Take the Strategic Approach to Marketing Spend

One of my favorite New Yorker cartoons shows a wife watching her husband as he tackles a kitchen plumbing repair. He’s at the ready, wrench in hand, and she’s asking, “Do you know what you’re doing? Or do you YouTube know what you’re doing?”

It’s a good little laugh and a refreshing variation on the classic adage that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Sometimes—most times, in fact—for the job to be done right, you need to call the plumber.

When it comes to evaluating and improving the performance of an organization’s marketing efforts (I’m just going to say it) a lot of decision-makers YouTube know what they are doing. They know they want results. But they are just grabbing tools from their creative toolkit rather than taking the time to figure out the best way—and why—to get the job done. Sometimes, if they’re lucky, they come up with a decent fix. More often, what they do doesn’t really work and ends up costing more.

Here’s the news: most marketing budgets are set based on the wrong milestones.

In terms of self-guided marketing strategy and execution, the trouble starts because you’re thinking too generally, hoping to realize lofty performance goals, or you’re thinking too specifically, in terms of giving some new marketing trend a try. In short, you’re either aspiring to an amorphous “goal” or getting bogged down in “tactics.” Those are the extreme ends of the marketing spend planning spectrum. The former typically descends from the boardroom (e.g., “Let’s increase sales by 20 percent!”) or bubbles up from the trenches (as in, “Let’s launch a series of short-form vids on TikTok!”).

On their own, goals are too lofty and tactics are too specific. What your marketing spend needs to be shaped by is . . . drumroll . . . strategy.

Strategy, which is developing a concrete plan that directs tactics toward the realization of goals, is where the smart allocation of marketing budget must begin. Most of us know this. It’s fundamental Business 101 stuff, but strategy often gets eclipsed by audacious goal propositions or left behind in the excitement of testing out some trendy new tactics.

Now you’re asking: “How do I come up with this strategic starting point, especially amid endless calls to remain budget-conscious and ‘do more with less’?”

Here’s an example:

Clients in the foodservice sector might ask us to help grow a product’s in-store presence, differentiate a product, or increase sales. Those, as you already understand, are goals. We could just point to a menu of options like end-aisle displays, short-form videos on social media, or distributor promotions and ask the client to pick what they like, but those are all tactics—which may or may not be ideal because they’re not based on what’s happening with their target market, competition, and industry.

The first thing we need to do is invest a little time and effort in getting the clearest possible picture of what’s happening with that client’s brand in a particular market. Is their product something new that deserves a big splash? Is it entering a crowded sector and therefore needs some really creative differentiation? Where along the purchasing chain should we be aiming influence? Distributors? Retail? Consumers?

Answering each of these questions shapes what we recommend, from different media to nuances in messaging. When we shot the stop-motion video for Maglio’s pineapple spears, for example, we knew our target audience down to meticulous demographic and psychographic details. The video itself was really fun, but we had to know its ultimate purpose and who it was for before we began shooting and spending. That’s what made it as effective as it was creative. Plenty of audience research went into that video before the package of pineapple spears jumped into the lunchbox.

If we just decided to “make a cool video” before understanding the audience or if we promised to help make sales skyrocket before figuring out the best way to portray the product, the campaign would have likely been all style and no substance. The video might still have won awards, but it probably wouldn’t have truly complemented the client’s sales goals.

Whenever your fiscal year starts, wherever you are on the decision-making chain, now is the time to start thinking through how to get the most out of your marketing spend. If you’re among leadership, I’m positive you’re being told to do more with less. If you’re in the ranks, you’re being challenged to get more creative, get more attention, and get more buyers in the pipeline—three valid directives. Before either side begins a wild drive toward goals or kicks off a frenzied brainstorm of tactics, think about meeting in the middle. Tap into a strategy that speaks to both ends of that spectrum and you’re going to stand a much better chance of getting the results, response, and ROI you want.

Maybe it’s time to call the plumber.

FWIW, we don’t know a lot about plumbing but we are really good at helping companies, nonprofits, associations, and organizations of every stripe market more strategically. If you want to have a coffee and talk it through, add an appointment to Lexie’s calendar. She’ll buy.