How to treat your marketing budget as an investment portfolio

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A financial investments portfolio usually includes some assets that preserve capital (such as cash or government bonds) and some that grow it such as stock funds. An aggressive investment portfolio would also include a risk fund, a small share which can finance riskier but at the same time potentially more profitable investments. If it works out sour, the loss is capped at only being a tiny bit of your portfolio. And if it works, the tiny bit of your portfolio can quickly grow to be a large bit. Simply there is more to win than there is to lose.

What does this mean for marketers

In marketing it’s exactly the same. Some of the things we do are very basic, like using point-of-sale materials when selling fizzy drinks or placing an ad on a classifieds paper when selling real estate. These involve very little risk, but they don’t guarantee a successful result.

Then there are things like having a snappy product name or a great media campaign. These involve a little more risk, and they’re also more likely to generate returns. The unfortunate thing is that competition is very likely to do the same things, so you’d need to be slightly cleverer to do better than them.

Which neatly brings me to the third kind of possible investments into marketing. The risky but potentially very rewarding kind. A different niche as target audience, a completely different media strategy or messaging that stands out like a Bruce Lee in a sea of Steven Segals. And I’m not saying marketing should go all wacky. Not at all, it’s just that there should be a small “risk fund” in every marketing budget that can finance novel trying out new things. Think Carling’s iPint.

Time is money

The size of your risk fund can vary based on your marketing goals, size of your budget, conservativeness of your business (or boss) etc. I reckon 10 per cent is minimum. The good people at McKinsey go further:

marketers must push to ensure that they spend 75 to 80 percent of their money on proven messages that are placed in proven media vehicles and supported by proven dollar levels. The remaining 20 to 25 percent of spending should finance well-structured experiments.

The mistake I’ve sometimes done there is not allocating enough time for experimenting. Having a creative idea is the easiest thing on the planet. Selling it internally, executing, measuring, analyzing effectiveness and reporting it back to people involved is a different story. I say the rule of thumb is that 10% of experiential budget needs 20% of time to handle it properly. YMMV.

This sounds good but how to measure it?

Touché! Measuring usually proves to be the difficult bit, especially in non-internet channels. But unless your budget or risk fund of that budget is gigantic I wouldn’t go anal with measuring. Paying attention and any reasonably-easy-to-set-up measures are enough. If it works brilliantly, you’ll know. The outlets in the proximity of your outdoor ad/dispenser will be sold out, competition will start to copy it or there will be a divine thumbs-up from between the clouds. And if it’s a complete waste of money, you’ll know too, and probably in a not-so-pleasant way.

Grass is greener online

Measuring becomes much less of an issue online, provided you have taken the time to dig deep into numbers. Also, experimenting is usually much cheaper money wise but not time wise. Carling knows exactly how many people have downloaded the iPint. In my marketing department we often create several versions of the same email or web page because that’s the best way to know whether something is working or not. Duplicating the “buy” button at the top of the page and at the bottom of the page may result in twice as many people buying from that page. Starting an email with a photo rather than an illustration may get you more people clicking through. Talking about a discount as 50% off may work better than half price, at least with quite tech-savvy users. With users of online news portals or of adult sites it may be a different story. Experiment, and you’ll know.

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