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With the growing complexity of marketing channels and the need for businesses to constantly adapt their strategies, managing marketing budgets effectively has become more critical than ever. In this interview series, we speak with CMOs and other marketing leaders who have significant experience in budget management and optimization, to share their “5 Ways To Manage Your Marketing Budget For Improved ROI.”  As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Kimberly Michener.

Kimberly Michener

Kimberly Michener

Kimberly, a seasoned marketing expert with two decades of experience in diverse industries, has been with Identity Digital since 2021, where she has successfully driven brand and integrated marketing strategies. Notably, she led the successful rebranding and consumer campaign launch for Identity Digital. Before her current role, she managed the advertising program at Epson America.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! To begin, can you share a bit of your backstory and how you got started in your career?

Starting out in advertising agencies I worked alongside various brands such as Nestle, Pedigree Food for Dogs, Paramount, Warner Brothers, and Bandai Toys. Each brand was a new world, full of unique challenges and learning experiences.

A major turning point in my career was the shift to the client side, where I managed the advertising program for Epson America, including various products from robots and printers to home entertainment and other B2B tech products. I’m now at Identity Digital, applying the unique blend of expertise I gained from the agency and client-side roles.

Can you share with us three strengths, skills, or characteristics that helped you to reach this place in your career? How can others actively build these areas within themselves? 

Adaptability, attention to detail, and determination are the three pivotal traits that have helped navigate me to my current position in my career.

Adaptability: I can't stress this enough—being adaptable is critical to survival. It's about rolling with the punches, no matter how unexpected. If something feels weird at first, give it a chance—it may end up serving an important function that isn’t immediately evident. To up your adaptability game, say 'yes' more often to new experiences and perspectives. It might feel odd initially, but it could lead to some pretty cool places.

Attention to detail: Whether working on a small task or a mega project, paying close attention to the finer points can make your work shine. If you want to work on this, start by really listening and observing all the time. The more you practice, the more natural it becomes, no matter where you are in your career.

Determination: Everyone has highs and lows in their career. But if you keep your eye on your end game, it's easier to ride out the tough times. Think of determination as your personal rocket fuel. How to get more of it? Set clear, doable goals and focus on them. Remember why they're important to you and let that motivate you when things get rough. Hang in there and keep going because it's worth it in the end.

What factors do you consider when allocating your marketing budget across different channels and tactics?

There are three key factors I consider when allocating my marketing budget:

  1. Goals & objectives: First, I examine what we're trying to achieve. Do we want to raise brand awareness? Increase sales or customer engagement? Also, how soon do we need to see the results? The answers to these questions help me decide which channels and tactics are most suitable.      
  1. Budget: Then comes the budget. This factor largely decides what channels and tactics we can afford to utilize and over what period of time. It also dictates what percentage of our audience we can talk to. If the budget's tighter, we might focus on cost-effective methods that still get us great results, like social media, display advertising or email marketing. These decisions also rely heavily on goals & objectives.
  1. Audience: We need to consider: where does our audience show up? How can we deliver the right message at the right time as efficiently as possible? There are many different tools in this box—different partners and approaches to targeting i.e, behavioral and contextual. It’s important to find out what works best and optimize it.

In your opinion, what are some common mistakes that marketers make when managing their budgets? How can they be avoided?

Effective marketing budget management is about strategic choices. Balancing the allure of new opportunities, smart integrated marketing and working with the right agency partners can help you avoid common mistakes and make the most of your marketing budget.

Here are three common pitfalls to avoid and best practices to follow for optimizing your marketing budget:

  1. Pursuing the 'shiny object': It's tempting for marketers to be attracted to the newest trend or innovative idea. It's not necessarily a bad thing. Being drawn to new and exciting opportunities is part of what makes marketing such a dynamic field. But it's critical to stay grounded. Chasing the latest trends should be evaluated against your business goals, objectives, audience, and budget. Just because it’s trendy doesn’t mean it's the right fit for your strategy. Don't let the allure of novelty overshadow the importance of alignment with your broader marketing strategy.
  1. Incompatible agencies: Not having the right agency can lead to ineffective strategies and a waste of resources. It's about their capability and the trust and understanding between you and the agency. Make sure you're clear on your needs and wants. Evaluate multiple agencies, gather references, and consider allocating a small budget to a trial project to get a feel for their way of working before you commit.
  1. Fragmented campaigns: Sometimes marketers opt for multiple smaller campaigns instead of one holistic, integrated plan. This can dilute the impact and reduce the efficiency of your budget, particularly when resources are tight. A consolidated approach that also allows for audience segmentation and differentiated messaging often yields better results.

