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How to be a Lean Marketer in Any Environment

by Laura Puente, Cynthia Stipeche and Caitlin Devereaux

Every business experiences periods of turbulence, whether you’re facing unstable market conditions like the current oil downturn, workforce reductions, budget cuts, increased competition or a combination of these factors. Accomplish your marketing goals with fewer resources, and learn how to reset and reprioritize if you marketing plan gets derailed. Discover how to create value for your organization and secure your role with lean marketing strategies. 

What counts as turbulence for marketers?

Shifting audience needs and behaviors

Example: Your client traditionally sponsors a big industry conference every year, but due to market conditions, their customers have cut conference attendance from their budgets. 

Inconsistencies in brand messaging and customer promises

Example: Your website messaging is all about oil exploration, but due to the industry downturn, you have halted exploration activities. 

Skewed perception of cost and value

Example: Before turbulence hit, your client had planned a large marketing campaign launch. In light of recent layoffs, many employees are now grumbling about the expense of the campaign.

How does it affect me and my role?

Decreased marketing budget
  • What do I have to sacrifice?
  • How can I reprioritize my initiatives to get the most impact?
  • Will I have enough people to get things done?
  • How can we expect to see an impact without my or my clients’ full budget?
Reduced team
  • How do I move forward when resources I need are no longer available to me?
  • How do I regain momentum?
  • All my advocates are gone or busy...who’s left to fight my cause?
  • What if my main client contact is no longer there?
Increased need to prove your value/ROI of your job
  • How do I keep proving marketing is worthwhile?
  • How do I move the needle?
  • What metrics can I track all by myself?
  • What is the most important ROI to track in this difficult time?

Am I next? 

Get back on track.

Identify roadblocks
  • Write down your biggest obstacles to success
  • Brainstorm what you need to overcome these challenges
  • Consider how you can modify your plan or process to work around them

Example: Do you need to remove people from the process who muddy the waters?

Determine what needs to happen to move forward
  • Refine your marketing goals if necessary
  • Don’t be afraid to scrap projects if the conditions have changed and you need to reset — but give yourself time to think about all the consequences if you do
Take a realistic inventory of your resources
  • Determine which resources are still available to you
  • Consider budget, people and time
  • Identify remaining advocates for your marketing plan (mentors, supervisors or project managers, etc.)
Learn to work more efficiently
  • Investigate tools to bolster your efforts or crowdsource projects
  • Turn to social media to leverage user-generated content
  • Experiment with online tools to see if you can work more efficiently
  • If possible, break larger projects down into more accomplishable phases to reduce the strain on your resources
  • Make progress while mapping out your plan for the next stage
Prioritize based on impact and long term payoff
  • Be careful not to cut back on small projects that seem like distractions: they may impact the success of key initiatives
  • Don’t make reactive choices based on short term resource issues
  • Recognize areas where it would be more efficient to outsource
  • Try to get the most life out of a single deliverable: Brainstorm how can you repurpose, re-promote or templatize projects.

Can you build just one landing page template that will work for all your campaigns with only minor copy and image changes?

Instead of producing two blog posts a month, can you cut back to one and focus more heavily on content promotion?

Build buy-in for your initiatives.

Trace the ROI of your Marketing Plan

Build a measurement plan

KPIs for an example breakfast event series:

  • # of attendees
  • Event-specific social media impressions and engagement
  • Various pre- and post-event email marketing metrics, if applicable
  • # of qualified leads
Report on your progress
  • Create a reporting structure to stay accountable and in touch with your boss
  • Example: Schedule a monthly reporting meeting
  • Discuss next steps and recommendations, not just metrics
Recruit advocates
  • Add more resources to team
  • Added legitimacy and a bigger cohort/core team
  • More power to shift attitudes internally
  • Easier to communicate how marketing is a shared business goal
Stay on the same page as Project Leads
  • Check in with your team lead or client contact on any changing priorities
  • Be mindful of what your client is going through: have empathy
  • Manage up: understand how you can make your boss’ job easier
  • Show that you’re willing to learn new skills and wear more hats

As marketers, we are are often so focused on our external audience (our prospects and customers) — but we need to keep our internal audience (our management and co- workers) in mind as well. How are you communicating what you do and what value you offer to the organization — in terms that are important to the people you work with?

Michele Linn, VP of Content, Contently (@michelelinn)

Avoid traps.

Trap #1

During a turbulent period, you (or your boss) may be tempted to “lay low until the storm passes”


If you’re silent, clients and internal audiences will look for information elsewhere. You don’t want to look responsible for lost sales or reduced confidence in your company because you weren’t communicating.

Example: A news outlet reports rumors that your company is in a downward spiral. If you’ve gone silent and have not communicated assurance to prospective clients, they may choose to partner with a competitor who appears more stable.

Instead: Emphasize the importance of remaining pro-active with marketing. Don’t let negative press or widespread rumors fester.

Trap #2

Due to turbulence, you feel pressure to make a change for the sake of change.


Instead: Look for opportunities, but don’t destroy processes that still work just because you panicked. Beware changes not based on strategy: If there’s no pay off towards your business objectives, you’re just creating more work.

And remember…


I have always been told to hope for the best, plan for the worst, and always keep moving forward. Sometimes we have to recognize that our projects might not be recoverable, our boss might leave and you've lost your internal advocate, or the business you are working for just isn't working, and you get laid off.

John Doherty, Founder, Credo(@dohertyjf)

One of the best things young professionals can do is to have side projects. I have talked to many hiring managers who look for people who have outside passions to which they can apply their marketing skills, such as writing a blog, creating a video series and building an audience. You are more valuable to your organization when they know you have this kind of energy and skills.

Michele Linn, VP of Content, Contently (@michelelinn)