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Marketing Without Money

Updated: Mar 14


Marketing Without Money

Hello and welcome to Marketing Without Money, the first of a series of videos from Screen Matrix. My name is Jeremy Nicholson and I have some 40 years’ marketing experience across a wide variety of industries and channels, so I thought I would share some of my knowledge and insights to make life easier for marketing professionals like you. I asked for topics on the Marketing Meetup and this is the most requested. How can you set up a marketing function without money?

It has happened to most of us at one time or another. In fact, any professional marketer who has never been handed a budget cut, or even been expected to work with no budget at all, has never been truly tested.

There are two scenarios here; implementing a budget cut in an existing marketing programme and being handed a marketing role where there is no budget. I also appreciate nowadays you can get answers to questions like these on ChatGPT, so I have added some real life examples from my own experience to help you implement the suggestions.

Managing a reduced budget

The worst mistake you can make in this situation is continuation bias. That is, pursuing the same plan, but reducing the numbers. I pitched for some business once where the brief was, “we are cutting budget, but need to keep our box at the football stadium.” As in carpentry, the maxim is, “measure twice, cut once”. 

Start with a clean sheet of paper and tailor a strategy for your present resources and reasonably foreseeable potential. If your scenario necessitates cutting headcount, try to reallocate within the organisation and keep the knowledge in-house.

Another obvious move is to identify other budgets on which you can piggyback. I was called in to manage a marketing department for a manufacturing SME. My first action was to cancel all print advertising and upweight digital channels. This freed up some media budget and meant I could appropriate some IT budget to upgrade the website into a D2C eCommerce channel. Once this was delivering revenue, I was given the go ahead to integrate CRM and “Push” marketing into the digital presence.

So in both cases, reduced and no budget, go back to basics first.

Back To Basics

It is an article of faith in the industry that most CEOs do not understand marketing. It is remarkable how many people with “Marketing” in their job title consider their role to be made up of hiring agencies, writing copy, commissioning photography, video and graphic design, media buying, print management, exhibitions, conferences, seminars, webinars and the alphabet soup of TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms) within “Digital”: PPC, SEO, CMS, CRM, Programmatic and so on. These are tactics, not strategies. The first responsibility of a marketing professional is to research the market and optimise the long term brand equity of their business within it. This means looking at the three “P”s; Product, Position and Price.

What does this mean to you in the real world? I have worked for clients who make and hold stock of obsolete products. I have worked for companies which sold products at a loss. I have worked for businesses which underpriced their products. In each case the marketing function continued to imagine new creative, place media IOs, design and print collateral and manage its website without questioning the offer at the heart of its business. The best move a marketer can make is to promote changes to a product or process and its perceived benefits which enhance its fit with the market. A great product is the best marketing.

So the first thing you can do which costs nothing but delivers massive results is question your assumptions. A warning here. If your first action as Marketing Manager is to offer this to your CEO as a “Marketing Audit”, you will likely be joining your former colleagues in the dole queue. A better option is to closet yourself away with a spreadsheet and plentiful mugs of coffee and tell anyone who asks you are looking into ways of saving their jobs.

Your research should be under two distinct headings; internal and external. Of course you need to set up and assess your numbers on Google, Social Media and whatever other channels you favour, then do some gap, competitor and sector analysis, but don’t forget internal metrics like margin, stock rotation, logistics, lead times, channels and cross/upsell performance. Do you have sufficient KPIs in place and are those you have still relevant? Sometimes these are seen as the domain of finance or operations management, but either by charm or force of personality you need to ensure Marketing has a voice in the discussion.

As regards strategy, in most cases there is only one. OK I will admit I am making huge assumptions here. However, applying Occam’s Razor, most marketing professionals work for SMEs. Most SMEs are too small to compete on price, so the offer becomes a combination of quality and time or, put simply,, customer service. The most common mistake in SME marketing is to place too much focus on product features as opposed to service benefits. Compare how your lead times, opening hours, stock availability, credit, financing, logistics and order channel availability compare with those of your competitors and make them the hero of your messaging as promoted in case studies, references and social media posts.

