Economic downturns are always tough on businesses. With budgeting season approaching and fears of an impending recession on the rise, marketers are left wondering how to handle their marketing budget in this current environment. 


Don’t assume that a potential downturn means you need to tighten your pursestrings – with the right marketing strategy in play and a healthy 2023 budget, there are promising opportunities to gain market share and support long-term growth.


Table of Contents


Should you cut your budget in 2023?

With the gloomy talk of the economy, it seems reasonable to assume there will be a level of austerity in budgets in H1 2023 at least. Although most expect the potential recession to be mild, marketing teams are wondering how conservative of an approach to take.


With the economy expected to be in recession in Q1 and overall shrink by 0.4% for the year, budgets will be down from 2022 (especially year-over-year in H1), but it will not be a dramatic reduction.


In fact, ad marketing spend is forecasted to increase, just at a lower rate of growth than initially expected. AdWeek shared that Dentsu, a global marketing and advertising agency, downgraded its global ad spend forecast from 9.2% annual growth to 8.4%. Looking ahead, Dentsu predicts the 2023 global advertising market will increase by 5.4%, reaching $778.6 billion.


Graph of global ad spend growth by channel from Dentsu.

Digital continues to drive global ad spend growth, forecast to hit $448 billion in 2023, a 58% share of total ad spend. [Dentsu]


With inflation peaking mid-2022, consumers have begun seeking out more discounts and are willing to switch brands to save a few bucks. Higher-income consumers are not changing their spending habits too much, and now may actually be the ideal time to woo shoppers with deals.


So despite marketers’ concerns about the challenging climate ahead, we recommend not reducing spending below pre-pandemic levels. 2023 will be a key time to build your brand and even wrest market share away from your competitors.


How should you spend your 2023 marketing budget?

Your CFO wants you to justify your investment in marketing… what do you tell them? Greater economic pressures put more pressure on marketers to measure results and prove ROI. Naturally, this leads to more interest in performance marketing channels like digital advertising, paid social, and paid search where it’s easy to calculate the return on your investment. 


Performance Marketing

The margin is key to managing an effective budget in this market type. With slimmer margins, marketers may be more inclined to focus on performance marketing and activities that drive immediate ROI (return on investment).


For every dollar spent on an ad campaign, you need to be able to show that you’re making it back – and then some. Typically, a 3:1 ROAS (return on advertising spend) is a baseline, but you may need to be a little more flexible during economic downturns since it’s harder to convince consumers to part with their money. 

Graph showing 3:1 ROAS, or return on ad spend.


Determine what level of margin is acceptable to you. Can you still make a profit? Can you keep (or even increase) your market share by continuing to run ads?


Instead of pulling back on ad spend during a recession, there are several ways to optimize campaigns to cut costs and use your budget most efficiently. 


  • Focus on campaigns with a proven track record or on your most popular products.
  • Ensure your audience targeting is accurate. With recent privacy updates from Apple and Facebook and the impending threat of a cookie-less future, it’s more important than ever to find ways to reach your ideal audience.
  • Diversify your ad spend among multiple channels and monitor your results to be sure you’re spending on the highest performing channels. If you’re used to only advertising on Facebook or Google, now might be the time to explore new channels like TikTok or programmatic TV.


One of the core pillars of any marketing campaign is measurement. However, performance marketing should not be the only piece of the puzzle in a well-rounded marketing strategy. 


A Full-Funnel Approach

If you only use bottom-funnel tactics to drive conversions among people who already know you, you will ultimately limit the breadth of impact you can have on your business’s bottom line. This is where “funnel stretchers” come into play…


Top-of-funnel tactics like PR, social media marketing, and influencer marketing are an essential part of a full-funnel marketing strategy. Think of these channels as funnel stretchers. Building awareness among larger audiences helps you get more people into your funnel. With more people in your funnel, you now have more people you can retarget with performance marketing.


Public Relations

PR is the ultimate top-of-funnel marketing technique, with potential reach in the millions or even billions. A skilled media relations team will help you secure not only a high quantity of coverage, but high-quality coverage that gets the right message in front of the right audience. Nothing beats the seal of approval that comes from glowing praise in a relevant, credible outlet!


Traditionally, PR is more difficult to measure than digital marketing campaigns, but with the right PR measurement techniques, you can measure increases in website traffic, engagement, and even revenue. 


If you can get people onto your website after reading about you in a PR placement, you can start to move them down the funnel through remarketing. Performance marketing can then take over, nurturing the leads that PR brought to the table.


