In this article
Most budgeting approaches fall into two categories: top-down and bottom-up, each with pros and cons. Learn some helpful tips to help you decide on your budget strategy.
- Top-Down Budgeting
- Bottom-Up Approach
- The Golden Mean
Director of Strategic Initiatives
Most budgeting approaches fall into two categories: top-down and bottom-up, each with pros and cons. Learn some helpful tips to help you decide on your budget strategy. As a financial marketer, planning your bank’s marketing budget is one of your most strategically valuable tasks.
A thoughtful, well-designed budget ensures that the marketing dollars are allocated to the most effective projects. It justifies your marketing spending by clearly illustrating how it drives growth and communicates the value of marketing to senior leadership in terms they care about: dollars, cents and ROI.
But the art of budgeting can also be challenging, especially given the rapid pace of change in the financial marketing landscape. What’s needed is a general framework that provides structure while also allowing space for rapid adaptation.
This approach typically begins with the CFO or CMO, who determines marketing investment targets for the year and divides the available dollars into a few significant spend buckets. Then, mid-level marketing leaders take their allocated budgets and split them up in a way that makes sense for their respective departments – such as by marketing channel or functional teams. Finally, individual marketers or marketing team leaders receive these budgets and populate them with the highest-ROI programs, campaigns and activities they can identify.
Most banks organize their top-down budget structures in one of three ways:
- By Business Unit: Commonly seen at banks with highly diversified product lines. Examples of business unit classifications include savings accounts, credit cards, private wealth management, and investments.
- By Region: Appropriate for banks operating across multiple jurisdictions or with a solid geographical focus – such as rural banking networks.
- By Functional Area: This involves organizing budget allocation along functional lines, such as sales, marketing, compliance and treasury. Marketing budgets might be further subdivided into events, public relations, digital, etc.
Many banks also employ some combination of these three structures.
Pros and Cons
The advantage of this budgeting approach is the clarity and structure it brings to the budgeting process. In practice, senior leadership determines the bank’s overall strategy and allocates capital accordingly. Middle and junior management, who are well-equipped to understand their specific departments’ unique challenges and opportunities, manage the programs according to senior leadership’s decisions. This provides a single point of responsibility at every step of the budgeting hierarchy, which helps to coordinate activities across the entire organization.
The main downside of this approach is its lack of agility. Once budgets are set, it can be challenging to get approval on more funds for time-limited opportunities that emerge over the course of the fiscal year. This rigidity also incentivizes departments to advocate for the largest possible budget at the beginning of the year, potentially resulting in inefficient capital allocation.
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Bottom-up budgeting resolves this weakness of top-down allocation by obtaining input directly from the frontline.
In a bottom-up process, each marketing team puts together a wishlist of ideal programs for investment that they submit to the mid-level marketing managers, who work with the team leaders on prioritizing the most promising programs. Finally, the teams present these recommendations to senior leadership for approval.
Bottom-up is not synonymous with “undisciplined”; a well-conceived bottom-up approach will always be tied to clear marketing goals and metrics. Hence, frontline marketers must have an even firmer grasp of their numbers than a top-down approach, where the budget goes down from high.
The fundamental formula for a goal-driven marketing budget is as follows:
Variable costs are the easiest to calculate and preferable from a financial standpoint. These include any marketing channel purely pay-for-performance, such as affiliate marketing or PPC campaigns. The formula for variable costs is:
The beauty of variable costs lies in their simplicity. If you know exactly how much each customer is worth in lifetime value (LTV), you can scale up your variable costs to the point where the CPA is no longer cost-effective for that LTV.
Per-piece costs account for channels that cannot be tied cleanly to conversions, such as content marketing or display ads. For these channels, establish an average price for each conversion generated by a given piece of content using this formula:
Once you have this number, you can multiply by your conversion goal for that channel and get your total per-piece costs for the budgeting period.
Fixed operational costs encompass all you must regularly pay to keep your marketing machine running -this includes salaries, software licenses and subscription fees, team education and professional memberships.
Add these three components together, and you’ll have a rock-solid budget to send up the chain.
Pros and Cons
The main strength of the bottom-up approach is its grassroots focus. Marketing teams “on the ground” are typically much better placed to identify emerging opportunities in their respective markets. Thus, they can contribute a tactical granularity to the budgeting process that would be absent in a purely top-down approach.
Engaging frontline staff in the budgeting process also helps to cultivate operational buy-in throughout the organization. Since they contribute to the budget’s design, the team will be more likely to take ownership of the plan and feel responsible for executing it successfully. While qualitative in nature, such a boost to staff morale can often make a significant difference in the organization’s overall performance.
A bottom-up approach’s primary disadvantage is its difficulty scaling, particularly for large, complex organizations. In addition, due to administrative costs, many major banks are likely to find a pure, bottom-up process challenging or infeasible to implement. For such banks, a top-down approach complemented by bottom-up feedback might make more sense.
The Golden Mean
When it comes to budgeting, purity is overrated. The most effective bank marketing budgets incorporate elements of both top-down and bottom-up approaches to find a golden mean. Now that you’re familiar with both, you have all the tools you need to go forth and budget wisely.
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