No Cost Options

So, assuming you have nailed the Holy Trinity of Product, Position and Price, the next stage is to formulate and implement your No Cost communications plan. The obvious “No Cost” tactics are: 

  • Content; Case Studies, White Papers, References, Tenders, RFIs, emails, web content, social media posts and other promotional collateral. Talk to your customers and update your existing materials. Solicit customer references containing your messaging for your Google My Business and similar storefronts. Tweak your positioning statements to include geography, quality, service, fulfilment and flexibility.

  • Design, Video, Photography and Illustration: Unless you are qualified or gifted, these are better left to professionals, but most people can rework existing templates without the results being actually repellent. Obviously, if you have not already done so, make PDF versions of all your collateral for electronic distribution, rather than print, and make them available across all channels including social media, website, CRM and PR content libraries. 

  • CRM: Outbound email/newsletters, Abandoned Basket emails, Blogs/Vlogs, Podcasts and Tag Manager/Remarketing. Using the free level of Mailchimp or similar, especially when integrated with your CMS, will deliver targeted content. Integration and automation are the keys to efficient CRM. A few hours spent setting up these systems will repay the effort.

  • SEO, PR & Sponsorship: Although you need to subcontract SEO when you scale, any marketing professional should be able to establish a competent base level using headings, metatags, captions and the tools and resources available on-line. PR and Sponsorship are not strictly free, but you can often trade product for coverage. Social media influencers fall within this area. However, don’t underestimate the power of reviews and promotions in traditional media.

  • Network: Networking is one of the most powerful marketing tools you can use. Attend local business events, join trade associations, or join a business networking group to meet potential customers or partners. I once advised a London Law Firm on digital transformation where their product was, in essence, one large collaboration. 

  • Collaboration & Barter: Working with partners to share exhibition stand space and in-store/Point of Sale promotions is a good way of aggressively seeking market share while defensively protecting your relationships. I helped a US software company grow its share of the EMEA market by doing deals with systems integrators and other strategic partners to share exhibition and conference stand space, allowing us to generate more impact, prestige and reach from our limited budget.

Controlled Cost Options

I have described these tactics as Controlled Cost, rather than Low Cost, because in theory you can set budgets or manage your downside. You can guarantee your Google or Microsoft PPC analytics will tell you they are delivering and recommend increasing the budget whatever happens, but set your own parameters and monitor and manage them using your own analytics KPIs. Each of these is a topic in its own right, so you need to research them carefully before committing a budget.

  • Signage: Many businesses do not optimise their assets such as frontage, windows and vehicles. At the very least, a new van wrap or shopfront shows you are still in business.

  • Self liquidating trade promotions: Run promotions through partners or channels limiting your downside cost. BOGOF or Cross/Upsell promotions will reduce margin in the short term, but should help “prime the pump” and generate future revenue. Be wary of voucher schemes which could be open ended.

  • Specialist media: Your business may be going through tough times, but so are publishing companies. Building up a rapport with the best specialist publishers in your industry at heavily discounted rates will help ensure you both make it to the upturn.

  • Paid Social Media: PPC campaigns on social media can be cost effective, just be aware your own GA analysis will bear no relation to the figures shown you by Meta/Twitter/Youtube analytics. Set low budgets and use ad hoc content based campaigns to judge what topics are getting traction with your target audience.

  • PPC: By setting accurate targeting, keywords (including negative) and budgets, it is possible to run a cost effective paid search campaign. Bear in mind there will still be wastage, so you will have to manage the targeting criteria regularly.

  • Markets: Google, Amazon, eBay etc. Again, tight budgeting based on research is essential if costs are not to run away, but at least you can relate campaign spend to revenue rather than clicks. 


I have identified a dozen no cost and controlled cost options with which you can create a successful marketing campaign. It is up to you how you work. I favour building a marketing calendar and using a longitudinal approach. I also like to create an analytics spreadsheet and copy across metrics and KPIs from other analytics feeds to start building a custom dashboard. Working from a checklist also improves efficiency and ensures nothing gets missed. If you would like a copy of these tactics and suggestions in the form of a checklist, you can download one from my website,, where you can also register for updates and blog feeds.

My name is Jeremy Nicholson and I thank you for joining me. As I said at the beginning, you can get a lot of resources on-line, but drilling down into what they mean in your particular case is more difficult. I hope you have found this content useful and are able to gain some benefit from it.

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