Effectiveness is more critical than spends

Years ago when I was working with the doyens of advertising industry, Sir Maurice and Charles Saatchi, there was a favourite saying when clients were reluctant to pay the premium we charged: “When you pay peanuts, you get monkeys”. This is true for all types of advertising but more so among companies in the B2B industry that targets other businesses for their products and services.

B2B advertising, more often than not, resembles government and PSU advertising. Small budgets are allowed for professional photography, shoots and creative work, resulting in poor quality brochures and campaigns. To know what this means, take a random check on any trade publication or brochures for motors, abrasives or other industrial products. Dull photos of machinery or products, which must have been done by an amateur photographer or the factory manager, haphazard layout, long list of boring product details in engineer language, no attempt to make the prospect call the company, and no clue on brand building for the company. I guess these companies are trying to minimise their spending on making the ads and many companies make their ads and brochures in-house too.

As any expert on advertising will tell you, no good results will come by squeezing production budgets to an impossibly low level. The logic of thee folks to squeeze budget is this: “The main costs must be to reach out to our target customers and not in making the ad.” Unfortunately, the problem with the B2B marketers is that that they think more and more TQM and think that quality improvement programme requires driving costs down. Since ads have no direct linkage to productivity, these should be minimised, right?

How can this mindset be changed? Most businessmen don’t know a good advertisement expense from a bad one. They have no idea if Rs 85000 for an illustration that shows the inner workings of their product is worth the money. They do not know how spending Rs 25 lakh for a tradeshow promotion could be reasonable and proper. The only solution to this problem is hands-on experience. Once they have been to a tradeshow where their archrival is the talk of the event when their own stall is stale and old, will they appreciate the importance of spending right. To be effective with communicating with your audience in the volatile times we are in India today, requires a lot of thinking. You need to imagine yourself in your customers’ shoes and try to decide what appeals to them to be most effective. It is important to think about the customer’s buying process, and about getting your brand to the next phase of that process. Most experts go through hundreds of possible concepts to get a handful that might do the job. It is amusing to see some of these clients spending hours ideating creative thoughts. While it is good to brainstorm, the creative part is best left to the creative folks rather than the business folks. As a business head you must give your brief as to what are key to your customers. The communication angle is the job of others. If you start giving ideas on that it would colour their thinking and you may miss out on some golden ideas. A good idea will take a lot of time. One has to go through many bad ideas before zeroing in on the right one. You can’t cut corners on this process, and you have to use talented, experienced people who are capable of finding the right concepts from several rational thoughts.

Ask your creative team what they would like to spend. Do not think this is a bad idea. It is like this: You are planning to buy an apartment. The first question brokers ask is, “How much do you want to spend?” They don’t want to waste time showing all possible combinations of apartments across the city. Why show you a Rs 10 cr apartment when your budget is only Rs 1 cr? Advertising works the same way. Agencies deliver effective work when they know upfront what the client budgets are like. Normally the clients have no idea how much is necessary, and they are usually too embarrassed to admit it. They normally say something like, “we're open to your recommendation, we want great work” which doesn’t mean the sky’s the limit. It probably means “Be gentle, we’re new at this.” But it’s okay to say you don’t know, just don’t leave it there. Keep talking until you arrive at a target budget that is acceptable. And agencies should give some examples of similar work at other clients. Spending right on advertising and trade shows is one of the most important but difficult tasks. And the risk of spending too little is just as great as the risk of spending too much. But the idea is to be effective irrespective of your budgets.

(The author spearheads execution and innovation for clients @CustomerLab)