How to Make the Most of Your Marketing Budget

When you work for a civic institution, every dollar counts. This is especially true of your marketing budget. While large, corporate businesses can invest significant money into every single marketing effort, your organization may not have the same luxury. So how do you leverage limited spend and resources to drive sustainable results?


Marketing BudgetIt’s an all too common problem for many organizations – getting big things done on a shoestring budget. As the expectations and demands of our colleagues and audiences continue to increase, resources and money only seem to shrink, or not go as far as they used to.

The “do more with less” reality can hit marketing especially hard, and many organizations scramble to figure out which of the latest tools and strategies are going to get them the most bang for their buck. Unfortunately, we see far too many groups throw their capital at one-off advertising campaigns and quick-hit media blitzes that yield a small uptick in traffic and brand recognition, but fail to deliver long-term value.

“When you’re in the business of creating great experiences and economic opportunity for your community, you need to think of your marketing as a marathon, not a sprint.”

With so many different marketing options available today, it can be easy to lose sight of the big picture. When you’re in the business of creating great experiences and economic opportunity for your community, you need to think of your marketing as a marathon, not a sprint. Your message matters more than your method, and having the right brand strategy, tools and support team in place can make all the difference. Here, we’ll dig into some of the smartest ways to get the most stretch out your marketing dollars.

Branding before marketing

Doesn’t it seem like a great idea for a city? Everyone needs to find their way around, so why not guide and brand it yours?

In working with our clients, one of the first areas we focus on is the brand. The top mistake you can make is launching into a new marketing initiative without a solid brand foundation. While it’s tempting to jump right to the sexy stuff – creating campaigns that promote something – you lack the roadmap that’s supposed to help you navigate through all of the complex decisions.

Your brand represents what people know, feel and say about your organization. It has a ripple effect on everything you do, setting a positive or negative tone for every audience interaction. Before you spend money marketing your organization, you need to spend some time developing a coordinated brand platform. Here are some of the main ingredients:

  • Brand messaging: Your messaging helps your audience understand who you are, what you do and why you do it. In a crowded marketplace, it highlights how you’re different and should answer some of the following questions: What’s your organization’s mission? Who do you serve? What makes you different? What are your core values? How would you describe the personality of your business?

    Going through this exercise can help you craft a story about why your organization exists and how you deliver value. Civic institutions are fortunate to have extremely inspirational messaging to share; they are in the business of making communities and people’s lives better. Once you have your messaging, you’re positioned to weave it into all of your communications.

  • Visual identity: Your visual identity, including your logo(s), color palette, fonts and imagery, is the symbolic representation of your brand. It sets the stage for first impressions and facilitates long-term recognition of your organization.

    Having your visual identity in place and using it consistently makes your brand memorable and ensures your organization is portrayed in the right way every time, across every single communication.

  • Brand guidelines: If someone changes how they look and act all of the time, it’s easy to get confused about who they really are, and you certainly wouldn’t trust them anymore. The same goes for your brand. Your brand guidelines most basic job is to teach everyone – your colleagues, agency partners, graphic designers, partners, etc. – how to (and how not to) communicate and use your brand. They include best practices and examples for your logo, color palette, fonts, imagery and brand voice, making it very clear what you represent and how to convey that.

Rather than recreating the wheel every time you launch a new product or program, put some time and budget toward solidifying your brand platform. It’ll make everything else you do easier and more connected to your long-term objectives.

Know your audience

Your marketing is useless if it isn’t influenced by your target audience’s needs and challenges. What do they care about? What are their biggest concerns? Where do they go to consume news and information? Just like you want them to know you inside and out, you need to understand who they are. Otherwise, you’re just spinning your wheels and throwing marketing dollars out at the universe. This is especially important for civic brands because you’re talking to people who live and work in your community. They’re passionate about the place they call home, and you need to be able to demonstrate a genuine interest in their wellbeing.

So how do you get to know your audience? Market research doesn’t have to be as difficult or expensive as you would think. Small focus groups and surveys are a great way to collect insights on specific topics. Generally, civic audiences are willing and happy to share their perspectives because they are very emotional about their communities. As long as you help them understand that their feedback is going to be used productively, you shouldn’t have a problem getting them to open up.

Their responses can have huge implications for your marketing initiatives, helping you determine which strategies, content and channels will reach them most effectively. When everything you do and communicate is audience centric, you’re best positioned to serve them better and achieve key business objectives.