When allocating your budget, how do you balance short-term marketing goals with long-term brand building initiatives?

Balancing short-term marketing goals with long-term brand-building initiatives is like walking on a tightrope. You have to maintain your balance or everything can come tumbling down. You also have to constantly prioritize. Several factors come into play:

Sometimes you need to hit specific targets immediately. If you don't make the numbers now, there might not be a 'later.' It's a harsh reality but one that every marketer has to face. Whether you're a public or private company can also affect this balance, as it changes the level of scrutiny and the expectations from your stakeholders or board.

Consistency is vital when it comes to branding. Ensuring your brand's look and feel stays consistent across all your marketing efforts is non-negotiable. This might not seem like a 'short-term' or 'long-term' goal, but it's a critical practice that helps build recognition and equity over time.

Another crucial step is aligning everyone on what constitutes 'short-term' and 'long-term' goals. By gaining a clear consensus on the timeframe of these goals, you can better decide which initiatives to prioritize.

Lastly, you have to be realistic about what your budget can accommodate. It's important to have frank discussions about different scenarios and potential outcomes. Realistic expectations and an open dialogue can give everyone a clear context of what can be achieved with the available budget and help make informed decisions.

Rapid Fire Question Round

Rapid Fire Question Round

What’s the biggest waste of money in marketing? Not learning from analytics.

If you had to put all your money into one tactic, what would it be? Social media.

What are you reading right now? The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates

What product, tool, or service do you wish existed? A tool that predicts consumer behavior with 100% accuracy.

For start-ups and those with limited budgets, what tactics would you recommend to receive the highest return and the fastest initial growth?

If you're a start-up or operating on a shoestring budget, making the most of every dollar is crucial. From my experience, there are a few effective ways to approach this:

  1. Lower funnel marketing: Tactics like social media advertising and digital display ads can be particularly effective here. Search Engine Marketing (SEM) can also yield great results, as it targets users actively searching for related keywords.

However, remember that marketing is never a one-size-fits-all game. What works well for one brand or category might not work well for another. The key is to experiment and see what works best for your specific brand and audience.

  1. Learning from analytics: With today's digital tools, we can access a wealth of analytics to help understand what's working and what's not. Algorithms can optimize our marketing efforts, but it's important to understand there are various types of algorithms, each suited to different objectives. So make sure you choose the one that aligns with your goals.

While tactics like social media ads, digital display ads, and SEM are usually effective, remember that the secret to high ROI and fast growth is being flexible, willing to experiment, and learning from the data. And always keep your specific goals, objectives and audience in mind.

How do you collaborate with other departments within your organization, such as sales or finance, to ensure alignment and maximize ROI from your marketing spend?

Inter-departmental collaboration is critical to the success of any marketing campaign. Here's how I approach this:

  1. Frequent communication: First, communication needs to be early and often. It's crucial to ensure everyone is on the same page from the start and stays that way as things progress.
  1. Alignment on goals and objectives: Before getting started, it's essential to ensure that the entire organization is aligned on the campaign's goals and objectives. This alignment involves not only marketing but also sales, finance, and any other relevant departments. Clear understanding across the board can help avoid confusion and misalignment.
  1. Regular meetings with sales: It's important to check in with the sales team to ensure alignment and clarify how marketing supports sales and drives the business. 
  1. Clarity with finance: The finance department needs a clear picture of the campaign's investment and spending cadence. Clarity means giving them a detailed overview of when and where the money is spent. This transparency helps with financial planning and can also help ensure everyone understands how the marketing spend is contributing to the company's overall financial goals.

What tips do you have to get buy-in from the CEO and others in the C-Suite when requesting additional budget for new projects or tactics?

Getting buy-in from the CEO and others in the C-suite involves preparation, clear communication, and patience. Come ready with a concise, well-structured proposal, and be prepared to discuss, adjust, and refine as needed.

