While some brands plunked down $4.5 million for a 30-second spot this Superbowl Sunday, most marketers are being asked to do more with less. This can feel like an impossible task.
I once moved from a large brand with a large advertising budget to a small challenger brand with virtually no budget. At the large brand, we used to complain like the world was ending whenever we were asked to cut our budget by 5%. Our solution was to try to eke out small efficiencies to compensate for the cut.
At the small brand, our desperation from having virtually no budget forced us to think about marketing in an entirely different way. We had to think of all of the things that were not paid media (customer support, packaging design, wrapping the trucks of our logistics partners, etc.) and find a way to turn them into marketing vehicles.
It dawned on me that in some of my marketing career, I used the brand’s advertising budget as a crutch. Large advertising budgets created blind spots that prevented me from appreciating all of the things I could impact in the brand that didn’t cost any money.
The founder of Geek Squad has a wonderful quote that “advertising is a tax for unremarkable thinking”. In the early days, they couldn’t afford advertising, so they focused on everything else (the uniforms of their agents, their iconic VW bugs, etc.) to tell their marketing story. My favorite detail was the shoes. They realized they could customize the soles of the shoes their tech agents wore to have the Geek Squad logo stamped in reverse. This way, every agent that walked on a wet sidewalk would leave brand impressions everywhere they went. In aggregate, Geek Squad rationalized, that could be a lot of GRPs.
I love that Geek Squad thought of even the soles of their shoes as a marketing opportunity.
Instead of wondering what you would do with a percentage less of your current marketing budget, it’s a good exercise to ask what you would do with a zero marketing budget. Then paid media can amplify those ideas, instead of working as a crutch.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on trying to do more with less. Here’s a cartoon I drew a few years ago on this mindset.
(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away a signed cartoon print. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. Thanks!)
14 CommentsJoin the Discussion
Jennifer Nelson says
Thanks for a little walk down memory lane Tom! Seems like yesterday you were giving my (then J&J) marketing organization an end of day Key Note on this topic. It was great, and super relevant — and now, still as relevant as ever!
I think you are right on with the crutch analogy. One of the key problems when you “live” in organizations with mass A&P budgets is the perceptual filters it creates of what’s within bounds on how you go to market. It’s very difficult to stop and say, “okay, $Y MM and thus just X weeks of TV isn’t worth doing. Lets pretend we’re a start-up and do 0 mass adverts” And if you DO — then there’s the organizational culture and senior management issue…
BUT Here’s what I say: All of this IS conquerable, but you have to start months in advance of your organizations official brand planning cycle, and begin to create concrete scenarios, translate to credible plans, and socialize the thinking before the brand planning cycle gets going in earnest. No small feat.
I wholeheartedly agree. I’ve worked at both enterprise and start-up level businesses. The large brands I’ve worked for aren’t willing to make as many risks as the start-up with a bare bones budget.
I envy the large businesses that have the big budgets but are willing to take risks, find new opportunities and stay lean where they can. Like Jennifer said, that type of thinking has to come from the top down though.
Mary Cole says
Right on! Welcome to the entrepreneurial world where insights and effort count more than budget. It has always been about the customer. What do they want and where do they get their information and how can we pop up when they need our product? Those things never change. Sometimes the answer is “spend a lot of money to buy visibility” and sometimes the answer is more nuanced.
The second cartoon is a bit different. Let’s face it, you need more water to grow lush tall green stuff than to grow cactus. We all need the right answer for the particular situation. Still, there are less expensive ways to pop up in the right time and place than to simply throw money at it, as much fun as that might be!
Nick Salyers says
I think this is an important idea. Marketers must remember what makes their brand unique or remarkable and capitalize on that. I love brands like blend tech who orchestrated a low $ campaign on youtube call “Will it blend?” where they would blend everyday objects in their blenders. The video where they blended the new iphone went viral and was truly something worth remarking about. Your brand can be remarkable if you put in enough work and have enough creativity. Thanks for the great reminder.
john sonnhalter says
how true. Marketers sometimes just get lazy and keep doing the same old thing. They need to think outside the box and try different things not only to get a prospects attention but set themselves apart(value proposition). Until you have identified what makes you different why advertise at all?
