Managing money to get the biggest bang for the buck is always a tough assignment. Certainly, it’s made even tougher at a start-up, where resources — financial and otherwise — are always constrained. So why am I going to advise you today to spend more money?
A result of tight budgets is cutting corners; looking for ways to get the job done using less is a skill that has merits. But where marketing’s concerned, I believe that cutting corners is the equivalent of cutting your throat. Specifically, when it comes to design, printed materials, events, and similar areas of execution, it pays to pay for world-class service.
Let’s take something as simple as a company name, logo, and identity system (business cards, stationery, etc.). Probably the singular source of brand identity and personality in a start-up’s early stages is exclusively communicated through these items. Yet how often do you meet someone with a new business whose business card gives the feeling that the company is a couple of people huddled in a living room? It’s what I call the “loving hands at home” look. Even if you are working out of your living room, there is no need to advertise it. So here is my list of things in the world of marketing you should never, ever cut corners on.
- Graphic design. Now good design doesn’t have to be expensive, but finding a quality graphic designer that doesn’t cost a bit more than the rest is hard. There’s a reason for this: He or she is good at it. Although it’s important that the designer’s body of work match your sensibilities and corporate personality, the general tone should be nothing less than world class. Good design is critical to making a good impression and communicating your corporate personality and, as I stated above, might be your only branding effort to the outside world. How do you know what’s really effective? I try to imagine the designer’s work on a package in the supermarket, in a major magazine, or in a TV commercial. Does it hold up as the type of thing you would see in that environment? Believe me, you will know it when you see it. And so will your customers.
- Marketing collateral. Flyers and photocopies work for bake sales, lost puppies, and elementary school fundraisers. They don’t work for a real business. Paying for professional-looking marketing collateral, be it media folders or brochures, is an important investment in your business. Even if you don’t make such an investment, the competition will. I know I toss out things that look like crap when I get them. It’s not that I’m picking style over substance, but substance that’s polished and professional typically communicates better than substance that’s confused by unprofessional packaging.
- Giveaways. This is also known as CPS. (The CP stands for cheap plastic; you can figure out the S for yourself). If you’re going to give trinkets away, make sure they are worth giving. One item given out at a recent trade show was a cheap-looking dusting device for your computer keyboard. Have you ever dusted your keyboard? And the item had nothing to do the company or its product, so it was doubly bad. I also love the popular cheesy plastic pen. If you are going to do a writing instrument, do it well so people will actually keep it and use it. Again, what you give out represents you and your company, so make it on target for the audience at a level of quality that you yourself would like to receive.
- Food. Nothing says you care as much as serving decent food at events that require it. Good food will make your event memorable, as opposed to something attendees will want to forget. At times, it just takes careful planning to find the right thing. Various events try to overwhelm you with lots of mediocre food. Sometimes it’s best to focus on doing just a few items very well to get great quality without breaking the budget. My advice: Edible just doesn’t cut it. If you can’t do food really well then do an event that doesn’t require it.
- Sound systems. This is a pet peeve of mine: You have 300 people in the room, an important speaker, and a sound system that cuts in and out. One hundred percent of the time, bring in a professional sound company. Do not rely on hotel in-house systems or rental company systems to do the trick. If you need sound, you probably want to communicate something. You’re not really communicating if no one can hear the presentation because the sound was subpar. Bring in the professionals to make sure it’s done right.
Though I’ve offered many tips on how to spend more cash, I still don’t advocate breaking the budget or spending foolishly. The point is that you need to have priorities as you spend your money. If you skimp on any of the above items, expect to pay the consequences.