We are all familiar with the Henry Ford quote that “stopping advertising to save money is like stopping your watch to save time.” But, in the face of huge uncertainty, cut-backs and cautiousness, business leaders – both within our own organisations, and that of our clients – still need some convincing that there are smart ways to approach marketing. Ways that will avoid their fear of doing the wrong thing, and our fear of doing nothing at all.

Marketing is a fundamental engine of growth. Inaction – even for a short time – will ultimately cost the business and brand more than it saves them, and as both leaders of brands and marketing experts, it’s our responsibility to work within the spheres we influence to shift attitudes from fear of the future to a belief that ‘done is better than perfect’.

The way to do that isn’t rallying rhetoric, but about acknowledging those concerns and working within them to find approaches that straddle the divide between “grow” and “protect”. 

We know that going quiet is bad for business. A study by Ehrnberg-Bass found that in the case of businesses that paused their marketing spend for just one year, the vast majority saw declines in sales for both that year, and the three that followed. And that the speed at which those sales declined was faster for small and medium-sized brands than big ones. 

So how can we minimise the perceived risk of action to encourage clients, reluctant CEOs, boards (delete as appropriate) to spend on marketing?

The answer is two-fold. On the one hand we need to bring to life the risk of doing nothing. We need to show the action of competitors – their spend, their ads, their re-brands. Show that whilst we may be taking a protectionist approach, a watching and waiting position, our competitors are capitalising on our silence. They are grabbing the share of voice and share of mind we’ve left on the table. 

And then crucially, we can make the risk of doing something – anything – feel smaller. This is all about scalability; the ability to start with something small, and to put something out into the world, see whether it works, and when it does, to scale that up. Let’s call it the “do, learn, scale” model. 

Establish some effective ways to ‘do’ small

  • Try selecting a smaller audience. Cherry picking an audience that’s either easier or cheaper to access, shows higher propensity to act (buy, click etc), or seems like the greatest flight risk/has highest brand promiscuity, can be a powerful way to minimise spend and maximise impact.
  • Opt for a smaller set of channels, cheaper channels, or just fewer channels.
  • Choose geographical testing – zoning out areas to launch, building the brand in those spaces, and demonstrating effectiveness in doing so. 

In short, finding smart inherently modular parts of the marketing and creative mix and starting small can convince an apprehensive client to take that initial step. 

Know what is and isn’t scalable

However, not everything is scalable. Trying to start small with other less ‘modular’ parts of the marketing and creative mix can be disastrous. These are areas where you want to maintain consistency from the step to the leap, the test to the launch. Consistency here will ensure that what you’re doing is indeed scaling, not just starting again and that any further investment is building on the initial steps you took. 

Shape and sharpen your brand proposition

A brand proposition should be consistently delivered, however big or small you go. Be crystal clear on what you stand for, what you stand against, and who you stand alongside, from the very first activity you run. You want your initial tests to establish your brand, and any later investment to build on this same narrative. To do anything else would be at best inefficient and at worst inauthentic. 

Brand assets are your superpower

We need to build equity in chosen brand assets, be they logo or tone of voice, from the earliest steps your marketing takes. And whilst smaller budgets, targeted audiences and fewer channels are all valid, modular ways to scale down your marketing, boldness, ambition and cut-through are not modular. It is either bold or timid. Cut-through or invisible. Seen or not. A scaled down plan, if anything, requires greater confidence than a highly invested one. 

In short, inaction can be riskier for the business than any action. But the key to convincing a cautious business of this isn’t brute force, or brand rhetoric, but scalability. Thinking how we can create smart, modular approaches to marketing that allow us to ‘do, learn, scale’ and show the true power of acting decisively when it comes to brand, creative and comms. 

Cover image source: nikitamaykov