Influencer Marketing

Influencer marketing is a funnel-building discipline that is on the rise. As of February 2022, the CMO Survey reported that influencer marketing was currently 5.6% of marketing budgets, but would rise to 10.9% by 2025. 


With a potential recession now on the horizon, Marketing Brew shares stories of several brands allocating more of their budget into influencer marketing as other forms of media become less stable. Especially if you are able to negotiate longer-term contracts with key influencer partners, you can lock in rates without worrying about the volatility of CPMs (cost per thousand impressions) on ad platforms.


The beauty of influencer marketing is that it allows you to tap into the existing audience base of an influencer, using their brand identity and authority to elevate the perception of your product. 

Example of beauty brand Fenty using influencer testimonials in a paid Facebook ad.

Example of beauty brand Fenty using influencer testimonials in a paid Facebook ad.


To raise awareness among an even broader audience, you can also use influencers as content creators. Re-using influencer creative as assets for paid social can be incredibly effective. Consumers tend to respond well to the social proof of an influencer testimonial, and the UGC (user-generated content) aesthetic can cut through the noise of overly-polished brand ads.


Thought Leadership

Last but not least, don’t underestimate the potential of organic reach on your owned channels. Third-party recommendations from media and influencers are great when you can get them, but you likely already have your own “influencers” in-house. Leverage the expertise of your brand’s own senior leaders and executives to create authoritative, shareable thought leadership content.


Establish a presence on LinkedIn (or whichever platform your target audience uses) and share content on topics in your niche. Build a following among people who value your expertise and unique point of view, and create content so good that users want to share it with their networks. 


Don’t go in expecting the quick hit of conversions from a performance marketing campaign, but sustaining a thought leadership program over time will help you build brand authority and introduce a new pool of high-quality leads into your marketing funnel.


How should you shift your 2023 marketing strategy? 

Build Your Brand 

An economic downturn can actually be the perfect time to build up your brand while it’s less expensive to do so. This is a prime opportunity to gain market share while your competitors slow down their marketing efforts. With less competition for ads, CPMs (cost per one thousand impressions) will also drop, making it less expensive to get your message out there.


True story: during WW2, the entire firearms industry was making weapons for the war effort.  During this time, only Winchester continued to advertise, but did it in a clever way talking about their part in winning the war against the Germans. When the conflict ended and hunters could start up again, Winchester far outpaced any competitor.


Winchester ad from World War II.

Winchester ad from World War II.


More recent examples from previous recessions also show that brands who increased ad spend had more profits than their competitors who stopped advertising. In the 1990-1991 recession, McDonald’s cut its advertising budget, while Pizza Hut and Taco Bell grew theirs. Pizza Hut’s sales increased by 61%, Taco Bell’s increased by 40%, and McDonald’s took a hit of a 28% decrease.


And for brands that stop advertising, it can take 3-5 years of consistent brand building efforts to recover if you “go dark.” If you lose customers to your competitors, consumers may be slow to switch back to your brand even once you resume advertising.


Prioritize Retention

Acquiring new customers may be more challenging if consumers are holding onto their money or saving for a potential rainy day. Focusing on retaining existing customers will be more important if we do see a downturn in 2023. 


It’s anywhere from five to 25 times cheaper to retain an existing customer than acquire a new one, so investing in retention is a wise use of your marketing budget.


If you are a membership organization, focus on engaging members. Marketing Generals’ 2022 Membership Marketing Benchmark Report reports that lack of engagement is the top reason for non-renewal of membership. Are current members taking advantage of all you have to offer? Make sure they’re aware of the benefits that you offer, and look for ways to improve the membership experience. 


Example of a member engagement and retention program.

CBC client Scottish Rite, NMJ launched a new program to engage and retain existing members.


And if you are selling a product, think about ways to get customers coming back again and again. Email marketing automation can help you send reminders to restock after a certain amount of time after purchase. Coupons and sales can also convince your customers to purchase again – and from the brand they know and love, instead of trying out a cheaper competitor.


Provide Value

When the economy hurts, how you advertise to your customer base needs to change as well. Shift your messaging to focus on customers’ current needs and challenges. 


Be empathetic to the pains that consumers are feeling. With rising prices everywhere from the gas pump to the supermarket, consumers are forced to re-evaluate their spending priorities. In the same way that marketers had to adapt during the pandemic, we now need to finetune our messages to a changing economic climate.  


