The Silver(ish) Lining to Smaller Budgets

Unless you work for a company that’s found some magic way to escape the impact of the bleak economy, you’re going to be working with a smaller budget in 2009.

When it comes to marketing budgets, more is always better than less, so let’s not pretend this is a “glass half full” situation we’re dealing with. Nevertheless, there is a silver(ish) lining to lower budgets: the marketing with the biggest impact can’t actually be bought anyhow, so it’s still within your reach.

The impact happens when a brand actually delivers on the promises it makes in its advertising, that is, when what you say and what you do are aligned. This isn’t easy to achieve, but it doesn’t involve buying time or space, a big plus now that the money tree has shriveled up.

A good place to start is to broaden the definition of “integrated.” Most brands aspire to deliver integrated marketing but approach this primarily as an effort to maintain a consist look and feel across media channels. There’s a pretty low ceiling to this approach. Even flawlessly executed, it only provides integration as it relates to what you say.

The big problem is consumers don’t really care how consistently a brand says something. After all, a brand could present a false image of itself absolutely consistently. They want what the brand says to be, you know, true. The new definition of “integration” must address both marketing and service delivery.

Your organization probably isn’t set up to make this marketing/service collaboration easy. The org chart says you report to different people. They sit way over there. They’re probably jerks. But a bad economy has a way of exposing outdated organizational behaviors (see: Detroit), and this problem can’t be ignored anymore. Not if you want your marketing dollars to work harder, anyway.

So here is a simple, three-step approach to aligning what you say and what you do, one that requires a fair amount elbow grease, but not a dime of paid media.

  • Build a team. Create a small working team made up of key members of your marketing and service delivery teams. You’ll need a nice mix of the people who craft the messages and the people who actually interact with customers every day.
  • Conduct an audit. The purpose of the audit is to identify gaps where what the brand says and does aren’t aligned. Switch things up a bit to get the most objective view. Have the marketers evaluate the customer experience, approaching it as a mystery shopping exercise. Does the experience live up to the image you’re creating in your advertising?

    Let the team responsible for customer experiences evaluate every piece of marketing communications. This team knows better than anyone else what the company delivers. Do the ads speak about the company the right way?

  • Develop action plan. This is the fun part; create a plan that aligns your words and actions in meaningful and memorable ways. The easy part will be writing new ads, but that will only get you so far. Slogans and sexy ads have lost their power to persuade. Authenticity is what sells. Brands that fulfill their promises will be rewarded.

So while “say” and “do” need to be aligned, they aren’t equals — “do” is the big dog. To stay focused, hang this Ben Franklin quote up in your war room: “Well done is better than well said.” That’s your new motto.

Your agency partners should be psyched to get involved in this effort. It’s a chance to solve business problems, not just make ads. This is the business good agencies all want to be in. But if they aren’t up to the challenge, check out a new breed of agency, like Zeus Jones, which was created for just this reason. Its tagline is “Marketing as a service: using marketing to do things for people.” (Note: I have no connection to Zeus Jones whatsoever).

Sure, it would be better to have the big budgets from years past at your disposal, but if you create a real connection between what you say and what you do, consumers will remember. More important, they’ll talk about your brand positively, which will be much more effective than any ad you could buy.

When budgets do come back, you’ll have created tangible competitive advantage to exploit. So maybe the glass is half full after all.

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