distractions and the focus is back on the first function of marketing: generating demand for the products and services you sell.
In fact, a 2022 Gartner survey of CMOs found that the top three areas of investment for marketing budgets were:
Marketing strategies may be re-orienting around brand awareness, engagement campaigns, and better efficiency, but 58% of the CMOs surveyed acknowledged that their teams still lacked the capabilities to execute their strategies, bringing us to the next problem with hedging.
How many winning ideas are gathering dust in your Kanban board’s backlog—all because they were waiting on resources?
How many good ideas have been dismissed as bad ideas only because they lacked enough fuel for the last mile? The ones that could have been roaring successes with the right creative talent, strategic distribution, or a faster time-to-market?
Getting the resources to execute can be tough even in good times. But when resources are scarce, winning ideas might end up never seeing the light of day.
A single well-executed smart bet can change the course of a company, like Patagonia's famous "Don't Buy This Jacket" anti-consumerism ad which appeared in the New York Times for Black Friday.
Still, how can marketers and creatives manage the risks associated with untested ideas when they can't afford the cost of failure?
Instead of throwing darts in the dark hoping for a bullseye, an integrated marketing campaign focused on a specific high-value target audience can help get your brand and message out to the market in a more reliable manner.
With channels, creative, and incentives aligned around the same campaign, the overall cost of these bigger bets starts to come down as:
What happens when performance marketing can't get a designer's time to launch a new campaign because the creative team is tied up in a brand campaign?
When even the low-hanging fruit becomes hard to pick, it can get Game of Thrones real quick, leading to all kinds of dysfunctions, especially between marketing and creative teams.
“It’s politics in a lot of ways in companies. You’ve got all these OKRs and everybody’s trying to take credit, trying to attribute to whatever they’re doing. Everyone’s just trying to justify their existence.”
—James Robinson, Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer at Insurate
Overcoming limited resources as a barrier to execution means investing in areas outside of tactical execution: operations, technology, and outsourcing.
The gains in speed, bandwidth, and cost-efficiency allow more ideas to be executed more thoroughly:
Resilient marketers and creative teams are often no strangers to scarcity—from one-person marketing teams who got by on good ideas and grit to unicorn creatives who've shipped viral videos with $0 budgets.
These teams and their tactics are worth looking to for inspiration for how to approach marketing in a recession or any situation where we're forced to do a lot with a little.
For Creative Directors
Amrita is a veteran B2B SaaS marketer and the VP of Marketing at Superside. Besides preaching to everyone and their mother about how good execution is the ultimate differentiator for your company, she hosts our monthly Gather & Grow series featuring leaders from Adobe, Dropbox, HubSpot, Intuit, Shopify and more. Find her on LinkedIn and Twitter and say hi!
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