4 Approaches to Optimizing Marketing Budgets

The old carpenter’s adage on how to properly build something applies to pharmaceutical marketing just as much as it does to woodworking. Whether you’re remodeling your master bath or repositioning your brand two years post launch, it’s imperative that you take the necessary time and effort and not rush into something that you may later regret. Dedicating the appropriate resources upfront to conduct proper discovery, determine appropriate segmentation based on audience behavior and other factors, craft targeted messaging, build a solid strategic plan grounded in insights, and frame a thorough measurement plan is a blueprint for success. It doesn’t matter if you have $250,000 or $25 million to support your marketing efforts, doing it right matters. Every. Single. Time.

You can’t recycle or repurpose dollars that are misspent on off-target initiatives like you can with a discarded 2×4. So, this upfront effort will avoid grief and aggravation while saving your time and money in the long run. Following are four key approaches that will help you maximize the value and results of your marketing budget.

Three Pillars for Brand Optimization

The process of brand optimization is as easy as 1-2-3: Research, Plan, Activation. While inherently simple and self-evident, the challenge with this approach is oftentimes our own discipline and patience (or lack thereof).

All too often, we are too quick to focus on activation—going with the newest initiative or tactic—without doing the requisite research and planning to ensure success. Sometimes the pressure from management is pushing the leap to activate, and while this can be sexy and exciting, it is rarely executed well without spending adequate time in the first two phases. If a contractor started your renovation without showing you written plans, it’s safe to conclude that you wouldn’t be thrilled. We need to have this same perspective with our marketing plans and push this thinking up the chain.

1. Remember to Use the 30/70 Rule When Allocating Budget

Approximately 30% of your budget should be dedicated to research and planning throughout the year. This should include the discovery needed for proper segmentation and development, online landscape and influencer analysis, validation of strategy, as well as the more traditional qualitative and quantitative studies on a periodic basis. For additional context and insights, please see this article our Chief Digital Officer Colin Foster wrote, Digital is Hear. Are you Listening?

Your 30% should also accommodate forward-looking planning to ensure an agile, market-tuned activation approach. This should include goal setting, a regular cadence of brand diagnostics to ensure ongoing review of what’s working/not working, and a mechanism to feed learnings into the annual brand planning cycle.

Research and planning phases are too often neglected or underfunded—and teams are left scrambling for extra funds to support these critical reviews. Or, worse, teams simply bypass these phases altogether and jump into activation based on last year’s insights and tactics. This perpetuates both what works—and what doesn’t.

The beauty of using the 30% measure is that it leaves you with 70% of your overall budget for activation and it forces you to scale accordingly with your overall budget. You won’t be able to do everything within the confines of the 30%, but you’ll have a goalpost to help you make the appropriate strategic decisions based on a prioritization of brand needs. Likewise, the 70% provides you the means to develop a prioritized set of initiatives attuned to known audience needs, to deploy these with greater precision, and to capture meaningful analytics that feed back into your brand diagnostics. Even if you have to bend the 30/70 rule to 25/75, you’ll still get further ahead than if you just blindly jumped into implementation.

2. Ready, Fire, Aim: Misses We’ve All Witnessed

There are numerous examples of well-intentioned teams that leap to activate a website, stand up a social media channel, or launch an advocacy initiative only to learn that it was ill-received or even worse, tone deaf to the HCPs’ or patients’ true needs. Developing an app is another area that—in the rush to get something “cool” out into the marketplace—the folks behind it can end up skipping discovery to determine what their target audience actually needs. This frequently results in sunk costs on a product offering with limited uptake and engagement.

Each of these missteps can be avoided with appropriate research and planning. To some, these steps are seen as an impediment to creativity, boldness, and moving with speed. The reality is quite the opposite.

In fact, many creatives also appreciate having a specific target at which to aim. A specific problem to solve. The best creative solves problems. Speaks to consumers. Differentiates a product or service. You simply can’t do these things as well without good discovery and strategy. When you’re truly answering the needs of the stakeholder, you’re on target.

Most of us know it’s unwise to create and develop something just because it’s hip, sexy, and/or innovative. A 24k gold sink may look great in Versailles or Graceland, but it’s doubtful that you’d want to return home to find (and pay for) it during a remodel. Without the appropriate research and planning, you may be left guessing at your audiences’ real needs. And while you may think you saved budget money, it often costs more when you have to review and revise your offerings in market.

3. Bet on PESO to Activate Your Plan

(PESO: Paid, Earned, Shared, and Owned.) Most marketers have built a career on the back of highly creative owned and paid media programing. From the field force to websites to advertising and beyond, these types of channels are controllable, predictable, transactional, and make managing the brand spend relatively straightforward. The problem is, the actual customer journey is much more dynamic and diverse. In fact, today, much of the decision-making around product choice is heavily influenced by key influencers, the media, and people who are “just like them.” The reality is, real engagement with these stakeholders tends to happen in shared and earned spaces, which are less controllable, less predictable and more relationship-driven than the comfort zone of paid and owned media. To develop a truly integrated engagement strategy and connect with customers where they are, it’s critical to seek balance with all activities and spending across all four corners of the media model.

Think of PESO as the backbone of the planning and activation phases. Doing so has the added benefit of providing an organizing principle for a robust measurement approach. Setting this up correctly out of the gate helps marketers see what is working and not working in near real time, allowing for a more nimble and responsive marketing approach.

4. Measurement Matters

Analytics and measurement are certainly considered table stakes today, but can you say you Measure What Matters? The book by this name discusses establishing clear objectives as measured by key results to monitor both individual and organizational progress. This same approach should be employed with any marketing plan and all related initiatives.

The objective of any tactic must clearly align to a critical need outlined within the brand plan. We should measure evaluative metrics that will help to determine the ultimate success of the initiative. By doing the necessary discovery and planning, you can actually get a good idea what these metrics should be and what results you want to see within these metrics. These also become the target at which we aim our efforts.

These analytics need to be well thought out and should include both prognostic (those that are indicative of a future trend or behavior currently encountered) and diagnostic (those that measure the outcome, interaction, and engagement with the initiative). Establishing, measuring, and pivoting based on appropriate and timely analytics will help ensure the success and longevity of initiatives.

To underline something that is often overlooked, your measurement plan should include a reporting cadence that allows you to bridge learnings into actions, done annually to inform brand planning, monthly or quarterly to inform ongoing activation, and daily if you are in a crisis or are driving engagement around a key brand milestone.

While these analytics don’t come free, they are inexpensive in the greater scope of your overall budget and worth the investment. We’re never happy when we’re penny wise and pound foolish. Frequently utilizing these analytics will enable you to gain more real-time insights about what is and isn’t working. And, by affording yourself the opportunity to make adjustments, you help ensure you remain relevant.

Building Big Results

Living by the 30/70 rule will enable you to develop a more structured and scalable marketing plan while maximizing your marketing budget to the greatest extent. The small investment upfront and at regular intervals to support research and planning may cost you a tactic or two in your overall activation plan, but it will provide you with the confidence that your activation plan is more audience-centric, dynamic, well-received, and generates greater return.

Now, good luck with your next discovery and planning efforts!

  • Francesco Lucarelli

    Executive Vice President Francesco Lucarelli serves as Managing Director of HCB Health’s BioPharma division. He is responsible for all elements of the division’s work creation, delivery and production, internal team management, and external client development and satisfaction. 

  • Colin Foster

    HCB Health Chief Digital Officer Colin Foster is responsible for all things digital, production, project management, and IT. He strengthens the firm’s and its clients’ online analytics and activation capabilities to better equip them for sustained success. 


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