Above all else, be helpful and show how you can be a solution to your customers’ problems. Your value proposition should make it clear how you can make your customers’ lives better. 


Consider testing a “zero-click” marketing strategy where you offer valuable content to users upfront, no click or purchase required. This is a great opportunity to use top-of-funnel marketing channels like social media to showcase your thought leadership and share valuable advice with your audience. 

Example of “zero-click” content that provides value in an Instagram post.

Example of “zero-click” content from The Financial Diet, providing personal finance advice without requiring users to purchase an online class or even click away from Instagram.


The opposite of clickbait, zero-click content gets your audience’s attention and builds trust – priming them to remember and buy from you when they’re ready. You’ll also see SEO benefits from this approach, given Google’s recent algorithm updates to prioritize human-first, helpful content.


Final Words of Advice

Pessimistic financial forecasts need not be a source of fear for marketers. Have courage to maintain your budget, get smart about how you spend it across the full marketing funnel, and share messaging that resonates in the current moment. If you take this advice, you’ll be set up to outpace your competitors no matter how the economy fluctuates.


Still need help planning for 2023? Reach out to CBC for a free consultation tailored to your business and marketing needs.


About the Author

Megan Paradis is the Manager of Marketing Analytics at Cercone Brown Company, where she works at the intersection of data and strategy to uncover insights that fuel campaigns.

Connect on LinkedIn

Table of Contents

1. What is the Social Media Funnel?
2. Why the Social Media Funnel Matters
3. An Example of How the Social Media Funnel Works
4. How the Social Media Funnel Can Inform Paid Social
5. Tactics and Strategies for Every Phase of the Social Media Funnel
6. How to Measure the Social Media Funnel

If you’re at all involved in the branding or promotion of a company, you’ve likely heard of the marketing and sales funnel. The marketing and sales funnel, sometimes called the purchase funnel, was developed at the end of the 20th century to illustrate the customer’s “journey.” This customer journey is one of the most critical pieces of the marketing puzzle to solve; a bad journey can equate to a bad customer experience.

This same funnel can be applied to social media marketing. By understanding how social media can engage users at every stage of the funnel, you can better craft a strategy that creates a thoughtful user experience and, in turn, generates results that meet both social media and business objectives.

The Social Media Marketing Funnel: Definition

The social media marketing funnel is a concept that describes the stages of a customer’s engagement with any business’ social media channels. While there is no universally accepted funnel, at CBC we view these four phases to be the key steps in any user’s journey with a brand on social media:

An infographic illustrating the four phases of the social media marketing funnel.

Awareness: The stage in the social media marketing funnel where a user is exploring new content and brands in search of answers to a question, problem, or curiosity. For example, this top-of-funnel stage could consist of a user intentionally seeking out a specific product category in social media search where they find your page, or a user being tagged in a post from your feed where they stumble across your content.

Consideration: This is the stage in a social media marketing funnel where a user has found your brand or post and expresses potential interest. A user who engages with your brand, whether by following your company page or liking a post, would fall into the consideration phase. They’re aware of the brand, but are now gathering more information on who you are, what you offer, and whether it is right for their wants and needs.

Conversion: The stage in the social media marketing funnel where a user completes a desired action and enters the brand’s ecosystem. Conversion is most often a purchase but could also be an email sign-up, free trial redemption, or booking a product demo. What qualifies as a successful conversion will vary depending on your line of business and goals.

Loyalty + Advocacy: This is the stage of the social media marketing funnel where a user is not only a customer, but a brand superfan. These users not only follow, engage, and buy from your brand, but also repeatedly interact with your company and are willing to vouch for your quality, service, or other business attribute. Users who enter this bottom-of-funnel stage will take actions such as leaving a positive review in the comments, sharing content from the brand to their personal channels, posting about the brand on their owned channels (user generated content), or referring other users to a brand’s social media pages.

Why the Social Media Marketing Funnel Matters

Understanding the social media marketing funnel is critical when it comes to shaping and driving digital strategy. Today, there are nearly 4 billion people worldwide using social media and the average person spends 95 minutes per day on various social channels – the highest average we’ve seen recorded today. 

Undoubtedly, social media is a critical piece of your marketing program. A thorough understanding of the social media funnel, combined with a careful analysis of your brand’s funnel, will allow you to uncover what your company must do to influence users at every stage. For example, if you’re gaining a lot of followers each month but struggling to convert, you may realize you’re failing to provide necessary information or motivation for users in the consideration phase.

