Frugal Marketing - It’s Not Just For Startups!

Even large organisations can market better with lesser cash resources. It requires a coordinated effort from the team and a willingness to invest time 



I have had the pleasure of hearing former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam speak at a couple of forums. And I really liked his ‘pledge of affirmation’ to ensure everyone was on the same wavelength. I think it can work well in a magazine too – where we are, literally, on the same page!

So, please lift your right hand and say after me: 

Every company needs marketing, no matter how big or how small.

No product sells itself. Not even the really good ones.

The right time to engage in marketing is now. Preferably when your company is healthy. Not when you are fighting for survival. But it is never too late.

When I don’t have money, I can invest time instead, but I will never ever stop investing in marketing.

There. Feels good to say it out loud, right?  (And I’m now sure that only those really interested are continuing to read.) So, let’s talk about why I believe every company needs marketing.

Sales vs. marketing

Sales are about push. You need feet-on-street to peddle your product or ads screaming the virtues of your service. A lot of time is wasted in reaching out to people who are not interested in your offering. Or in explaining what it is because they have never heard of it or your organisation for that matter.  We all know that the process of sales is time consuming and mostly performed by a relatively expensive resource. It is also a skill which is difficult to scale. A good salesperson can sell up to double what a bad one does, despite all attempts at training and standardisation of the sales process.

Marketing gives you a chance to flip the equation – to get customers to ask you to sell it to them. It’s about creating a pull for your brand. If you’ve been to a large laptop showroom, you’ll see that the most passive desk is the Apple one. They just wait for customers to come and ask them questions. They do not need to hustle – their brand has already done most of the work for them.

Marketing gives you a chance to flip the equation – to get customers to ask you to sell it to them. It’s about creating a pull for your brand. If you’ve been to a large laptop showroom, you’ll see that the most passive desk is the Apple one. They just wait for customers to come and ask them questions.

Good marketing ensures that the prospect is half-sold by the time the sales process starts. Marketing creates an entry barrier for other weaker brands, allows you to charge a price premium, and reduces the cost of sales.

What is your brand?

Whether you are a startup on a shoestring or a big marketer with moolah, if you don’t know why people buy from you, your programme will fall flat. To ensure the whole organisation is aligned, you need to have everyone have the same answers to these three questions: (i) Who am I? (ii) Why buy me? (iii) Why not buy someone else?

If you have existing customers, it’s a fun exercise to do with them. Rarely have I found that management’s reasons to buy are the same as the customers. For example, an organisation that sold on price discovered that their clients buy because of their quality. Oh, the opportunities for better pricing.

Elements of a marketing plan

Marketing works best when it is done in a holistic manner. Each element of marketing feeds of the other, so doing only some elements is trying to drive a car on three wheels. Often, people do this saying that they don’t have money to put together a full-fledged plan. But you can substitute time for money in most cases. Besides, I’ve never heard a company say that they don’t have the time or money to organise their finances, and this is just as important.

  • Awareness
  • Media relations
  • Influencer relations
  • Customer mining
  • Thought leadership
  • Collateral
  • Prospect mining
  • Digital
  • Partner marketing

Depending on your objectives, the company’s life-stage and budget, the weightage provided to each of these elements will vary. You may also decide to start with the three that you are comfortable with and keep adding an element each year. Or you can do a tiny bit of each element and keep deepening it every year with success and growth.

Time vs. money

Throughout this article, I’ve said that time can be substituted for money and vice versa. So, if you are time-poor and cash-rich you can pay someone else to do the work for you, either in-house or outsourced. That someone may have the expertise or some scalable structure, which makes them better at it. If you’re on a tight budget with no money to pay someone else to do the work, then you’ll have to do it yourself.  Many try to avoid this saying that they don’t know marketing.  Possible but very few enter business knowing everything, so you’ll just have to figure it out.  Attend conferences (oh, by the way, we run some excellent sessions on marketing!), read a book (I wrote No Money Marketing which is published by Tata McGraw-Hill), download some templates or tap into your network.

All customers/prospects are not equal

People at different points of the buying cycle require different marketing inputs. It starts with awareness, then product specifications, then comparisons, credibility, use-cases, financials, testimonials etc. Different kinds of people may seek information differently too – eg. value buyers vs. status seekers. Hence, you’ll have to put together a programme that addresses the needs of all the common varieties of your audience.

Set your objectives and measure obsessively

Marketing often ends up being at the bottom of the budgeting gravy train because there is a myth that it is not measurable. Most of it is, though not instantaneously. Just as you don’t know whether a product will click till it is launched but still invest in it, you should put a plan for marketing which sets forth the investment and expected returns. And also a day by which you will pull the plug if an element or campaign doesn’t show value.

How much should you spend?

It all depends on what your market share is. There’s plenty of research to show that the benefits of being among the top three in any industry are huge. So, you should spend whatever it takes to be there. Once you’ve achieved this goal, you have the flexibility to ratchet it down a bit. The worst time to cut down on marketing is when your market share is declining. The best time is when you are making above-average margins.

How do I do this?

There are many qualified agencies who can execute the various marketing elements for you. But you cannot expect them to put together a holistic plan for your business. That should come either internally or from a marketing strategy expert, who can also guide you on the success metrics.

Thanks for taking the pledge of affirmation to support marketing in your organisation. I wish you all the best and hope you will build a powerhouse brand. And yes, you can put your hand down now.

Jessie Paul is the managing director and founder of Paul Writer, a marketing advisory firm that works with clients in the B2B services and technology space. Previously, she worked as the chief marketing officer of Wipro’s IT business and as a global brand manager at Infosys. In 2009, she penned ‘No Money Marketing’ that discusses marketing on a simple budget.

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