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Seven tips for lean marketing programs

Whether or not you have the constraint of a low budget, it pays to be resource smart in your marketing communications program. Here are a few pointers that can make a big difference:

1. Capitalise on seasonality. If you're in retail this might mean spending less during the Christmas high; if you're in professional services this might mean focusing more during the budgeting season. Generally speaking, every industry has different seasonality. The point is that they do have seasons. If you mould your investment to these patterns you can improve your return on investment (ROI) by riding the highs and maximising the lows.

2. Balance above and below the line spend. Above the line includes things like advertising (generally activities where you control the message); below the line includes things like media relations (generally where the outcome is less controlled). Both have a role to play and at times it makes sense to put greater resources behind both, even at the same time. However, there is a point at which you can be spending unnecessarily. My clients in most cases have been able to achieve the results they need by emphasising one over the other, saving money and time, and spreading their investment. Yes, frequency and recall matter. But, if you map the activities you’re planning for each campaign or product, and define the specific action or engagement you are seeking from your customers, chances are you can emphasise above or below the line, rather than both, and still achieve the outcomes you’re after.

3. Allow breathing space. The default view seems to be that you should always be ‘out there’ marketing your wares. If you have a great website, you already are. But otherwise, I really believe there is value in holding back every once in a while to see what your business and brand can do without a huge marketing push…maintaining only core marketing such as enewsletters. There can be a risk to this if you are quiet for too long. However, it’s invaluable to understand how you perform without the additional expense. If you don't allow this kind of breathing space, your marketing metrics can't easily establish a baseline. Plus, as your brand builds in recognition, you will likely find that your marketing needs to shift gear anyway. Where a new brand might focus on advertising, a more established brand might invest more in tailored direct marketing.

4. Measure, measure, measure. There is little value in marketing without measurement. It's the only way you can truly know whether your initiatives are contributing value. This doesn't have to cost the earth either. You can usually measure website traffic or social media results free of charge. Enquiries or redemption of offers might only require a simple spreadsheet and minor admin time. Sales results can often be exported from accounting or ordering systems at no cost and with little time to extract the information you need from a marketing perspective. The best approach is to build a dashboard that gives you a comprehensive snapshot. Build in the discipline of measuring, monitoring, reflecting and adjusting your marketing activities.

5. Seek feedback. Companies can fall into the trap of continuing certain tactics based on assumptions of effectiveness. They might be right but they are still assumptions. Find out what has value to your clients and customers and focus your investment there. If you don’t have the budget to hire market researchers, then set up a feedback form and make them available to your customers, or pick up the phone to a few clients to get some feedback. In many cases, people will find it refreshing that you even asked…and you may be surprised by what you learn.

6. Follow the money. Get intimately acquainted with the features that your customers see as offering the most value. You might be offering features they'd happily take or leave, even at high expense to you. Or you might have a competitive advantage you weren't fully aware of. You won't know if you don't ask.

7. Challenge the 'just because' factors of your industry. Just because everyone does 'it' doesn't mean ‘it's’ helping your cause. Your competitors might all be blogging but that doesn’t mean their customers see it as a benefit. If it doesn't match the needs of your stakeholders, allocate blogging time elsewhere. Or here’s a fun one – a toilet roll manufacturer challenged the norm of the inside roll of cardboard, changing their process so that the paper rolled on itself. They saved in production costs and time and still delivered a quality product to their customers. You can challenge the status quo at any point in your marketing cycle, whether product development, pricing structure, distribution methods or promotions.

There is a wise view that smart companies continue to invest in marketing irrespective of the economic climate…especially in a downturn. I agree. But I always believe that businesses should invest only what they need to in order to achieve the results they are targeting. A lean marketing strategy simply enables you to focus your activities based on real customer insight, measurement and seasonal approaches.

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