Do's and Don'ts for Your Marketing Dollars
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Do’s and Don’ts for Your Marketing Dollars
29 December 2009

Save money

Guest blogger Robin Ferrier is communications manager for the Johns Hopkins University Montgomery County Campus and president of the Capital Communicators Group. She can be reached via LinkedIn.

The economy is down. Budgets are even tighter than normal. But you know you still have to spend something to market your company, right?. After all, what good is it having the “best” product or service if you don’t have customers to take advantage of it.

So with a tight budget, where should you — and where should you not — be putting your marketing dollars?

After more than 10 years in marketing and communications for publicly traded companies, non profits, and higher education institutions, here are my thoughts…

Where to spend, spend, spend:

  • Web presence: I strongly advise putting the bulk of your marketing dollars in creating a strong web presence. What do I mean by strong? I mean a web site that is populated with a lot of good content… from day one! I mean a web site that is interactive and updated on a regular basis. I mean a web site that is easy-to-read and easy to navigate. And I mean a web site that looks professional and trustworthy. The fact is, in this day and age, people expect you to be online. And web sites are how most people — reporters included — find out about companies, products, services, etc. So you have to be there, and you have to be there in the right way…and not in a cheap way.
  • [ side note ]: Make sure you think through your web presence before you start working on it. Should you have an e-newsletter? A blog? Message boards? What do your customer needs and want?
  • One or two good collateral pieces: Again, I can’t stress enough the importance of professional design, especially since this piece should be your only leave behind. And yes, you have to have something to leave behind…even if that something should direct people back to your professionally designed, content-rich web site. So splurge on hiring a graphic designer to put together a nice piece. It doesn’t have to be full color if you can’t afford it. A well-designed two-color piece can be just as impactful.
  • [ side note ]: Think carefully about how many copies of your collateral piece you actually print. I’ve fallen victim to the “bulk” discount trick…spending more money and ordering a higher quantity because it lowered the “per piece” cost, a deal I couldn’t pass up. And I ended up with multiple boxes of an out-of-date print piece a little over a year later…
  • Business cards: And not just your average, run-of-the-mill business cards. You’ve created a new company. You don’t have to be bound by corporate rules and long-standing traditions. You can be creative. Fresh. Unique. You may want to check out a fun presentation about business cards by AppSolve’s Steven Fisher from this year’s Grow Smart Business conference.

And don’t waste your $$$ on:

    • Media monitoring: Once you’re more established and have cash to spend, media monitoring may be worth the investment, but for now you can likely catch most of the media coverage about your company through free products like Google Alerts.
    • Media databases: Again once you’re more established, products like Vocus can be a helpful tool. But right now, when you’re just starting out, I’d encourage you to spend time instead of money when it comes to media research. Maybe you thought homework was something you left behind in high school, but I’m here to tell you it’s not. You can find the right reporters and bloggers to approach for media coverage just by visiting the web sites for major newspapers, magazines, trade publications, etc. Read what people are writing.

Get to know what reporters are covering. Then approach those reporters… with the right story!

  • Fancy print media kits (hint: they’re old school): Reporters would rather find your media kit materials on your website so they can cut and paste what they need. And so that the only space it takes up is the one line when they bookmark it in their web browser. Though I have no proof of this, I’m convinced that most — if not all — media kits go right to the “circular file” when you leave the building.

How about you and your business? What marketing do’s and don’t have been effective to pursue (or not)?

Image Save Money Save the World by Candor, Creative Commons.


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  1. Those are some great ideas, Robin. I just have two thoughts to add. First, think of the 80/20 rule when marketing in a tough economy. You'll spend 20% of your budget reaching the core 80% of your customers, and 80% trying to reach the 20% of your non-core customers – or trying to grow your business 20%. So, focus on your core, rather than trying to reach niche markets or small diverse market segments. In good times they may pad your profit margin, but in lean times your return on investment is probably going to be in the red. And second, I'm a firm believer in a call to action when advertising or marketing. Include a discount code in your online marketing, or a coupon/code in your print pieces. Do something that is an invitation or a push for your customers to spend their money with you.

