Executive Search, Management Consulting, Coaching

So, You Need A Marketing Budget!

Guest Blog Post By: Michael Sick, Partner, ITB Partners – San Diego


While every company is unique, a common question among business owners is “how much should I spend on marketing?” The correct answer is…it depends. There are many factors to be considered to establish the optimal spending level for marketing and advertising. Here are a few issues to consider:


Industry Norms – Most industries have a “success model” that defines line item spending ranges.   Understanding this model is an important first step. Previous experience, feedback from other firms in the industry, or searches on the internet or trade publications are all good sources for this information.


 According to a report in Ad Age, ad spending in the United States as a percent of GDP was 2.2%.  That number is just for advertising and does not account for all marketing expenditures.  Marketing services (trade shows, research, consulting, design, production, staff, etc.) can often comprise 25 to 50% of the total spending.  McDonald’s (MCD) reports about 9% selling G&A with about half of that funding TV advertising.  Boston Beer Company (SAM), maker of Sam Adams beer spends 25 to 30% of its revenues on advertising, promotional and selling expenses.


Spending ratios are influenced by the business model for the industry.  Unlike lower margin business (consumer electronics or banking), high margin businesses (beverages and software) can afford to spend a greater amount of their revenue on advertising.



“Fixed” Program– Some brands require a “minimum” level of marketing expenditures to be competitive. For example, a company may know that it needs to attend a given number of industry trade shows or regularly advertise in certain publications to maintain market share.   In this case, their budget is driven by a “fixed” set of expenditures.  As their business grows, these fixed costs will become a lower percentage of revenue.


Competitive Position – If Company “A” is in an industry where the norm is to dedicate 5% of sales to marketing, consideration needs to be given to the size of the competition.  If the company does one million dollars in revenue, an advertising budget at 5% results in $50,000 of expense.  If the other direct competitors have combined revenues of five million dollars and also spend 5%, they will spend five times the budget of Company “A”.  To break through the noise, consideration should be given to increasing the spending percentage, focusing the budget on a specific vertical customer segment and/or limiting the geographic reach of the marketing plan.


Growth Goals – If a company has aggressive revenue goals, they should consider the additional cash flow available for marketing generated by achieving the higher revenue goal.  Establishing the marketing budget as a ratio of the revenue goal is another approach.  Growing quickly requires increased working capital for inventory, staffing, and accounts receivable.  The prospect of increasing marketing spending can be challenging for high growth companies. Companies with plans to grow rapidly may need to spend a higher percentage of sales to achieve that goal.


Budgets in Recessions – Some companies find themselves losing customers and revenues during recessions.  A natural tendency is to reduce marketing expenditures to keep them “in line”.   If revenue is down 10%, should the marketing budget be reduced by 10%?  Logic dictates that if you reduce your budget by 10%, your revenues should fall by the same percentage.  Reducing marketing spending is likely to reduce the acquisition of new customers or jeopardize the company’s current share.   Brands should resist the urge to reduce marketing budgets in a recession.  Focus instead on improving the media mix, the creative or relevancy of the message. Recessions present an opportunity to gain market share, so look to reduce other expenditures first.


While marketing expenditures are recorded as expenses on the P&L, smart managers know that these expenditures are investments in the future.  The “Chicken and the Egg” dilemma is confounding for some businesses.  Which comes first, the revenue to support the marketing budget or the marketing budget to generate the revenue.  Your CFO and CMO are likely to answer that question differently!   They can probably agree, however, that revenues tomorrow are likely to be higher if you spend more on marketing and advertising today.


Setting a budget for marketing expenditures can be perplexing to business owners as the promised benefit is elusive.  Every business has a slightly different situation that needs to be considered to establish a marketing budget. Prospects generally need to be exposed to a brand multiple times before they are willing to change providers or make a purchase.  The Savvy marketing professional knows that it takes months, years even to nurture a prospect.  

Reviewing the approaches discussed in this article is a good first step.  ITB Partners (www.itbpartners.com) has broad experience across many industries and domains, so we are capable of advising our clients on this subject and all other issues facing the enterprise.



Michael Sick, a nationally recognized, innovative management consultant specializing in strategic marketing, advertising, and business development. He spent 25 years in corporate marketing and was a Marketing Vice President for Jack In The Box, Pearle Vision, Arby’s and others. Currently, he serves as the part time Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) for some clients around the US. Learn more at:   www.itbpartners.com/michael-sick.html



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Jim Weber, President

New Century Dynamics Executive Search

Author of: Fighting Alligators: Job Search Strategy For The New Normal










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Jim Weber Bio
Prior to forming New Century Dynamics in 1999, Jim Weber spent 22 years with Fortune 500 franchising companies in the Food Retailing Industry where he developed a broad-based portfolio of “hands-on” line and staff experience in growth and turnaround situations.
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