Your Business is Bigger than Its Marketing Budget
A marketing budget is a map of the year ahead. It displays each revenue goal as a landmark and plots the distance—in dollars—it takes to get there.
Like any good map, a useful marketing budget is carefully measured: the result of months and months of data on conversion rates and lead generation throughout marketing channels. It’s easy to navigate, specific but not overly detailed. If done correctly, anyone should be able to follow it without getting lost.
The only problem? There be dragons.
In the Middle Ages, before Western Civilization had fully mapped the world, cartographers used to mark the edges of their maps—the unknown areas—with dragons, sea serpents, and other mythological creatures. For people back then, these unexplored regions were fraught with danger, peril, and, sometimes, opportunity.
Here’s how to navigate the uncharted.
Set aside money for the unpredictable
We marketers face dragons every day. While there are plenty of marketing methods we can measure and, if need be, recalibrate, there are key areas we don’t have the resources to include, or can’t anticipate in the year ahead. Build room in your budget for technological and social questions you can’t see coming.
For example: The rules of social media and mobile platforms are constantly changing, so how do you anticipate ROI? Big data provides innumerable amounts of information about consumers, but how do you know what’s worth targeting?
A budget can’t answer these questions, but that doesn’t mean you can’t plan for them. The role of marketing isn’t only to make money; It’s to communicate value. A marketing budget only measures financial value.
Determine how you measure value
How do you calculate a brand’s emotional impact? How do you tell a good story? For businesses with limited marketing budgets, these questions may seem irrelevant or out of touch, but they’re vital—not only to a business’ financial success, but its longevity and social legacy.
On the surface, Panera Cares, Panera’s branch of community cafés, doesn’t seem to add financial value to the brand. Each café employs a pay-what-you-want model: Customers can go above or below the suggested price, or even eat a free lunch.
But few would argue that Panera Cares isn’t a valuable enterprise. It builds trust and goodwill towards the brand, and most importantly provides a real service in communities. Marketers looking to do the same have plenty of opportunities—but are those opportunities included in your budget?
When in doubt, do the right thing
As communicators and content creators, marketers face the dual challenges of creating meaningful experiences for consumers and bringing in revenue. Despite what you may believe, the two aren’t opposites.
In early 2004, when the Indian Ocean Tsunami devastated the coast of South Asia, KEEN donated $1,000,000—its entire marketing budget—to relief efforts. The news resulted in a storm of positive publicity, and now, nine years later, KEEN’s annual revenue has grown to $230 million.
That’s good marketing, good business, and frankly, goodheartedness.
Keep your budget and your soul
Fighting dragons isn’t easy—we need all the help we can get. Budgets are an important tool for monitoring marketing effectiveness and developing brand strategy. But they only tell one half of the story; quality and creativity are the other half.
Remember: Budgets set expectations. Successful marketing efforts exceed them.