Upendra Namburi
Guest Article

The 'Zero' Marketing Budget

Are we really making our marketing money sweat?

- 'Hi, Hema. What happened? Why are you looking so flustered?'

- She sighed and then looked up at me, thinking to herself, 'You're the one that cut my marketing budget!'

- 'Nothing. I will need to figure out how to make this work.'

- 'These are tough times. Everyone is taking a cut Hema.'

- 'Yes. We are making a habit of it?!' she sipped her coffee, politely glaring at me.

- I picked up my coffee and wondered if we should have been spending Rs. 400 for those two cappuccinos.

There are two main problems in life - the plenty of too little and too much. We encounter the former more often than any of us would like.

The 'Zero' Marketing Budget

Upendra Namburi

I was touring Kerala as a brand manager for a fruit beverage several years back, when I met a marketing manager with a leading beverage company. He was stressed! He didn't know how to fully utilise his quarterly marketing budgets and was making frantic calls to partners and vendors to see if they could quickly execute stuff, just about anything - Glowsigns, in-shop promotions, displays. The works.

And there I was, in awe of the crores that he had at his disposal. I, of course, was too embarrassed to tell him that I was there trying to convert my allocated travel budget to a marketing promotion budget to pull off a retailer contest for a couple of thousand bucks. Life was indeed brutal. I was just emerging from a budget cut, but the sheer audacity and wastage of his spends puzzled me.

There was a clear divide between the 'haves' and 'have-nots'. The budget cut was here to stay; it wasn't going anywhere.

A couple of years later, Murphy emerged again; joined a new assignment to undertake a national brand launch. Within a couple of months, the budget was slashed, by over 80 per cent. I hated reality.

A few sulking sessions later, with neither pity nor funds forthcoming, it was apparent that life moved on, as did the product launch. But what ensued, was invaluable learning.

We had planned a mass media TV campaign, with outdoor and below the line promotions. The TVC was now relegated to a couple of states, giving us scant air cover. It was more to tell retailers that we were supporting it big time. You know - Buy cheap spots, high frequency. We really weren't convinced that it was going to trigger sufficient consumer pull.

We barely had twenty lakhs left. I, of course, had the privilege of working with a determined manager. We set about executing a school sampling program, wherein we managed to reach 2 million children across India in that sparse budget. Every paise spent was scrutinised, every activity examined to maximise impact. Each and every unit of the product was reconciled; we couldn't afford wastage. And when the CEO inquired as to the price of the free sticker which was being handed over to the children, the message was clear.

Make your money sweat.

That was a turning point for me in my career. Budget cuts wouldn't upset me and it's not that we didn't fight it. I had slowly begun to refine the concept of 'Zero Budget' and I still do.

1. Does your sales team enjoy selling the product?

Your product may appear on their sales targets. But there is a difference in having it as a target, believing in the product and enjoying selling it. There is an entire experience cycle from introducing the product, training them and then making it sell in the market.

Is the launch event just slides and booze? Was it memorable?

Was the training session fresh and different?

Was there a different experience with which they could introduce the product to the trade or customers?

What are those edgy experiences being built in the selling cycle?

2. Is your employee selling for you?

Let's assume you're working in a company with a thousand employees. How many of them engage with your brand on social media and their networks? How many of them share the message on their WhatsApp networks?

On the assumption that even 10 per cent of your employees engage effectively, you could potentially reach over 100,000 unique customers, provided, of course, there is memorable content for them to engage with. And, if you've got great content, you could keep adding zeros to the reach.

That's expensive media money being saved. More importantly, quality reach!

3. Is your customer selling for you?

Yes. How are you helping your customer sell for you? This is not a typo. And, this doesn't end with inane referral programmes.

Is the product truly co-created with your consumers? Think Kickstarter.

Is the campaign developed along with the trade and consumers?

What's the delight point for the consumer when she consumes your product? What's that memory asset being created in the experience curve?

Remember, the bell you strike when you finish a meal at Pizza Hut? Which is your bell?

4. Are your agencies and partners selling for you?

Most of your partners and agencies would be working with several other organisations. They can connect you with other brands. That could be done quickly and for free. Let Barter rule!

A joint twitter campaign? Cross-selling to each other's employees? The list is endless...

5. Are you selling?

How many units are sold by the marketing team? Yes. Could be a crate of soft drinks or a supercomputer. It's all hands on deck folks. No departmental divides. No silos. Hit the field and sell.

'Hi Hema. Let's roll up our sleeves? And, let's have nimbu paani next time?'

(The author is a passionate senior management leader, digital business, marketing and innovation professional, who loves simplicity and challenging status quo.)

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