Furthermore, if you’re not using the social media funnel to strategize for your social channels, you could be missing opportunities to enhance your social media marketing program by:

  • Failing to collect a deep understanding of your customer and what drives action amongst various audience segments
  • Neglecting to create types of content that move users to the next phase of the funnel; if you’re not following their journey, how will you know what’s effective?
  • Losing the ability to quickly pivot tactics and strategy when funnel milestones are falling short of expectations; measuring solely top and bottom of funnel metrics leaves room in between for users to fall off.

We’ve found that brands that don’t utilize the social media funnel to drive strategy often focus too much attention on the awareness and conversion phases of the social media funnel where, in reality, nurturing users throughout the entire funnel is what creates brand evangelists and long-lasting ROI.

Example of How the Social Media Funnel Can Work

An infographic illustrating how social media tactics can be deployed to move users down the social media marketing funnel.

To illustrate an example of how the social media funnel may work, let’s walk through an example for a B2C brand selling a tangible product.

  • Awareness: A brand runs paid ads on social media highlighting their latest product. This ad brings a user to their brand page where they decide to follow.
  • Consideration: As a follower, they begin to see a variety of content from your page over the course of a few weeks. They’ve learned what the brand’s product can offer through a series of social media posts discussing the benefits, use cases, and unique differentiators.
  • Conversion: One day, they see a brand post that offers a 10% discount code for first-time email subscribers. This user has been following the brand page and content for awhile now and, with this exclusive offer, feels the time is right to buy. They click the link in your post to sign up for your email list, receive the discount code, and purchase the product through your website.
  • Loyalty and Advocacy: The user has received the product and they love it! They enjoy the product so much that they go to their own personal Instagram Stories and post a photo of the product with a testimonial as to why the product is so great.

How the Social Media Funnel Can Inform Your Paid Approach

While the social media funnel can help brand teams create and source effective organic content and engagement strategies, it can also help inform paid social media campaigns.

Today’s online advertising landscape is sophisticated and well-suited to rely on the social media funnel. With the right technology and systems in place, your brand can see in real-time how many users are at each stage of the funnel and what content is driving them to take the next step.

Looking at the social media funnel through a paid media lens, your brand’s approach could look like:

  • Awareness: You run a paid campaign featuring a brand sizzle reel with the goal of impressions to reach the largest audience possible.
  • Consideration: Simultaneously, as you gain impressions on your awareness-focused ads, you begin to retarget these ad-viewers with new ads that focus on benefits, use cases, or show influencer and/or customer testimonials.
An example of a paid social media post that targets users in the consideration phase of the social media marketing funnel with an influencer testimonial.

An example of a paid Instagram post that targets users in the consideration phase of the social media marketing funnel by showcasing an influencer testimonial.

  • Conversion: With enough social media impressions of your ads, you can now retarget users who have viewed and/or engaged with a previous ad with a timely offer. You’ve likely seen examples of this in your own personal social channels through messaging like “You left this in your cart,” “Claim your exclusive offer today,” or “Almost sold out!”
 An example of a paid social media post that targets users in the conversion phase of the social media marketing funnel with objection handling

An example of a paid Instagram post that targets users in the conversion phase of the social media marketing funnel by refuting customer objections in the image, coupled with a timely call-to-action to book a free consultation.

  • Loyalty + Advocacy: While this stage of the funnel is not often supported by paid social media, your brand could benefit by targeting this audience segment with advertisements that announce new product launches, sales, or promote your loyalty program. Many social media platforms will allow you to build a targeted audience by uploading your customer list.

Social Media Strategies for Every Stage of the Funnel

How a company leverages the social media funnel in their marketing efforts is dependent on a variety of factors, such as whether they’re selling a tangible good or a service, who they’re selling to, the lead time for a typical conversion, and resources available.

Regardless of these factors, there are proven strategies and tactics for each stage of the funnel that brands can deploy to encourage users to take the next step:


  • Use video content to reach and engage a larger segment of users.

    An example of a social media post that targets users in the awareness phase of the social media marketing funnel with a product video and social proof.

    An example of an Instagram post that targets users in the awareness phase of the social media marketing funnel by using video to demonstrate what their product does. The copy further adds value by offering social proof – “87% of professional gardeners use #PictureThis”


  • Run paid ads for organic content (ie. boosted posts) to reach non-followers.
  • Make sure creative is eye-catching and “stops the scroll.”
  • Focus on creating content that discusses the problems or challenges facing users that your business solves for.

