Wednesday, February 25, 2009

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” which 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’s 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 they cut, they do it strategically. Face it, most of us didn’t take Budget Cutting 101 in B-school. After eliminating travel and consultants and other easy stuff, bad decisions creep in under mounting political pressure. More about this in last week’s 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 today, the best don’t ignore the fact that tomorrow is right around the corner in the form of 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 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. Un-tested 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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