Are You Getting the Most Bang for Your Marketing Buck?


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Hardly a day goes by without half a dozen articles about responding to the recession landing on my desk. A few contain pearls of wisdom but sadly, most are largely motherhood and apple pie. And the further you get from the C-suite audience, the less useful the advice seems to get. And that includes advice on marketing your way out of a recession.

Perhaps the best way to think about marketing your way out of the recession is to look at the old 40:30:20:10 rule widely used in direct to customer marketing. It provides a simple framework with which to think about how you should be spending your limited marketing resources so that they reach the largest number of potential buyers. And let’s not forget, the purpose of marketing is not to build a brand (customers do that), nor to win marketing awards (agencies do that for themselves), nor just to spend your marketing budget (you now who you are!); the purpose of marketing is to create a hot lead.

  1. 40% of success is down to Targeting – That’s right, the majority of success in marketing is knowing who your best customers are. That means the customers most likely to buy your products, services or experiences, most likely to spend lots of money and most likely to stay with you for the duration. It is your job as a marketer to find out who these customers are, to identify what products they are likely to buy from you and to organise all aspects of their consumption chain so that the product creates real value for the customer.
  2. 30% to Timing – Once you know who your best customers are, the next most important thing is knowing when to talk to them. And I mean to, not at. There is a big difference. You can only do this by really understanding your customers, their needs over the end-to-end consumption process (the jobs they are trying to do and the outcomes they want to achieve from doing them) and how they need help in fulfilling them. Some of this you can do with predictive models, some by knowing key events, but the best way to do this is to be really great at responding to their needs when they raise their hands to ask for help. This is why real-time marketing is becoming so important today. And why you need to make your marketing process lean so that the response flows almost automatically.
  3. 20% to the Offer – Once you know who your best customers are and when to talk to them, the next most important thing is knowing what to talk to them about. In other words, the offer, or value proposition to give its modern incarnation. This also requires that you know what customers’ need. But it also requires that you know what you can realistically deliver to them over the consumption chain. There is absolutely no point in talking to customers if you can’t deliver what you promise. Not that that stops 80% of marketers from doing exactly that! And 80% of customers from being disappointed when the brand doesn’t deliver the goods. Don’t forget that customers do most of the marketing for the best brands. And for the worst ones too. Go ask Chrysler!
  4. The remaining 10% to Creative – That leaves only 10% for all that expensive, glossy, colourful creative. Now don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against great creative, just against creative for creative sakes. And it isn’t as important as those marketing agencies who make the bulk of their living from doing it make out. I learnt this the hard way when I ran CRM for an automotive bank. Bank marketing communications were glossy brochures that talked about the automotive brand and were full of pictures of young families (despite the average car buyers age being 55 plus). They were mostly fir for the recycling bin. But dealer marketing communications were generally one page letters thanking customers for their business, recognising the vehicles they were financing and making them a customised offer for something appropriate. And they were very successful. You can imagine how quickly bank marketing communications changed once I discovered that! And nobody complained about the changes once we started getting a 30% plus response rate.

This is all a bit tongue in cheek. Marketing is much more than just direct to customer communications. But that doesn’t stop you applying the same four rules to other marketing communications. Whether above the line advertising, online websites, or even social marketing. It just takes what Ted Levitt called a bit of Marketing Imagination. Oh, and a first class understanding of customers’ needs too. And last but not least, don’t forget that the purpose of marketing is to create a hot lead.

What do you think? Is marketing too complex for simple rules? Or can you market your way out of the recession by talking to the right customers, at the right time, about the right product?

Post a response, reblog, blog elsewhere or tweet about this post to get the conversation going.

Graham Hill
Customer-driven Innovator
Follow me on Twitter

Interested in Customer Driven Innovation? Join the Customer Driven Innovation groups on LinkedIn or Facebook to learn more.

Graham Hill (Dr G)
Business Troubleshooter | Questioning | Thoughtful | Industrious | Opinions my own | Connect with me on LinkedIn


  1. I like the article, but I still think the #1 sales point is to listen well to what the customer is saying. While many of the customers may not tell you the whole truth, most will tell you enough that you can figure out the rest.