    An example of a social media post that targets users in the awareness phase of the social media marketing funnel by offering a solution.

    An example of an Instagram post that targets users in the awareness phase of the social media marketing funnel by clearly identifying the problem users are facing and offering a solution.



  • Leverage social media influencers to reach new communities and segments of users
  • Create content that is easily “shareable.” This type of content may include infographics, memes, quotes, or GIFs.
An example of a social media post that targets users in the awareness phase of the social media marketing funnel with a shareable meme.

An example of an Instagram post that targets users in the awareness phase of the social media marketing funnel by tapping into pop culture to create a highly-shareable brand meme.



  • Share content that is informational, touting benefits, differentiators, and value.
    If you are selling a product, consider creating tutorial content that shows users how your product works.

    An example of a social media post that targets users in the consideration phase of the social media marketing funnel with a tutorial.

    An example of an Instagram post that targets users in the consideration phase of the social media marketing funnel by showcasing a tutorial on how to use their product.



  • Share user-generated content and testimonials to help users see how your brand or product could benefit them.

    An example of a social media post that targets users in the consideration phase of the social media marketing funnel with a testimonial.

    An example of an Instagram post that targets users in the consideration phase of the social media marketing funnel by showcasing a customer testimonial.

  • Host “lives” (available on most but not all social channels) where a company expert can answer questions and provide more information on brand offerings.


  • Use content upgrades, “freebies”, or other exclusive offers to entice users to learn more about your brand or product – and preferably, get added to your email list. Examples include discount codes, whitepapers, e-books, and free samples.

    An example of a social media post that targets users in the conversion phase of the social media marketing funnel with a free trial offer.

    An example of an Instagram post that targets users in the conversion phase of the social media marketing funnel by offering a free trial pass.


  • Include calls-to-action to shop, book a demo, or sign-up. “If you don’t ask, the answer will always be no.”
  • Add urgency to the copy of your posts. For example, “for a limited time,” “limited stock available,” “time’s running out!”, or “don’t wait ” creates a sense of FOMO (fear of missing out) and encourages users to act now.

    An example of a social media post that uses a discount to target users in the conversion phase of the social media marketing funnel.

    An example of an Instagram post that targets users in the conversion phase of the social media marketing funnel by offering a discount for a limited time, creating urgency for users to act.

  • Run paid social ads that re-target existing followers to bring your brand top of mind.
  • Consider in-app shopping features, if applicable to your brand, to eliminate friction for users.

    An example of a social media post that targets users in the conversion phase of the social media marketing funnel with a call-to-action to shop.

    An example of an Instagram post that targets users in the conversion phase of the social media marketing funnel by showcasing the products top features with a simple call-to-action to shop.


Loyalty + Advocacy

  • Offer exclusive promotions for recurring customers.
  • Offer giveaways, contests, and other engaging freebies to continue to provide value for followers.
  • Promote a branded hashtag to collect and share user-generated content to your channels.
  • Engage with the community! Like and respond to comments and direct messages.
  • Consider creating a closed Facebook group or other community forum where your brand offers exclusive deals, information, or other value-add activities to keep fans loyal.

How to Measure the Effectiveness of Your Social Media Funnel

In order to fully reap the benefits of a social media funnel strategy, you’ll want to set key performance indicators (KPIs) at every stage of the funnel. Which KPIs you measure will be dependent on your line of business and brand goals. Below, we’ve listed a few metrics for each step in the funnel to consider:

  • Awareness: followers, views, reach, impressions, profile visits
  • Consideration: comments, likes, saves, shares, link clicks, downloads
  • Conversion: email sign-ups, purchases/sales, demos booked, downloads, leads
  • Loyalty + Advocacy: comments, likes, shares, mentions, number of branded hashtag posts 

The social media funnel is a valuable tool for any marketer looking to strengthen their social media performance, build relationships with customers, create a superior customer experience, and better integrate social media efforts with business goals.


Evaluating your social media funnel and creating a strategic plan for execution aligned with your funnel is no small task. Need help? CerconeBrownCompany has helped dozens of businesses of various sizes and across industries optimize their social strategy. Contact us for a social media consultation for your brand!


About the Author

Hayley Reissfelder is the Manager of Digital and Content at CerconeBrownCompany, where she works to create high-impact digital marketing strategies that raise brand awareness and drive revenue.

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