In tough times, marketing budgets are typically the first to be squeezed. And this, as any printer working with marketers will tell you, has certainly held true over the past few years.
And yet there are signs that the situation is improving. Most heartening is a recent IPA Bellwether Report, released in July. It found that a recent upward revision to marketing budgets is the strongest it’s been in nearly six years. In response to company financial prospects improving markedly over the second quarter of 2013, overall UK marketing allowances were, according to the report, revised upwards by 7.3%. Good news for printers tired of fighting a losing battle against budgets.
Also positive are the latest, ‘Wave Four’, results from the Marketing Confidence Monitor survey, published earlier this month by the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM). These figures show a steady rise since last autumn in overall confidence in business performance, and a demotivation of the priority of cost reduction below top-line and bottom-line growth.
And yet marketers, and those hoping to print for them, aren’t apparently out of the woods just yet. The above figures are only half the story. And in fact other figures from the Marketing Confidence Monitor tell the other half.
The picture painted is one of marketers struggling to translate larger budgets into real influence within their companies. Only just over half of respondents to the CIM survey report that market and customer insight is actively used in the early stages of business planning and strategy, while only 44% report that other parts of their businesses understand the role and value of marketing. Meanwhile, 32% of marketers say they’re part of growth discussions, but are treated with scepticism.
"Marketers are going through a crisis of confidence, which sounds contrary to the idea of increased budgets and increased resources being put into marketing," confirms Claire Beale, editor of Marketing magazine. "As a business function, marketing is losing its voice in the corporate boardroom and marketers have much less sway over strategic corporate decisions to do with the future direction of the company."
Compounding this crisis in confidence is evidence that the post-recession consumer is not loosening the purse strings quite as readily as might be expected. A recent study by The Futures Company found that, though wages and household spending are strengthening, the average consumer now has a less consumerist outlook. Taught by tough times to readjust their priorities, 69% of consumers are now more focused on what they already have, rather than trying to become better off, with people valuing family and friends more highly.
Heartwarming stuff, but a challenging climate for companies to cut through the marketing clutter and communicate their brand values. Which is where, says Beale, printers could come in. At the heart of these unsettling findings is in fact an opportunity.
True, the IPA Bellwether Report and other recent surveys have found that internet spends are taking by far the lion’s share of newly revised budgets. "There is so much pressure now to prove return on investment and it’s becoming easier and easier as analytics become more and more sophisticated," says Beale.
But this isn’t to say marketers will find such a digitally oriented strategy best in the long term. In fact, the post-recession consumer, with re-adjusted priorities, may well respond better to print. Beale points to a recent study by advertising agency VCCP that called into question whether highly visible, digital and social media marketing is always the most effective. "There are early signs of a return to less visible communication and more respect and enjoyment of traditional methods of talking to people," says Beale.
There are early signs, apparently, that marketers are realising the importance of doing something a bit innovative and out of the ordinary to get noticed. "If you can show return on investment, that’s a distinct advantage, but the problem is something new and exciting often doesn’t have that kind of metric behind it," says Beale. "So it’s absolutely critical that marketers now do something new and different."
"On a personal level, everyone wants to be that person who launched a particularly innovative marketing campaign. That’s just human nature," she adds.
Not that this innovative new campaign will always necessarily involve print. "As businesses to these 21st-century marketers, printers have to keep pace with this change and marketers are now used to being sold the next big thing, so it obviously helps if you have that," says Beale.
But it doesn’t take a genius to see that, for someone striving to cut through the clutter and interact with customers on a more personal level, the best answer might well be paper and ink.