    I think both of my thoughts, like yours, go back to the idea of focusing on the basics and trimming complexity. That's a lesson to be learned from this economy for our lives and our businesses – what are our basic strengths, our top priorities, and what can we do without? We'll come out with leaner and meaner budgets on the other side, and that should mean more profits at work and a nice economic cushion at home when the economy hits full stride!

  2. Robin, your advice is spot on, especially about websites. So many companies rush to put up a pretty home page and forget about building up the content. Both business-to-business and business-to-consumer companies need to recognize that customers are almost always going to go to the web before picking up the phone. If you can't hook a potential customer with your website, chances are you'll lose the opportunity before you even get started.

    Also, to Twags point below, segmentation is really important–especially with a limited marketing budget, it's also a tough exercise sometimes but totally worth it. If you can determine who your best targets are and focus your efforts on them you are much more likely to get a good return.

    Finally, don't forget about email marketing. It's a great way to reach people without the expense of printing and mailing a piece. That being said, content is still king. If you don't have a compelling message and some sort of offer–even if it's for more specific information–your efforts may be for naught. However, be careful to comply with email regulations around SPAM and opting in.

  3. Great advice Robin. An organization's website is no longer just a component of a marketing campaign. It's their “Information Hub” and all the spokes in the wheel lead back to it. So a strategy to push prospects to the website is key. It's a daunting thought, but I agree with HGAYNOR (below) that virtually 100% of any organization's prospective customers, future employees or potential partners will go to the website FIRST and make judgements. So I ask: when you take a look at your website, is it telling the story of your organization that you want told?

  4. Great post! If I could quibble (and I'm nothing if not a quibbler!), let me add one more item on the list: Spend some money, as an organization, learning how to sell.

    Marketers — and I've been guilty of this too — too often think the right communications strategies and tactics will carry the day. They're crucial, yes, but nothing really happens in business until a sale is made. And yet, we often rely on a sort of “he's good at talking to people — let's put him (or her) in sales!” approach to staffing this important function.

    Professional sales requires discipline and technique every bit as nuanced as professional marketing; the two should work hand in hand, with equal emphasis.

  5. These are great ideas – and so timely, too. Thanks, I'm passing on to my friends! Also,

    @jeanwhiddon – Completely agree: the concept of a web presence being more than just a static website could be a whole series of posts in itself. So many people don't fully understand that!

  6. These are all great points, Robin. You're right that a strong web presence should be first on the list of “To Do” items. The vast majority of consumers and decision-makers will use a website to either reinforce a decision to buy or to learn more about the decision. By having a website that is not only aesthetically pleasing but also easy to navigate and informative, marketers can increase the chances that the decision falls in their favor.

    A tactic that I would add to this list is utilizing a search marketing campaign that will drive visitors to the great website. The prices for AdWords, et. al. can be very affordable and a cap can be set to prevent overspending. In fact, in the first three quarters of this year, we used AdWords to drive patients to a healthcare provider's site and were able to track approx. $500,000 in revenue based on phone calls, appointments, etc. – all trackable data points when using these types of campaigns.

    Creating a good website is definitely the first step. Once you've accomplished that feat, figuring out how to drive traffic becomes the next item on the list.

  7. Robin, this is a great article. I am constantly surprised by companies who pay $100K a year for media monitoring services when Google,, and other services are completely free.

    The other, free service every marketing person should get comfortable with is Google Analytics. Analytics can tell you so much – what search terms key audiences use to find your page, what areas of the country most traffic comes in from, what landing page drives the most conversions/sales. This data can help craft messaging, help pick targeted markets and provide you measurement data to show you if it works or not.

    Great article. I am buzzing it up now!


