Pick up a self-improvement book in any bookstore (or online outlet, as is more likely the case), and you’d be hard pressed to find one with fewer pages than a standard Holy Bible. While probably the result of an agreement between publisher and writer, it’s also an indicator that progress happens in small steps over many pages, where the reader is expected to combine his or her resources, experience and learned knowledge to develop healthier habits over time. In our case, we don’t have much time, the reader is the CMO, and the nagging “problem” is a marketing budget demanding to be better executed. As you’ll see below, shrinking sums are a reality even for today’s top CMOs, so today we’re flipping the script and letting them offer you a step-by-step guide to working more effectively with your budget:

Step 1: Know Thyself—Kate Chinn, Tishman Speyer:

“First, work to understand your business strategy before you put any marketing dollars towards anything. You have to figure out who you are and what your goals are for the business. What are you trying to sell? How do you want to be seen? Unless you know that, you can’t possibly effectively market it and you will waste your money and your time. Know what your marketing budget is, and use it. I can understand the temptation to skimp on marketing with a new business, but you are setting yourself up to fail if you don’t carve out a marketing budget and spend it wisely. You must take the time and money to set up the right look and feel, logos, brochures, even business cards, in addition to targeted advertising.”

Step 2: Identify Your Strengths—Colin Hall, Allen Edmonds:

“This is one of the biggest questions year in and year out. Our approach is to build on what is proven, optimize what we know should work and always test new efforts in small ways. If I had to put an allocation on it, I would say we allocate 70% on proven media, 20% on optimizing and 10% on testing new ideas. As a private equity owned company driving by EBITDA, we never bet the farm on anything unproven. We stair step our way through testing, optimizing and then investing in media. We’re shifting more traditional media dollars to cataloging. We can measure the ROI of our catalog efforts with margin contribution per customer being the KPI.”

Step 3: Step Out of Your Comfort Zone—Colette Laforce, AMD:

“Like many marketing organizations, while our overall marketing budgets continue to shrink, we’ve protected funds for earned and owned media. We’re also setting aside funds for what I like to call ‘innovation marketing.’ For example, we will soon kick off a unique program in China, designed exclusively to engage with our Chinese fans. Too often, US-based corporations pilot programs in North America and then try to localize further. We’re starting in China and then will see where it goes!”

Step 4: Be Present—C. David Minifie, Centene:

“Budgets are always tight and always getting squeezed. We have proactively taken steps to better understand ROI on all aspects of our marketing mix, and where we can assess ‘real time’ with some of our digital out-reach, we constantly test, learn, and reapply.”

Step 5: Don’t Overthink It—Steve Fuller, L.L. Bean:

“We have a series of metrics that that drive the organization. My advice is easy — keep it connected to the customer and keep it simple. The amount of data flowing through the typical marketing organization now can lead to overly complex measures. You want to keep your organization focused on the activities that drive measures — not trying to interpret them.”