What to Do With Your Marketing Budget Windfall (Yes, It Happens)

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As the year (and, for many, fiscal year) draws to a close, are you burdened with a marketing budget that's too large to spend?

Unlikely.

More common is the experience of a pharmaceutical client of ours, who went on vacation for a week in August and came back to a 19% smaller marketing budget. Such experiences may help explain why Americans chronically short-change themselves on vacation time.

Even so, organizations are budgeting so tightly these days that the occasional windfall isn't uncommon.

Sometimes, an executive VP likes a creative presentation so much that she "finds" a bucket of money to add to a spend; sometimes, the boss is so frustrated with how slowly an internal marketing push is progressing that he "steals" money from another budget; sometimes, a company pulls back on trade show appearances, "transitioning" these dollars to marketing.

In response, we've had to become adept at making fast suggestions to our clients about spending.

In general, when money hasn't been planned on, we suggest investing in something other than day-to-day marketing operations. For example, don't throw money into the pay-per-click budget because, in some number of weeks or months, it will be gone, and the value of the spend will be gone too.

What should you do with a marketing windfall? Here are a few ideas:

Refresh your brand strategy. Most brands are in some state of drift between an outdated, flaccid mission statement and riding the tail of a hot new product. Neither can lead to much good. So you could invest the money into realigning around a statement that speaks to the brand change—one that can drive and guide more effective execution across a broad range of projects.

Develop or refresh your customer journeys. Not really sure who your true customer is or whether your digital ecosystem supports a credible buying process? Why not develop some customer journey-based personas to give your marketing better alignment?

Go deeper with automation. If tweaking your marketing technology could improve conversions for your campaign traffic, you could do a lot worse with a windfall than activating some of the automation in your system. Examples include generating email responses without having to respond manually, or rolling out segmented targeting in a drip campaign to generate better open rates while you sleep.

Do more A/B testing. For all the money CMOs spend on marketing, it's shocking how little of it is optimized or tested. Doing some deep A/B testing of headline, imagery, or call-to-action could improve the performance of your next $500,000 (or $1 million) in media spend by 50% or more.

Pump up an event with some audacious promotion. Look into doing co-creation at your booth. If you've cut back on a booth space, surround an event with an event of your own.

An agency can always find use for more budget, and you probably can too. The good news is that thanks to the new media revolution, and the enormous expansion in brands driven by identity to inspiration, you can get a lot more out of a dollar than you used to. And who doesn't like seeing great results from free money?