Banner - 3 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Spending Any Money on Marketing

We’ve got 3 questions for you to ask, to help uncover whether a marketing opportunity, or in fact any market spend, will serve up success or big fat nothing burgers.

Whether you’re a business owner, a marketing manager, or you’re the jack of all trades that has found yourself with the responsibility of driving awareness and demand for your products/services/charity, you have the task of choosing where to allocate the scarce resource that is your marketing budget. But how do you know if that shiny silver bullet, once-in-a-lifetime marketing opportunity that has just been offered to you stacks up with the one you were offered last week?

If you’re like me, you probably have an inbox full of world’s best deals and a desk draw full of business cards from account managers who will kindly offer advice about how to spend your marketing money for you.  Choosing where to invest is a tough process to navigate, you’re spoilt for choice– and like all facets of business there are potentially livelihoods dependent on your decision making. 

You can make others responsible for spending that money, but ultimately, you’re accountable for how that money is spent in context of its effect on your organisation. Often, you’ll need to report on or explain your past and current decision making to other stakeholders.

Here is a quick decision-making tool, involving just 3 questions that I came up with as a marketing manager to help myself and my team plan and justify the allocation of marketing dollars, before you hand them over– whether it be $50 or $5 million.

1. What is the win?

Knowing why you are doing something is the first step to avoid failure.

The first question to ask; what is the expected benefit of investing in this marketing opportunity? Why is the ad/campaign, billboard or the hire of a 15-piece marching band being purchased? Sounds simple enough, and you may even think that I’m telling you to suck eggs, but you’d be amazed how often this question is failed to be answered correctly. Whether it is buying pull-up banners or Facebook ads, here’s why it matters- if you can’t connect the reason for spending the money to a positive impact on your business, not only can’t you be sure it’s providing you value, but it might stop you from taking up a future opportunity that will catapult your brand.

At the extreme end, not answering this first question properly could be catastrophic. Importantly you need to make sure the answer points to a bottom-line impact. So, double-check your response goes far enough; if your answer to this question is website traffic, I’d suggest it doesn’t. Calls or contacts are better, sales and signups are better yet. You need to be able to connect the dots, if the answer doesn’t directly point to supporting or solving a business goal or objective, you’ve either not gone far enough with the appropriate answer, or you’ve found a red flag. Remember finding red flags isn’t bad, you’ve just saved your money. If not – it’s time to ask question 2.

Pro tip 1

Outside of answering the question of whether you should invest marketing dollars, we know in the real world, rarely are you the only one who either works on a marketing project from end to end. Other stakeholders come in at different stages (Michael from accounts, might come back from annual leave) and others you might not even meet face-to-face! By clearly naming up what the aim of the exercise is, you can make sure that everyone is at least aligned on the purpose. It’s amazing how many projects fail because an important cog in the wheel, does not know why they’re spinning in the first place. So, write the win/objective on a whiteboard, send out a memo, put a post-it note on the cookie jar, and you’ll make sure you’ve eliminated a common risk to winning- not knowing what the win is.

2. How do I measure it?

How can you know if your chosen marketing activity is working?

Another way to ask this is – how do I know if the tv ad campaign, or letterbox drop is winning? You’ve defined what winning is but how do you know that the money you’re about to spend will get you there?

The difference between a standard metric and a key performance indicator is that the latter points to directly to the success of a juicy business goal or objective.  All marketing investment can be measured, some are just more easily calculated than others. Sometimes there may be a simple formula or a single data source to help you measure campaign performance, such as a metric inside google analytics or the quantity of RSVPs received, but other measurements maybe harder to calculate and you may need to work with a sales or finance team to help get an answer this question.

Ask yourself – is this success metric you’ve come up with a true measure of the win answered in question 1? If not, you could be throwing good money after bad and you’d never know- which could open up yourself and your company to exposure.

Marketing campaign failure is never desirable, but you at least want to be able to identify if a campaign or marketing spend is failing. If you’re going to fail, better to fail quickly and move on.

An inadequate answer to the measurement question maybe another red flag signally a no-go to spending, or you could find yourself in a position to ask the final decision-making question.

Pro tip 2

The burden of finding the formula to measuring campaign success does not have to fall to you. If someone is making you an offer, make it their responsibility to prove how you’ll know it’s working and have the courage reject a proposed measure if it doesn’t stack up. You can always ask for an independent second opinion to help verify a proposed formula to calculating and measuring success.

3. What’s the next best alternative?

Can you get better bang for your buck somewhere else?

Or putting it another way – should you shop elsewhere? I can still hear the voice of my college economics teacher ring in my ear “opportunity cost is the cost of an opportunity forgone”. You can’t spend a marketing dollar twice. If there is better value elsewhere, you should take it.

The process to answering this final question is simply to identify the marketing alternatives, repeat question 1+2 and investigate if the win is likely to be bigger. The answer to question 1 in a comparable opportunity should be the same, otherwise it is not a true alternative spend, however the formula to measure the win may be calculated differently. Look to case studies, self-research, and testimonials to see if you can model expected return on investment, and therefore be able to conclude whether one offer is worth taking over another.

Bonus tip

Finding it hard to identify a next best alternative? One question I always ask when assessing any opportunity, is to ask the person offering it, what they would consider the next best alternative, or who are their competitors? If they can’t tell you, you can’t take them seriously, but when they do, this will give you the opportunity to hear why they think they offer the better option. If you ask this same question of their competitors too, it will be a great way to verify your answer to the third question in our trilogy.

So there you have it – three quick questions to ask yourself before making the plunge on any marketing investment. Hopefully by using this this tool, you can help move your marketing decision making from gut-feel to marketing glory.

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3 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Spending Any Money on Marketing

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