Sell the brand inside

In addition to your external audience, another group is just as important: your employees.

Internal marketing is often last minute or forgotten, but engaged employees are the lifeblood of every successful business. If they have an emotional connection to your brand, they’re more motivated to help you succeed. They are also more likely to speak positively to each other and your customers, and their personal social networks can help you amplify your brand reputation faster than any other marketing tactic.
On the flip side, disengaged employees may undermine the promises you’re making to the external audience. Maybe they haven’t been educated about the brand, or they don’t feel that your messaging is authentic and aligned with how you treat them. Your employees want to feel a greater sense of purpose and community just like everyone else.

“Internal marketing is often last minute or forgotten, but engaged employees are the lifeblood of every successful business.”

Many organizations send out the occasional memo about a recent branding effort or marketing campaign, but these are usually done in hindsight and aren’t designed to instill a passion for the brand’s power. If you’re planning a new initiative, organize an internal launch that gives employees an exclusive sneak peak, followed up by additional touch points that reinforce the messaging. You can even ask for their feedback before the external launch, which will make them feel like a valued part of the process.

A failure to communicate internally can ultimately doom even the most sophisticated campaign. By weaving the brand into employees’ daily experiences, they are much more likely to display the on-brand behavior you’re hoping for.

Leverage brand champions

In an increasingly connected world, ignoring your neighbors is the surest path to brand failure. Beyond your internal employees, the like-minded organizations in your community can become your best cheerleaders, helping you inspire even more people to believe in your brand. Not only does tapping into their networks increase the speed and impact of a marketing campaign, but you can reduce spend that you’d otherwise allocate to media or other tactics.

“Beyond your internal employees, the like-minded organizations in your community can become your best cheerleaders, helping you inspire even more people to believe in your brand.”

The best places to look for brand champions are right in your backyard, especially the groups that maintain high visibility in your community. For civic brands, this could be elected officials, police and fire departments, economic development organizations, schools and neighborhood businesses. What do they all have in common? They share your audience and will benefit from a strong civic brand.

As you set forth to bring your brand champions together, formalize your program so they take it seriously and understand expectations. Provide them with your brand assets and guidelines so there’s little room for error. Most importantly, promise to support them in return. They’re taking time out of their busy schedules to scratch your back, so be sure to repay the favor if they need it. We’re super passionate about this topic, so we’ve created a free downloadable Guide to Building Your Brand Champion Team.

Test and evaluate

If you’ve built your brand platform and are ready to utilize it in upcoming initiatives, the next step is figuring out which marketing methods are cost-effective and drive results. There are so many advertising options available – social media, digital display, search engine marketing, email, direct mail, etc. – it can be hard to know which levers to pull.

“In general, traditional media formats can be more expensive and difficult to track return on investment, but having a balance of both traditional and digital channels can be effective if you have the budget and a diverse audience.”

The best place to start is by evaluating your budget, objectives and your target audience. For instance, if you have a high retiree population and you’re looking to attract prospective home buyers, community papers and direct mail can be effective, whereas millennials are more likely to be influenced by social media. In general, traditional media formats can be more expensive and difficult to track return on investment, but having a balance of both traditional and digital channels can be effective if you have the budget and a diverse audience.

No matter what channels you invest it, it’s important to pay close attention to performance. If it’s a long campaign, you need to give it some time to build momentum. However, if it’s been a while, don’t hesitate to pull back if you aren’t seeing results. In some cases, the channel just isn’t right, and in others, you may need to fine-tune your messaging or call to action. Not every tactic will thrive, but give it time before pulling the plug. Most worthwhile marketing initiatives need time to gain traction – it’s not a game of immediate gratification. No matter what, you’ll gain important insights that can be applied to your next initiative.

Little budget, big impact

When budgets and resources are lean, every dollar and moment of time spent is subject to scrutiny. While marketing is critical to so many areas of the organization, it’s also perceived as a huge cost, so it’s important to use your dollars wisely.

One of the best things you can do to maximize any marketing effort is to invest, first and foremost, in your brand. Before worrying about how to market your organization, focus on developing a powerful brand experience that people want to connect with in the first place. While marketing and branding make for a powerful combination, branding should always come first. It’s what will build loyalty over a long period of time, and small, upfront investments in its success will translate into huge time and cost savings down the road.


Need some advice? Reach out to Guide Studio’s experts to discuss your objectives and explore your options.

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