Better Ways To Do More With Less

Crawling around inside a few dozen large marketing and finance organizations these past months, I've seen some evidence of five patterns of "do more with less" that seem to work best.

First, the "best" clearly define what "doing more with less" really means. The most common metric appears to be "marketing contribution efficiency" -- an increase in the ratio of net marketing contribution per marketing dollar spent. That seems appropriate when budgets are falling (recognizing the need to monitor it over time, as it can be manipulated in the near term).

Second, when the best companies cut, they do it strategically. Face it, most of us didn't take Budget Cutting 101 in B-school. After eliminating travel, consultants and other easy stuff, bad decisions creep in under mounting political pressure. More about this in my last post.

Third, they watch the risk factors. CFOs want to cut marketing spend to increase the likelihood of (aka decrease risks against) making short-term profit goals. Yet when marketers try to do more with less, risk exposure rises in ways never imagined -- especially if it wasn't clear which elements of the marketing mix were working before the cuts. It's the "risk paradox." If you want to make sure your "less" really has a chance of doing "more,"  manage the new risks that have silently crept into the plans.

Fourth, they avoid the ostrich effect. Just because there's enormous pressure on businesses today, the best don't ignore the fact that tomorrow is right around the corner in the form of a 2010 plan. And when looking ahead, the only thing certain is that historical norms are no longer a reasonable guide. So the best are anticipating the key questions for the 2010 plan, and working on getting some answers now. They're committed to leading the process, not getting dragged behind it.

Finally, the best push their marketing business case competency further, faster. The marketing skeptics and cynics have more political clout now. Untested assumptions, like ostriches, will not fly. Better business case discipline is the new currency of credibility.

We all have basically the same tools at our disposal to do more with less. The "best" seem to be able to apply their imagination most effectively in the use of those tools. I'm the world's biggest proponent of the importance of creative inspiration and instinct, but the lesson here, I think, is to start the conversation these days with "What do we mean by 'effective'?"

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6 comments about "Better Ways To Do More With Less".
  1. Eric Weaver from Brand Dialogue , February 24, 2009 at 3:42 p.m.

    Pat, GREAT POST. Really insightful and spot-on from what I've seen. Two comments:

    First, a key success factor would not only be marketers' imagination to use these tools, but management team's imagination as well. That's where I see innovative ideas shot down out of risk aversion. Management teams MUST trust and support their marketers in how they approach the market in a downturn without second-guessing everything or letting fear shut down innovating thinking.

    So, CEOs and CFOs: let your marketers do their thang! Ask for a plan and hold them to it, but don't micromanage or knee-jerk in the meantime.

    Secondly, sometimes the right consultant is EXACTLY the solution needed to move the needle. Whether it be an objective (hopefully) third-party voice in the mix, or through previous successes with other clients, a consultant can be a less-risky way (read: no long-term commitment) to have an impact.

    - Eric Weaver

  2. Tom Cotton from Progatonist LLC , February 24, 2009 at 4:10 p.m.

    Great piece...I'd like to comment on two of your last points:

    Point #1:

    "Untested assumptions, like ostriches, will not fly. Better business case discipline is the new currency of credibility."

    >>> What's missing in most business cases (and the testing protocols behind them) is fully-integrated, quantitative rigor and insights across targeting, messaging and media planning. Without this linkage across WHO to target, WHAT to say, and WHERE to say it, marketing ROI projections in lieu of in-market results can be shaky. Yet a troubled, risk-averse environment often aborts in-market learning, leaving marketing planners "back to zero": with granular data and theoretical ROI leaps of faith, often based on outdated media stimulus assumptions...the analytical "chicken and egg" conundrum, as it were...
    And to your ostrich analog, it's doubly appropriate: it's not just that "untested assumptions" won't fly...it's that flying without them is the equivalent of sticking your head in the sand...

    Point #2:

    "We all have basically the same tools at our disposal to do more with less. The 'best' seem to be able to apply their imagination most effectively in the use of those tools."

    >>> Agree, and fair warning, here's the shameless self promotion: We have a battle-tested methodology that integrates state-of-the-art segmentation, message testing and media planning tools, up and running in the U.S. and Europe, called ExactCast. It delivers the who, what and where answers with full quantitative certainty. Take a peek at www.beaprotagonist.com ...

    Tom Cotton
    tcotton@beaprotagonist.com

  3. David Slatter from Claymore Marketing llc , February 24, 2009 at 7:09 p.m.

    Great post- I agree with the whole argument regarding measurement being a pre-requisite to making smart decisions about where to cut into the marketing budget. Unfortunately when times were good many companies ran so hard that they did not take the time to do the necessary measurement and evaluation, and now they just don’t have the facts to manage with.

    I would also like to offer a counter perspective to “doing more with less” and that is “doing less with less”. It actually amounts to the same thing where the ‘doing less’ is to only focus on the right things, and the ‘with less’ acknowledges that marketing staff/resources have been slashed during all the cuts. I believe this alternate proposition is more appealing to the CFO because it actually sounds like we going to do fewer things (hence live within the reduced budget), and also lets the remaining marketing staff know that they are not expected to do all the work of their former colleagues.

    I definitely would not use this alternate phrasing in any external communication, but it could be the boost that marketing staffs need in these challenging times.

    David Slatter david@claymoremarketing.com
    twitter @dslatter

  4. Pat Lapointe from Growth Calculus , February 25, 2009 at 7:57 a.m.

    Thanks for the feedback gentlemen.

    David, I love the idea of managing expectations with "doing less with less". It's exactly how marketers need to think about mitigating risk through focus and prioritization.

    Eric, I agree with you in spirit, but marketers have to earn the right of freedom to "do their thang". It's trust earned through open and transparent collaboration, and a willingness to say "I don't know, but will find out...".

    - Pat.

  5. David Weinand from Edgell Communications , February 27, 2009 at 4:30 p.m.

    Great Post - I'd actually like to send this post to my client base of technology vendors. Would you mind assuming I give proper attribution?

  6. Pat Lapointe from Growth Calculus , February 27, 2009 at 6:22 p.m.

    Feel free to re-post or resend. Thanks for the attribution.