Are your marketing budgets always on the chopping block during a crunch?

Despite all that is written about marketing becoming a core function to the growth of any company, the truth is during any economic downturn, marketing budgets are still the first to be slashed. This is because there are still companies today who see marketing as merely a support function and not a growth engine, said Howie Lau (pictured right), chief industry development officer, IMDA.

Lau, who previously led marketing functions at companies such as StarHub and Lenovo prior to his stint at IMDA, told audiences at Marketing’s Digital Marketing Asia 2019 conference in Singapore that today, it is the job of the marketer to make his/her role more pronounced and come across as the driving force of transformation. Citing past experiences, Lau said he witnessed marketing budgets being on the chopping block whenever there was a financial downturn. “If marketers are seen as a profit engine or revenue function rather than a supporting role, they have the opportunity of doubling down on their marketing capabilities and weave into the next S curve,” he said.

“A marketer’s role could be both a line of sight in incremental revenue, and potential efficiencies. So I think there is a tremendous opportunity for marketers to not just be a support function,” Lau said.

Besides having a say in a company’s decision making process, marketers also play a crucial role in helping companies figure out how they can undertake the digital transformation agenda – which he described to “a vague concept “and something that is hard to define. To make digital transformation “real”, Lau said a translation to potential top line opportunity, efficiency or cost saving is needed.

“There are some parts of digital transformation that if you invest a dollar, you will get SG$3 potentially in terms of incremental top line. That’s a part of digital transformation that gives you incremental value,” Lau said. On the other hand, there are certain digital transformation technologies and implementations that for every dollar invested, companies will be able to save SG$3, and that, Lau said, represents efficiency.

He added that if marketers are able to tie digital transformation back to the bottom line, the concept will be clearer.

The implication for marketing organisations and professionals is that we need to be a key ingredient and tool in facilitating that transformation in organisations.

Meanwhile, Lau defined the third category of digital transformation investments as those that are done to keep up with the Joneses. “It could be regulatory requirements, it could be a case where the industry has a new baseline,” he said.

Citing social media for example, he said that in the past, companies did not invest much in social media. However, the industry standard today has reached a point where if a B2C company does not respond to social media queries on Facebook or LinkedIn, for example, it is unacceptable. Also, previously, the gold standard was to respond to a social media post within 24 hours. But today, companies are expected to reply within four to six hours, even if it was a mere “Thank you, let me personal message you for more details”.

“It doesn’t give you a top line or cost efficiency but it has come to a stage where you have no choice but to keep up with the Joneses,” Lau explained.

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