    Many of the customers in your target group are current or recent customers (duh!). Many marketers lose sight of this trying to attract new ones. When you talk to the target market, make sure you are listening. As you say Graham, it is not about what you say to them, but it is more about what you hear.

    Recently a customer of mine indicated that despite their interest in my services, they had no budget and all of their expenses were being cut: travel, training, headcount, etc. I asked what they planned for their training budget. The customer had not thought about that. I was engaged to do the much needed project as a training exercise for the customer service employees who would benefit the most from getting to know their customers better.

    I agree that marketing can play a huge role in working through a recession. In fact, a recent study by Dr. Gellis of USC of all the recessions since 1900 shows that the companies and brands that do the best during and after a recession invest in marketing and advertising during the recession. The beneficial effects last for years afterwards. They not only increase sales, revenue and profits beyond their investments, but they recuperate much faster than their counterparts who cut their budgets.

    Ultimately it is about content and you develop that by listening well and acting upon your customers’ pains.

  2. Hi Chris

    Thanks for your comment. It is much appreciated.

    I agree with you completely that you must listen to your customers. In fact, I think you should go much further than that and observe them, live with them and do whatever it takes to understand what they are trying to do, what they are trying to achieve and how they co-opt your company’s products to do this. Or your competitor’s products. This focus on customer jobs, desired outcomes and the products they hire to help them is the closest way we currently have to understand value from the customer’s perspective. We have to look beyond the simple Voice of the Customer at all the signals they are giving us.

    Once we know what customers value, we can organise to deliver it profitably. And measure. monitor and manage value delivery. This requires that marketing become much more than the department that prints brochures. It has to become the orchestrator of value delivery across the whole organisation. But doing this starts with understanding what customers really need. A lesson that many if not most marketers are reluctant to embrace.

    Graham Hill
    Customer-driven Innovator
    Follow me on Twitter

    Interested in Customer Driven Innovation? Join the Customer Driven Innovation groups on LinkedIn or Facebook to learn more.

  3. Graham: agreed that if you’ve got targeting and timing down, you’re 70% of the way toward getting a qualified lead. The symptoms of not doing this surface frequently in two ways:

    1. The sales team must discount consistently, and

    2. Sales cycles are trending longer.

    Clearly, when leads are targeted close to the “value bullseye,” prospects are more likely motivated to purchase, and purchase prices will yield desired margins.

    While targeting can be complex, timing can be even more so–and the subject generates controversy. Is it better to “cultivate a relationship” with a prospect in advance of any overt need, or is it better to wait for a cataclysmic event so that sales resources can be concentrated at the optimal moment when a customer is deemed most likely to buy?

    The answer depends on a company’s competitive environment, and the resources available for engaging in a sales process. Few companies have the luxury of not needing to carefully parse resources.

    While specific events do motivate purchase decisions every day (One that happened in my favor: “My prospect just had to recall several thousand tons of product, and they must buy my product to fix the cause of the problem.”), others are made through the convergence of two or more forces. So looking for specific events alone risks missing other opportunities. (e.g. new grass-roots efforts for regulation in industry X, and a developing technology that could significantly impact customer demand in two years.)

    One buzzword people use for optimizing timing is “situational awareness.” Porter’s Five Forces provides as good a model as any that I’ve seen.

  4. Graham,

    I am surprised by how many marketing departments/personnel don’t actively measure results. As you point out, one way to measure success is by how many leads were generated.

    A brief supplement to your comment that “…the purpose of marketing is to create a hot lead.”, I would add that as long as the campaign provides a return on the investment, it probably makes sense.

    One additional way of measuring success is by deals actually closed, and the revenue associated with them.

    One campaign might cost $1,000 and generate 100 responses with one 1 deal closed for $10,000. In this situation, the campaign provided a 10x return, even though the closing ratio was only 1%.

    Another campaign might cost $5,000 and generate 6 responses with 2 deals closed for $20,000 each. In this situation, the campaign provided an 8x ROI, though the closing ratio was 33%.

    As you evaluate and measure your marketing spend, ultimate success should be measured by the revenue that the campaign brought in.

    Your article provides a great framework for how to tactically achieve these types of returns and results.

    Best regards,



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