I remember very well October 2008 and the six months following. The global financial crisis had bitten deep and marketing budgets had been slashed. There was not a day went by where the conversation with a marketer was about how to best cut the budget while still maintaining their marketing program. We offered advice on eliminating waste, reducing duplication and the like.
But marketers discovered a much easier approach with their agencies and that was simply to have the agency do the same work for 20%, 30% or even up to 40% less than previously. After all the agency was desperate to hold on to the client and to hold on to as much of the revenue from that client as possible. Even if this meant that the staff would have to make up the shortfall in unpaid overtime.
It is an interesting observation that even in the face of a significant budget cut, the expectation of many marketers is to want to do the same, if not more. It is like the conversation we have around agency remuneration benchmarking. While procurement will look for savings, marketers look for buying power. They want to do more and feel compelled to do more with the resources at hand. But how much is too much and would you actually be better off doing less?
There is much pressure to do more
There are so many reasons for doing more.
- Action can be easily confused with results. The more activity and activities you are managing the more important and effective you will appear. So doing more, rather than doing less is a survival strategy.
- There are many people selling you something. With so many channels and an increasing number of disciplines and specialists all championing their services, it becomes difficult not to add more to the repertoire.
- Everyone else is doing it. Read the trade press and everyone is embracing the latest digital innovation be it SnapChat, WeChat or Vine. You start to feel that you are being left behind in the technical revolution.
- Integrated marketing. The concept of being fully integrated with the consumer has many marketers and agencies believing this is across every possible channel. Yet ultimately the right choice of channels is more important than the total number of channels.
- Looking for the secret to success. With the pressure to deliver results, many marketers are hoping to find that secret ingredient for their marketing strategy that will deliver the results. But the promise of success and the delivery is rarely so easy.
The trouble is that in most cases more comes at a cost. Operating within the existing budget, there is a need to rationalise the existing requirements to take on more. This rarely happens as it is difficult to know what to drop.
Sometimes more is counter productive
Instead it is more likely that more will be added to the existing marketing plan. Instead of changing it, the plan and the requirements just get bigger. Unfortunately the budget rarely gets bigger.
In these cases what happens is you either:
- Add additional suppliers and resources – With suppliers offering new disciplines and services it is easy to get them on board as a test, only to turn around and find the agency roster has grown like wire coat-hangers in the closet.
- Start cutting corners to fund more – As pressure mounts on the budget, it is convenient to start cutting budgets and corners here and there to save money. However, without a strategy and an accountable approach it is possible to accidently make a serious mistake.
- Find yourself spreading thinly across the program – Likewise without a strategy and the plans and resources to manage it, you can quickly find yourself spread too thin for resources to manage not just the implementation, but also the monitoring of the results.
To embrace innovation and the change that comes with it is not simply a random and spontaneous act, but requires a process to ensure that the change in the marketing plan is:
- Properly funded, resourced and implemented.
- Undertaken without impact on other successful components of the plan.
- Monitored and measured to ensure the efficacy of the change.
This is why you need to adopt a strategy for managing the evolution of your strategy.
Doing one thing well is better than half doing more
While we know that there are many reasons for why we want to do more and that doing more can be counter productive, what is the best approach? Some of the most successful brands and advertisers show real focus in the implementation of their marketing communications plan.
Rather than trying to be in every channel, they select the channels most relevant to engage the target audience and where it will have the greatest cut-through.
The best approach is test and learn
There is an approach used by many marketers to manage the innovation in their strategy. Test and learn is based on the scientific method and adds innovation into the marketing strategy and mix. For more on this see my previous post – How the scientific method can be used to ‘test and learn’ marketing strategy.
To fund this approach, some marketers have adopted a 70 / 20 / 10 approach to their budget with 70% of the budget allocated for delivering the existing marketing strategy. The 10% is allocated to innovation and new ideas and opportunities but these are implemented as experiments, measured and monitored to determine the efficacy of the approach. So what is the other 20%? This is to then develop any approach that shows promising results.
This process ensures that you are not doing more for the sake of it and that you are able to make decisions based on results.
Interested to hear your thoughts. Should marketers be doing less?
Good point, Darren. This relentless pursuit of "more" is a result of our inability to a) prioritise (i.e. knowing what not to do) and b) decide (i.e. choosing what to do). A classical symptom of the absence of strategic thinking.