The small business challenge: maintaining the personal touch whilst on a reduced budget

Marketing budgets are being hit, with the War in Ukraine, inflation and never-ending economic anguish. But amid the gloom there is an opportunity for smaller brands applying a personal touch.

Ben Alwin, Head of Paid Media, SINE Digital shares a marketing guide for small brands in a cookieless world, where owning and collecting data is key to building customer loyalty and retention.  

It's time to get personal, hyper-personal

The cost-of-living crisis is likely to result in shrinking marketing budgets, whilst results, creativity and effectiveness are expected to be maintained. 

Shifting consumer expectations are doing little to ease the situation. Purchase likelihood is forecast to decline further in the coming months - Accenture’s research found that 70% of consumers will cut back on their holiday spending this year. 

Personalisation is the new battleground, holding the key to highly bespoke and effective marketing. Salesforce’s studies indicate that 52% of consumers demand personalised offers - and 66% believe that businesses should be in-tune with their unique needs and expectations. 

But how can brands deliver true personalisation across the consumer journey on a tightened budget - and how will these tactics impact short-and-long term marketing? 

Getting your priorities straight 

Getting your hyper-personalisation strategy right can not only improve customer experience (CX), but also ensure return on investment (ROI) remains healthy. Identifying which channels are most effective for communication with consumers, as well as understanding the optimal time to open dialogue, is the catalyst for better engagement. 

The extent to which brands can achieve hyper-personalisation though, even within a time of economic uncertainty, will rely largely on how well they are set up to achieve personalisation in the first place. Ensuring all data points are captured throughout the consumer journey is essential.

No brand is immune to budget cuts. YouTube’s ad sales were valued at £6.2bn during Q3 2022 - this represented a 1.9% decline compared to last year, the first-time ad revenue had shrunk in its history. As marketing budgets get squeezed, it is becoming increasingly important for brands to ensure they have the right channel mix for their budget. 

Whilst diversification is generally promoted as the silver bullet to combat rising advertising costs, brands with small budgets should be challenging the status quo. It may be better to activate fewer channels well, especially those aligned to your target audience and business goals, and aim for personalisation within those.

Brands are at a crossroads. Third-party data has been a crutch for brands trying to achieve personalisation for years. Google’s decision to phase out cookies from 2024 means that developing alternative strategies now is crucial. 

No time for a rain check 

With consumer expectations shifting, relevant, personalised experiences are the new frontier - McKinsey’s research found that 76% of consumers are frustrated by generic, non-personalised marketing materials.  

It has become increasingly inefficient to spread budgets thinly and granularly segment audiences. Advanced algorithms and machine learning therefore hold the key to delivering truly personalised advertising at scale.

The cost of asset production is another limiting factor to achieve personalisation when working with limited budgets, so brands should be leaning on more cost-effective solutions such as in-platform creative tools and user generated content, without the need for expensive equipment or high-quality production.

Long term, the most pertinent question is arguably how brands can achieve hyper-personalisation in a cookieless future. In a cookieless world, we expect contextual personalisation to lead the way. This means aligning ads to the environment in which they’re served. It also means moving back towards persona-based targeting. 

Increased importance will be placed on upper funnel activity to drive new customer acquisition. Brands will also have to offer more value to their customers and focus on building customer loyalty and retention. The focus is shifting increasingly towards first-party data and customer accounts, so it’s important to get ahead of the curve. 

Time to throw caution to the wind?

The cost-of-living storm continues to rage. Budget cuts have become a staple across agencies - and with third-party cookies soon to be phased out, brands must adapt their strategies or risk falling behind. This is where hyper-personalisation demonstrates its value. 

Putting personalisation at the heart of your marketing efforts is key to coming through this period of economic turbulence. Consistently delivering relevant experiences on the platforms that matter most to your consumers will ensure long-term success for your business.

By Ben Alwin

Head of Paid Media

SINE Digital