  8. Well put about focusing on digital media materials instead of print. The added bonus of putting them online now is that it can also boost your search rankings. And by pushing pdfs to DocStoc, images to Flickr, ppts to SlideShare, videos to YouTube and so on, you are also enabling the media to share that content with others. Eliminates the need to attach something to email. And trust me, media do not want email attachments.

  9. For this matter, once I discussed with one of my friends, not only about the content you talked about, but also to how to improve and develop, but no results. So I am deeply moved by what you said today.

  10. Great advice, Robin. As a new business owner I absolutely accept that money needs to be spent on a quality web site and that there really is no substitute for hiring a professional designer, but when it comes to driving traffic to the site, do you still recommend hiring someone to do that for you, or is this something that one should attempt to take on themselves?

  11. twags, I think the “call to action” point is an essential one. It’s not enough to tell people what you do. You have to tell them what you want them to do. Also, the discount code is a good point, but I highly advocate using a different code for each piece. It will help you to identify which of your online or print marketing initiatives are working so you know what to do again and what activities need to be either discontinued or rethought.

    hgaynor, I’ve heard some people argue that you should get the website up first and worry about content later, but when you do that, it becomes too easy to push creating content to the backburner when faced with other company responsibilities.

    To the point you and twags made re: identifying your best targets, I learned the importance of targeting early in my career. For example, if you’re determined to do print advertising, most people want to immediately go for the big outlets – the glossy mass circulation magazines, New York Times, Washington Post, etc. But of all those readers, it may be that only a small portion actually cares about your product. Instead, you may be better served going to a smaller circulation publication – that, by the way, will likely cost significantly less – in which all the readers care about your product.

    re: email marketing, I’m a big fan of e-newsletters… if you have content that goes beyond just selling your services. (One communications-related e-newsletter I’m particularly fond of is Denise Graveline’s at don’t get caught communications.)

    jeanwhiddon: I love the last question you left us with. I think everyone should print that out and post it somewhere in their office and constantly reevaluate their website in the context of that question.

    gregwbrooks: Interesting point. It’s easy to forget the end goal – a sale – when we’re focused on whether we’re saying the right thing. And a sale is the sign of success in whatever you do. Too many people forget about the importance of understanding how a sale is made.

    andyaldridge: I have mixed feelings about search marketing campaigns. They’re cost effective in that you’re only paying when people actually click on – i.e., pay attention to – your ad, but I think too many people think these are the BIG ANSWER to all marketing campaigns. And some products just aren’t well suited to search marketing campaigns. So while I agree they can be good and cost effective, I also want to reinforce that you need to make sure your product or service makes sense for that outlet.

    serenae: Thanks for listing all the great free media monitoring services. Some of these were new to me. The Google Analytics is a great point as well. Your web site is only as good as the data you get out of it. So you need to constantly evaluate the data to ensure your web site is working up to its full potential.

    prblog: so do you advise people post their materials as PDF documents? (I’ve heard a lot of people argue against doing so.) Or embed the text and graphics into a web page itself?

  12. Tracey: I think it depends on whether you have a budget to hire someone. As I said in my response to andyaldridge's post, Google AdWords — and other paid search campaigns — are a great way to drive traffic. And you saw proof of that in andyaldridge's comment.

    It's definitely possible to learn how to run paid search campaigns, but you have to have the time to do the homework and figure them out.

    That said, if you have the money to hire someone to help with this, I'd say hire help. Because unless you're a marketer or someone who has immersed themselves in this arena, there are probably better uses of your time in terms of growing your business and making it successful.

    It really is a matter of what kind of budget you have.

  13. Since I called out web sites as being one of the most important aspects of a business's marketing campaign, thought I'd share a post by Shashi Bellamkonda: Top Web Design Trends For Small Business In 2010.


  14. Another interesting read… Why DIY PR is a mistake.

    Here's the link:

  15. Another interesting read… Why DIY PR is a mistake.

    Here's the link:

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