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How to get the best advertising effect on a small budget

by Kaja Pryczkowska
Photo: Zofia Olsztynska, Media Planner at Performics
Competing with bigger rivals is a challenge for small companies with limited marketing budgets. Larger companies, who may operate nationwide or globally, have dedicated marketing teams and deeper pockets to run wider advertising campaigns. Small companies, with less resources, do not operate on a level playing field and need to see measurable performance from marketing campaigns.

By carefully setting goals and objectives, targeting resources, and optimising technology by using specialised vendors, a small start-up company can bridge the gap between itself and bigger rivals in the effectiveness of ad campaigns and optimise budgets.

Recent data illustrates the importance of running compelling advertising campaigns. Dr Grace Kite of marketing data analytics firm, Magic Numbers, undertook research using econometrics on UK advertising that shows revenue return on investment (RROI) by 2019 was at 140% of its previous 2005 peak. It found RROI increases with the size of an advertiser’s business, reinforcing the challenges smaller companies’ have in competing with big rivals advertising campaigns.

Setting measurable campaign goals

Small companies with limited budgets should utilise all available resources. This means performance needs to be measured and flexibility adopted to rapidly switch to alternative marketing channels if performance dips.

Measurable goals should be set and tested to see how they’ve worked, before ramping up your spend. Prioritise the areas of greatest strategic importance to your campaign, then sequence strategies and tactics. Measuring goals creates useful deadlines because campaigns should have an end date with linked performance targets.

Zofia Olsztynska, Media Planner at Performics, outlines her approach to this, “I strongly recommend focusing on one goal or KPI and maximising its achievement. When I receive a brief with a small budget, I focus on limiting the channels used and campaign objectives to maximise the desired performance parameters”.

Before embarking on a marketing campaign, it is good to analyse previous campaigns to understand where your audience, leads and sales come from. Then it’s best to focus resources in these areas. Studying performance in detail, in real time, may allow brands to quantify if a strategy is working and swiftly adopt another channel if not, to minimise wasting precious budget. It’s useful to set cost per customer acquisition goals and monitor how you stay within KPIs.

Campaign goals differ by client and channel

Small companies should allocate more resources to marketing to build brand awareness and customers. Larger established companies can use a smaller proportion of revenue to maintain customer levels.

“Clients have to take into account that with a small budget, sales and conversion campaigns are more difficult and costly to implement than, for example, awareness campaigns, and also remain mindful of the audience and season (i.e. campagin costs will tend to be higher prior to Black Friday or Christmas). This is mainly due to the lack of the effect of scale and a simple relationship – small budget means small effects, and the bigger the budget is, the greater the possibility of gaining additional conversions,” noted Zofia.

Specific campaign goals should be linked to overall business goals. Within that context a particular campaign may promote a new product, target a new audience, or just aim to sell more.

Goals differ by client and channel. You might want to improve your companies’ content search ranking, and a good way to do that may be to prioritise articles using keywords and SEO. To target new customers, a short video clip on Tik-Tok could be the best strategy.

Certain types of marketing stretch budgets further. Content marketing promotes a brand through useful content, like a simple blog or social media post. An infographic or video does the same. Creative thinking can reduce video production costs. With a video camera and the right technology, brands may not have to hire an expensive production team.

Zofia continued, “Listening to the client’s needs, jointly determining what is important in the campaign and your own recommendation, supported by an argument, is a package of best practices that will work for both high-budget clients and those with limited resources.”

Decide which channels to use

This will depend on campaign goals, budget and who the client is. When planning a campaign, every brand should decide which channels will attract the target audience.

With a limited budget, it might be better to avoid using too many channels, otherwise resources could be spread too thinly. Instead, it’s good to focus on one or two channels that your analytics research identifies as the most effective to meet the campaign goals.

On this, Zofia stresses, “Apart from the data itself on the number of unique users of a given channel or platform, what is also important is the possibility of precise targeting of an advertisement. For example, some social media, for instance TikTok, LinkedIn and Pinterest offer the possibility of targeting campaigns only by default age cohorts, while others, like Meta (Facebook, Instagram), YouTube and Snapchat allow for precise and independent selection of user age.”

She continued, “Similarly, there are targeting issues that take into account the location, behaviour or interests of users. The ability to precisely select the target group for a campaign translates into campaign purchase costs, which indirectly affects the effective use of budget.”

Using modern technology to review metrics and market insights as the campaign progresses translates into verifying if the maximum value is being extracted.

Big and small budgets: How do different sized companies plan campaigns?


Companies with big budgets can plan wide-ranging campaigns, using new creatives, targeting bigger audiences through appropriate channels for a campaign with potentially several separate goals.

Companies with small budgets must operate with agility, flexibility, and nous to get results. They could employ specialist companies for areas like technology, where they do not have dedicated resources to optimise campaigns.

Partnerships can be useful, for instance, co-operative advertising or even sharing media resources or creatives over social media and other channels. Using free, high traffic content media platforms to promote campaigns is a good option. Brands could even resurrect a previously successful campaign. It could be refreshed and used if enough time has passed so ad fatigue is not a problem.

When planning a campaign on a limited budget, brands should make sure their team is fully utilised. Each of the team members may have hidden talents so marketing techniques that would normally use budgets can be utilised from existing resources; brands’ own people. IT staff can analyse marketing activities and provide recommendations. A creative could design an infographic or meme in-house. It’s good to ensure if a brand uses resources that are already paid for like Google Analytics to their full potential.

In terms of practical application, Zofia explained, “On the technical side I recommend limiting activities to a selected, clearly defined target group in order to effectively spend the media budget. On the creative side, it is worth considering the creation and preparing it not only in accordance with the technical specifications of a given platform, but also thinking about the message that will clearly inform the user how to behave towards the advertisement or advertised product. Where possible, it would be beneficial to engage with a marketing agency to brainstorm, and ultimately, optimise ideas.”

Big budget rivals can advertise on expensive platforms, but smaller companies must target the audience forensically, and campaigns should capture data to use again, to reach that audience.

Low budget campaigns should focus on creating high quality, original content because it helps build an audience organically and extends the lifespan of a campaign.

Decide which technology partners to use

Using specialist technology vendors can give a brands’ campaign an advantage. This could mean spending more of the budget to reach more users, but it is one area that using funds for a specialised vendor is beneficial. Choosing a partner that provides the best user experience, may allow the customer to easily navigate the online buying process.

“It seems to me that there are several such factors that are important and at the same time independent of whether the budget is small or large. First of all, it is the partner’s support during the process of running the campaign, transparency in conducting and optimising activities, but also offering future activities aimed at the potential development of the client on a given platform”, commented Zofia.

Numerous research states over 50% of ecommerce website traffic comes from mobile devices. Many of the very best small-scale start-ups globally operate in the technology sphere, providing solutions for bigger partners or are acquired themselves. A small company on a budget can go direct to these specialist technology providers, and directly benefit from their expertise.

Supporting clients with small budgets

A major challenge is that within an organisation there may be knowledge gaps because a company with fewer employees will not have expertise in all areas like a company with hundreds of staff, working in different departments.

This is another reason to hire specialised vendors to plug a specific knowledge gap that needs to be filled to run a successful digital marketing campaign and to avoid hiring permanent staff, when instead, specialists can be used for specific campaigns.

Media agencies can access a range of publishers and digital media resources to help optimise campaigns. They have access to a wider inventory and can promote campaigns in suitable channels to reach a wider audience within a defined budget.
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