The vast majority of marketers are cutting or maintaining their marketing budgets, saying that while finance teams understand the rationale behind investing in media during the coronavirus pandemic, they simply don’t have the money to do so.

Just 7% of UK marketers say their brands are taking a strategic approach to invest more in marketing during the coronavirus pandemic, with the vast majority forced to maintain or cut spend in the face of business disruption.

A survey of 477 UK brand marketers conducted by Marketing Week and sister title Econsultancy found that 7% are taking a ‘seize the opportunity’ approach and investing more in marketing.

That compares to 29% who say their approach is to ‘stay the course’ by maintaining budgets and 50% who say they are making cuts so they can ‘live to fight another today’. A further 14% say it is too early to know what their strategic response to marketing will be.

When asked to describe how their organisations are making decisions, 27% said their marketing strategy was based mostly on instinct, versus 13% saying it was mostly based on data, and 60% saying it was a balance of the two.

When it comes to the marketing mix, a quarter (26%) believe decisions are made based on instinct and just 19% based on analysis or data. And on brand messaging, 40% believe decisions are based mainly on instinct, versus just 10% who say they are based mostly on analysis.

Looking at funding in specific areas, offline media is taking the biggest hit with 57% of marketers cutting their budgets in this area, 41% maintaining it and just 3% increasing. In digital media, 32% are cutting budgets, 44% maintaining and 24% increasing spend.

The data also suggests that while finance and leadership teams across the business understand why investing in media might be important during pandemic – with data from previous recessions suggesting that those which stand out can emerge more strongly – they simply don’t have the cash to do so.

Almost half (46%) of respondents said that if they asked to increase media spend, their leadership team would say that, while they understand the motivation, there is no cash to spend. Some 32% of marketers said finance would ask them to prove the case before they would consider it, while just 13% said finance would ask for a plan on how to do it.

One in 10 believe finance would say they were wasting their time.

Shifting marketing priorities

Not only are budgets under pressure, but priorities are shifting. Almost a third (29%) of respondents say they are making more investments in brand values, for example through charity donations.

A similar number are reallocating budgets from acquisition to retention, while 45% are changing their ads or their content to make them relevant. Almost half (47%) are shifting messaging to emphasise digital fulfilment, products or services.

Brands are also shifting resources. Some 19% say they are “shifting everything we can” from third parties to in-house, while 47% are shifting people between teams to meet new demands.

While the figures make for depressing reading for many marketers, there are some positive signs coming out of new ways of working. Some 42% of marketers say they have seen innovation in customer communications, while 43% say they have made use of innovations in marketing messaging and branding that they might use post-outbreak.

B2B versus B2C

Analysis of the response of more than 850 marketers at brands globally from the same survey finds that B2B brands are taking a more optimistic approach to marketing during the pandemic than B2C. Some 14% of B2B marketers describe their approach as ‘seizing the opportunity’, compared to 8% of consumer-facing marketers.

Finance teams at B2B companies are also more likely to be open to investing in media, with 17% of marketers saying their finance teams would think it was a good idea and 37% that it would be considered if they could prove the case. Just 5% said their finance teams would say they were wasting their time, and 40% that there is no money for such an approach.

In B2C, by comparison, just 11% said their finance teams would think investing was a good idea and 29% that they would consider it. More than half (52%) said there is no cash to spend, while 8% believe finance would think they were wasting their time.