As 2016 marketing planning shifts into high gear, one of the top questions marketers and stakeholders ask is, “What should we spend on marketing? What’s the right marketing budget?” The answer is a bit like Goldilocks: not too much, not too little — spend just the right amount. Marketing and advertising tools can help us find the right answer for us.

Let’s assume you haven’t taken my data-driven digital marketing planning course (though you should). Why do we care about how much to spend? After all, typically we marketers ask for a budget and get a fraction of what we asked for. Shouldn’t we ask for the moon and accept the inevitable outcome which leads us to exclaim, “That’s no moon!”

No. Why? Most marketing channels experience diminishing returns. Every channel has its Goldilocks moment.

We can spend an insufficient amount and not achieve the performance we need to meet our goals.
We can spend the right amount to maximize our ROI, our Goldilocks moment.
We can spend too much and hit diminishing returns.

Our challenge as marketers is to identify the Goldilocks moment for every channel in our marketing mix.

Let’s look at an example using Google’s AdWords advertising software. I’ve got a new book coming out soon about innovation. What’s the right amount I should spend on AdWords? Given my keyword list, here’s what AdWords says is the range I could spend – from nothing to $300,000 a year:

marketing budget - adwords_uncharted.jpg

I find their lack of specificity disturbing. If we look more closely, we see two major zones in the chart above.

On the left, where the line climbs steeply, we are not spending enough. Our ads will not run in ideal position, at ideal times.

On the right, where the line becomes flat, we are spending too much. We will not gain significant new traffic, new customers by spending as much as possible.

Where the line turns from steep climb to flattening out is our sweet spot, where our return on ad spend will be highest:


What if our marketing method of choice doesn’t have a convenient ROI calculator built in? We build one! All we need is a spreadsheet and careful tracking of our data. What we’ll do is spend incrementally larger amounts on each marketing channel and measure the result we get.

Here’s a very barebones example.


In the first column, we list what we spent on any given marketing method at various levels of spending.

In the second column, we list what we earned from our spend at that level.

In the third column, we calculate our ROI. Remember, ROI is a simple math formula: (Earned – Spent) / Spent.

In the fourth column, we calculate our change in ROI, which is the same formula: (New Value – Old Value) / Old Value.

Where we see the big number changes in ROI is our sweet spot. Everything before the change is spending too little. Everything after the change is spending too much.

If you chart out your ROI, as I have in the example above, we see where our ROI jumps and then levels off.

Not every marketing channel will look this clean, this obvious, when we do our analysis. However, we are better off for doing it than simply throwing darts at a budgetary board. Blindly guessing at a marketing budget and getting it right would be one shot in a million at best.

How much should you spend on marketing? Ignore what other companies do, what “the top companies in X industry” spend. Instead, do your own work to find your marketing Goldilocks budget, the amount you need to spend to get it just right.

For a more in-depth marketing budgeting method, take my data-driven digital marketing planning course.

You might also enjoy:

Want to read more like this from Christopher Penn? Get updates here:

subscribe to my newsletter here

AI for Marketers Book
Get your copy of AI For Marketers

Analytics for Marketers Discussion Group
Join my Analytics for Marketers Slack Group!

Subscribe to My Free Weekly Newsletter

Subscribe to My Free Weekly Newsletter

Sign up now to the free Almost Timely Newsletter, released every weekend with the latest news about marketing, technology, analytics, data science, and AI.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

You have successfully subscribed to the Almost Timely Newsletter!