Specifically:

  1. Clarity on objectives and goals: Whenever you request additional budget, you must show how your proposal will help achieve the company's objectives and goals. Be clear about what you aim to do, how you plan to do it, and the timeline. Outlining a clear path from investment to return can be instrumental in securing buy-in from the top.
  1. Phased approach: A phased effort can help manage risk and build confidence. For instance, proposing a 6-week test phase for a new campaign can show that you're thinking strategically and taking a measured approach. If the test phase shows promising results, arguing for the full rollout becomes easier.
  1. Cancellation options: Be ready with details about media cancellation options in case it comes up. The C-suite will appreciate knowing safeguards are in place if things don't go as planned. Understanding media buy terms and conditions and being able to adjust or cancel if necessary can be a compelling argument for risk-averse executives.
  1. Leverage case studies: Nothing speaks louder than success. Reference case studies from within your organization and from other successful industry campaigns. Real-world examples of success can help illustrate the potential return on investment.
  1. Be open to feedback: Finally, remember that getting buy-in is often a conversation, not a one-shot deal. Be open to feedback, answer questions as best you can, and don't feel pressured to have all the answers on the spot. It might take some back-and-forth to arrive at a consensus, and that's perfectly fine. This openness shows your willingness to collaborate and that you value their input.

Which marketing software in your tech stack do you feel is most worth the investment?

In our tech stack, HubSpot and Salesforce stand out as worthwhile investments. These platforms not only offer marketing automation and CRM capabilities but also play a crucial role in fostering effective team alignment. Additionally, we have Tableau and ThoughtSpot, which provide additional value by enabling us to visualize product data and uncover valuable insights for marketing purposes. These tools contribute significantly to our overall marketing strategy.

Based on your experience, what are the five things marketing leaders should do to improve the ROI of their marketing efforts?

Improving marketing ROI is about making data-driven decisions, pooling resources, building a competent team, managing media partnerships effectively, and never ceasing to experiment and learn. Each of these five points feeds into a cycle of continuous improvement that can drive better returns in the long run.

  1. Timely analysis and adjustments: It's crucial to address and incorporate learnings in a timely manner. However, patience is key. Making changes too soon can disrupt the data flow and skew results. Wait until you have enough data to make informed decisions.
  1. Pooling budgets for efficiency: When possible, combine budgets to achieve the greatest efficiency. By streamlining your spending, you can often negotiate better deals and ensure your money works as hard as possible.
  1. Building a smart team: Whether you're working with an agency or an in-house team, having smart, knowledgeable people is a must. If hiring in-house, ensure you have a hiring manager who understands the industry and can identify top talent.
  1. Working with media properties: Give media properties a chance to show their worth. If results aren't going as planned, communicate your concerns and allow them time to adjust. But don't hesitate to reallocate funds and replace properties if you don’t see improvement.
  1. Experimenting with media properties: Think beyond different channels—explore various media properties within those channels. With countless options for targeting and high-impact units, there's plenty of room to experiment. See what works best for your brand and audience and refine your approach.

Lastly, if you could inspire a movement that would bring a great amount of good to the most people, what would that be?

I would love to inspire a movement encouraging everyone to help those around them. This initiative wouldn't be about financial donations; but actions—small, everyday gestures of kindness and assistance. Here's how I envision the far-reaching effects of such a movement:

  1. Direct impact: The immediate goal would help those who need it. This could be as simple as helping a neighbor with groceries, volunteering at local community events, or spending time with people who feel lonely. Each small act can make a significant difference in someone's life.
  1. Shared joy: When we help others, it doesn't just benefit the person receiving the help. It also brings us joy. Helping others can make us feel more connected to our communities and give us purpose. It makes us happier, kinder people.
  1. Promoting positivity: Each act of kindness and positive interaction can help create a ripple effect of positivity in the world. It could inspire others to do the same, creating a cycle of positivity that benefits everyone.
  1. Restoring faith in humanity: This movement could help restore people's faith in humanity. In a world where negativity often dominates the headlines, these acts of kindness could remind us of all there is more good in the world than we sometimes realize.
  1. Societal shift: Ultimately, the aim would be to spark a societal shift towards actions that are more focused on helping others—actions we take rather than obstacles we face. This shift would involve everyone prioritizing kindness and assistance daily, leading to a more compassionate and caring society.

How can our readers best continue to follow your work online?

You can follow and connect with me on LinkedIn.


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Stephanie Hood
By Stephanie Hood

Stephanie Hood is an experienced marketing professional and Editor of The CMO. With nearly a decade spent as Marketing Manager at Discover Holidays and Executive Editor at VIVA Lifestyle & Travel, she built her career leading editorial and marketing teams and strategies that turn six-figure budgets into seven-figure profits. She now enjoys connecting with the world's top executives to learn their secrets to business success, and shares those insights right here with her community of like-minded professionals. Curious what she’s uncovered? Be sure to sign up for The CMO newsletter.