Like everyone else, B2B marketers experienced a very different 2020 than they had originally planned. When the global pandemic hit, budgets were often slashed and strategies were thrown out the window, forcing marketers to revisit their approach and brace for impact.

Many marketers are looking to 2021 for a fresh start. But Forrester is predicting that businesses will cut marketing spending as much as $15 billion by the end of 2021, and so marketers may be asked to compensate for 2020 while having less budget at their disposal.

Because budgets are receiving so much added scrutiny, it's more important than ever to maximize impact, even with less to spend. Although 2020 tested our ability to adapt, many of us proved the true value of the marketing function to senior leadership and sales teams.

Because of that increased buy-in from internal stakeholders, 2021 offers marketers the chance to use what we learned in 2020 to optimize our strategy in the new year.

Setting Your Strategy: Align Internally on Goals

When setting your budgets, it's critical to connect marketing goals to the overarching goals of your business. Marketing programs should help your company achieve specific objectives, so it's essential to build your strategic goals and subsequent budget in alignment with—rather than siloed from—other departments.

The C-suite is less interested in vanity metrics than in revenue and ROI. To ensure their support, keep their interests in mind so you can establish clear expectations for success that everyone can agree on.

By setting well-defined goals that align with the overarching goals of the business, you'll know exactly what your marketing team will be responsible for delivering in 2021.

Making Plans: Focus on Three Areas

Although increased revenue is most often at their core, marketing goals vary widely across organizations. Beyond initial alignment, I recommend focusing on three areas when setting plans and budgets for the 2021 year.

1. Invest in your brand foundation

If your marketing goals for 2021 involve boosting awareness or generating leads, don't skip the foundational element: building your brand.

A well-defined brand strategy can help you to not only better understand your unique value proposition and ideal customer profile but also solidify your mission statement, values, and competitive differentiators.

Whether you're starting from scratch or looking to reinforce what you already have in place, this period is an opportunity to evaluate the strength of your brand and create a plan for 2021 that builds trust with your audience by clearly and concisely communicating your value.

Investing in areas such as audience personas, strategic positioning, and brand expression will ultimately lead to more conversions and revenue in the long run.

2. Don't overlook operations and tech

Operations is an aspect of marketing that's easy to overlook, but marketers are responsible for tying ROI to marketing spend, which makes the martech stack and data cleanliness fundamental areas of prioritization.

Improving personalization and providing relevant, engaging messages to audiences will be invaluable in 2021. To do so effectively, you need clean data and the right martech tools in place. Understanding what you already have in your toolkit will give you a better idea of what you need and what can be cut. Take some time to audit your tools to analyze what's working and what you can be doing differently.

Ultimately, an optimized tech stack should work as a system of integrated tools to help you determine which marketing tactics are truly driving ROI—enabling you to focus your resources on the right strategies.

The ability to connect the dots between closed deals and marketing spend, as well as a better understanding of the buying journey through data, will be essential to increasing returns.

Once you identify the tools you need, optimize your integrations so you can take advantage of technological capabilities to enhance the customer experience and maximize revenue in the new year.

3. Focus on channels with the greatest impact on ROI

The types of programs and campaigns you'll need to execute in 2021 will largely depend on the goals you've set.

It may be time to pivot or shift investments to align with your goals in a more strategic way. So take a look at the channels you've historically invested in, and analyze the data from your tech stack to identify what your top-performing channels actually are. Doing so can allow you to make data-driven decisions on allocating budget to the channels that are having the greatest impact on ROI, and determine whether additional investment in low-performing channels is worth pursuing.

As you consider weighting your budget across owned, earned, and paid channels, consider that not all channels will make sense for each of your audience profiles, and some may require differing approaches and strategies.

Rather than spreading your resources thin, invest in the places where your audience is most active to increase the potential return.

Looking Ahead: Step Back Before You Leap

2020 was a difficult year. Taking a step back to analyze, set a foundation, and align your strategy before jumping headfirst into 2021 will pay dividends.

Although we can't predict what will happen in 2021, we can take this year's planning to reflect on what we've learned, and then rely on data to help us invest our marketing dollars in the areas that will maximize our impact in the year ahead.

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image of Erin Jordan Spanski

Erin Jordan Spanski is the vice-president of strategy and a partner at Walker Sands, a B2B marketing agency focused on accelerating growth.

LinkedIn: Erin Jordan Spanski

Twitter: @ErinRJordan