April 2016
Marketing on a Shoestring Budget

Jeffrey Spear - President, Studio Spear

Jeff Spear

Do you find that money is always in short supply? You want a Ferrari but can only afford a Corolla. You crave prime rib but must settle for less. When it comes to marketing, and while your dreams may be rich and your wallet poor, there are ways to get the job done.


Proper planning and creativity are essential when cash is in short supply. Even when cash is abundant, I know of no responsible CEO or CFO who feels money is something you simply throw at a challenge and hope for the best. So let’s look at these two issues and work out how to get the greatest impact and return on investment.

Planning    It’s said “You don’t need a map if you don’t care where you’re going.” Since time and money are always precious, and the whole point of this discussion is to get more bang from your buck, I recommend you invest in a map. I use the word “invest” because you’ll have to spend valuable time and perhaps even pay for outside help to set your course. In the long run, however, these advance payouts will eliminate costly missteps, create efficiencies and earn you the results you’re after faster and cheaper.

To start, it’s essential to have a fully defined goal and know exactly how much money is available to support that agenda. I can’t tell you how many businesses I encounter that don’t articulate expectations or establish budgets in advance. In effect, these companies are spending on a whim and hoping for the best. Without a proper annual budget that can be prioritized and allocated responsibly, stating that funds are limited is meaningless. Quite simply, failing to establish goals, annual marketing budgets and set expectations is bad business.

Sometimes this is the result of the entrepreneurial spirit of the CEO (translation: ego). These individuals believe that he or she knows what’s best, regardless of outcome. They don’t take the time to fully understand their business or what can be expected from various marketing tactics. Worse still, they do not track or evaluate results. And while they all cry poor, I see evidence that they are already spending significant amounts of money. The reality is not a shortage of resources. It’s simply a failure to plan in advance, prioritize needs and make informed investments.

Thorough research is the foundation for proper planning. It’s been suggested that research should represent 10% of your overall marketing budget. For smaller companies with limited annual budgets, 10% won’t buy much (if anything). Under these circumstances, it’s essential to do it yourself and learn as much as possible. Issues relating to competitive threats, internal strengths and weaknesses, identifying (quantifying) and understanding (qualifying) key audiences and anticipating trends are all important. With so much information available on the internet, an investment in time can be used to your advantage.

Creativity    Once you know where you’re going (an accurate map is in hand), it’s time to stretch your dollars. It starts with strategy - knowing which tactics will be most effective to support your goals and make the best impression.

Under any circumstances, reaching and impressing key audiences (buyers) is your priority. Since research will have defined your target audience in terms of demographics, geographics and psychographics, and you’ve established a budget, you have all the necessary information to determine which tactics will be most appropriate.

Once you’ve identified the most cost-effective tactics, production issues are next. While illustration and photography have their merits, and pictures are worth a thousand words, a few clever lines may be all that’s needed. Alternatively, words cannot evoke emotional responses as quickly as a picture. Compelling images can create desire - and can make audiences drool - in seconds. Again, research will help determine which is more appropriate.

Electronic communication, depending upon format and complexity of execution, can be inexpensive. Assuming your audience uses the internet and responds favorably to email, this may be a great way to cut costs. While websites and social media are more versatile than printed literature, and emails do not require postage, tactile experiences may be more impactful. Since I always recommend an integrated marketing effort (having your messages encountered through a variety of media and in somewhat diverse environments) electronic communications should not be viewed as the answer to all of your marketing needs.

Unfortunately, there is no one solution that will help you control costs. You have to understand what’s most important to your specific goals, what will impact most fabvorably upon your key audiences and prioritize your marketing efforts accordingly.

Thorough research and proper planning are essential. So are well-defined marketing goals and operating budgets. While you could always spend on an as needed basis, there’s no way to evaluate and confirm that what you are doing has any real value. In short, your marketing expenses are an investment. As with any investment, you want to do your homework, plan and respond appropriately and make sure you are getting the highest possible returns.


If the time has come to overhaul, update and re-invigorate your brand image, or you'd like to change up your marketing program, please call 904 685 2135 - ask for Jeff Spear. You can also contact Jeff via email: jeff@studiospear.com.

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