Dan Russell says
Great article, very thought provoking! Here’s an insight…
While many small brands focus on making the most out of what little monetary resources they have, what differentiates “successful” creativity from creativity that is used as a crutch in itself is the effort with which a company maintains and follows through on their creativity.
The custom shoe soles were much more powerful when combined with the VW beetle and the uniforms – they easily could have been thought of as nothing more than a gimmick on their own. But in the context of a wider brand perception that included those other creative elements, the shoe soles worked in Geek Squad’s favor, along with their other branding initiatives.
Ori Pomerantz says
The same effect can often be seen in R&D. This is one of the reasons that startups can often produce better solutions than large companies.
Susan Abbott says
The key idea is hidden in your cartoon. It’s easier to be creative when you have no choice (Geek Squad) than when you have had a big budget that you now have to reduce. Necessity is the mother of invention, or something like that.
In the second instance, you may be expected by many, inside and outside your organization, to find a way to keep doing what you did before. (The work smarter / find efficiencies approach.) You may not feel you have license to make radical changes.
Executives who want fresh thinking might be better advised to cut a budget by 25% than 5%, and along with the cut, provide some license for risk taking.
Thanks for a great thought starter to the day!
Matt Harrison says
The first consideration before even deciding the marketing budget should be “have we made the best product possible” if not any budget should be invested in doing so until you have.
Big corporates often spend a lots of money marketing products marketing poor products. So actually more is less. More people trying your not perfect product
The aim should be long term ROI and I cant think of a better way to achieve this than have a brilliant product.
Melanie Wilhoite says
While necessity can be the mother of invention, I agree with previous comments that the product or service must be a worthwhile product or all the marketing in the world might create a temporary blip before customers catch on. The Geek Squad example doesn’t totally hold water because it surely cost the company something to purchase and wrap all those VWs, design and outfit all team members, and create logo stamping shoes. That’s marketing in my book. It takes savvy leadership to understand the power of non-traditional marketing, and it strikes me that Geek Squad is a good example of that, coupled with a focus on customer service, rather than of having a small budget.
Faith Nelson says
Thanks for your post Tom. The cartoon makes me think of timing and how resources are used. How for eg do you water your plants if you don’t have a housekeeper and you are traveling. If I think of plants in the wild though, it sheds more light on the budget problem. Plants have complex missions to do in their lifetime. But even with this complexity, they are a living demonstration of the law of efficiency and economy. Large companies think in the opposite direction with volume of spend and competition high up in the hierarchy of needs. It’s a human perception problem. Maybe we need to mimic nature to some degree and think “simple” first before buying the $4 mil Ads. I work in a big content creation company too where creativity is held in high esteem and yet people are bewildered when you talk about innovating in promotions and advertising. I have been asked “Why would I want to do THAT?” There is zero agility in that area because you have to think like the Borg and because there is money to spend. Companies will even cut staff and talent to spend more and the cycle continues. Educate the top first in the art of innovation and economy. The rest will follow.
Great post…as a consumer and not a marketing professional, I have to laugh at the thought of all the marketing people really thinking that their superbowl add (which costs millions) left the consumer thinking more highly of their products….when in reality, around our breakfast table this morning, our kids talked about the lost puppy, how girls run, the end of the world, and pac man. The only brand mentioned was Snickers. 🙂
Having worked for both a start-up and a well established MNC this article makes so much sense. When I moved in after my stint at a start-up, it was a culture shock. Start-ups hardly have an A&P budget, and we resorted to options like barter trade to get the necessary GRPs. This also made us think about opportunities like the real estate available in the form of sales team. Marketing was primarily about business and then advertising.
I’ve always done scrappy, think-like-an-owner-with-no-budget marketing. I don’t know if I’d know what to do if I had a big budget– I think I would be as paralyzed as the company with an extremely reduced budget!