Sound the fanfare! Business-to-business (B2B) marketing budgets are on the rise!

Today, Forrester published results from a joint study with the Business Marketing Association (BMA) that looks at CMO-level expectations for overall program budgets, the composition of the 2014 marketing mix, and spending related to technology and innovation. BMA members may download a complimentary copy here.   

In this research (subscription required), we found that, on average, B2B marketers expect to see budgets increase by 6%, compared with last year.  This outlook is cautiously optimistic since 45% of respondents hope to hold budgets flat with 2013 and another 22% expect to see still more decreases. Pressure to hold the line on spending continues as 73% of respondents say they still feel budget pressure. (You can also see AdAge coverage of this survey here.  And from here.)

Are increased spending expectations good news for B2B marketers?  We think so!  Great news?  Hold the fireworks since demands on spending continue to grow faster than available funds: 59% of those surveyed said they expect to see budgets fragment further. This leaves many B2B CMOs struggling to figure out how to fund investments in automation, data analytics, and innovation that were barely on their radar  a few years ago.

So if you happen to be among those 32% anticipating program budget increases, what should you do to put this windfall to work? To stretch program dollars further, marketing execs should oversee the marketing mix like a Wall Street hedge fund manager:  by treating marketing programs like a collection of investments where the overall portfolio pays off despite market twists and turns.

For 2014, the B2B marketing portfolio should include:

  1. Investing in assets with high reuse potential. B2B CMOs should work with field marketing and line-of-business leaders to build a portfolio of marketing assets — like tablet-based sales tools, industry-specific sponsorships, or interactive tools — that field teams can leverage across multiple programs and reuse with minor modification. To further extend reports, whitepapers, and videos, CMOs should ask agency partners to divide these assets into component parts publishable as blog posts, shared slides, infographics, or website content that marketing teams can incorporate easily into automated campaigns.
  2. Prioritizing regional or industry-specific events over big shows. B2B business relationships are built on trust and personal interaction. For this reason, marketers will never be able to banish trade shows from the marketing budget. Instead, B2B CMOs need to challenge their event teams to shift their focus from major conferences to more intimate local affairs that let prospects and clients mingle with executives, key partners, and thought leaders.
  3. Optimizing digital/social spend to drive business results. Experimenting with new tactics is important, but marketing leadership must also seek out the right tools and partners that can help their teams pinpoint which digital elements of the online marketing mix reach the right buyers and produce results that help the business reach revenue and growth goals — not just reach.
  4. Focusing content creation on thought leadership versus product collateral. Studying buyer and market trends is no longer the exclusive domain of research firms, academia, and management consultants. B2B CMOs will need to direct content marketing efforts on delivering new commercial insights, inspiring customer stories, or forward-looking viewpoints to provoke buyer engagement.
  5. Setting aside money for the unexpected trend to test. Until they invent a crystal ball that really works, leading marketing execs can't expect to spend every nickel as planned. Set aside a slush fund outside of planned budget items to experiment with new approaches or respond to new opportunities. Manage this fund inside of paid advertising budgets that ramp up or down more flexibly and require less upfront commitment.
Overall, B2B CMOs will need to be creative and prudent when determining marketing program spend. Read this research for more insight into how peers plan to distribute marketing dollars, and let me know how your 2014 plans are shaping up and whether you're seeing the same trends.