Go to War Against Wasted Marketing Spending

What Marines Can Teach CMOs About Success Under Fire

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Casey Jones
Casey Jones

As marketers, we jointly spend hundreds of billions of dollars communicating what we believe are critical messages to our target audiences. All of us, from entry-level brand managers to CMOs, know there is enormous waste in our industry. As Wanamaker famously said, "I know half my advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half." My strong suggestion, especially in an economy where every single marketing dollar must count, is to improve your aim.

Without looking closely at your marketing spending, I can already tell you that the waste starts because astonishingly little attention is paid to the development of messages that will persuade your key customers and audiences to change their perceptions of your brand or love your products. Like a mob of first-week recruits at Marine Corps boot camp, most day-to-day marketing troops are spraying ammo (your money) at their targets. The first thing I learned many years ago on a Marine Corps rifle range was the acronym BRASS: breathe, relax, aim, squeeze, shoot. My bet is, especially in times of panic, there is a lot of shooting going on and not enough aiming.

The persuasive power of any marketing-communications effort is directly proportional to three things: the quality of the messaging; the quality, reach and frequency of exposure to those messages; and the voltage the creative adds to the messaging. Great creative can have an exponential impact on your brand, but if the message is worthless, if your aim is off, all the creativity in the world is going to be off-target.

The battle against waste
I've spent an entire career at war with waste. Part of what attracted me to Dell was Michael Dell's obsession with optimization -- of everything. The first thing I learned there was that we had a truly insane number of agencies. The second thing I learned was that there was absolutely no playbook -- no standardized system for developing and determining the quality of the assignments we were giving those agency teams. I was not surprised, although you may be if you take a similar close look at your marketing processes.

Here's the first step: Survey your assignment or creative briefs. Find out exactly how many people in your company are responsible for briefing agencies and spending the marketing budget. Use a simple survey tool such as Survey Monkey to determine how many assignments that involve messaging are being done per quarter. At Dell, the number was in the thousands, against a budget of more than $1 billion annually.

Now the somewhat tricky part: Have every team member who is writing briefs send a copy of every finalized brief that went to an agency to one e-mail inbox. Take the time or have your most strategic team member take the time to audit 5% to 10% of those briefs.

What you'll find
What you will find will appall you. First, you will learn there is no standard approach for briefing the teams, internal or external, who create your marketing materials. Second, you will discover that the majority of the briefing documents focus on features rather than benefits and are poorly organized, poorly written, too long, overly complex and generally built from internally popular messages rather than key insights into what demonstrably persuades your customers or other key stakeholders. You will also find that a high percentage of the work done does not clearly communicate the key messages in even the best-intended brief.

Casey Jones is a proud veteran of both the United States Marine Corps and Dell, where he was VP-global marketing.

If you take the time to audit messaging briefs on a regular basis, your teams will get the message, and their aim will improve dramatically. Don't think you have time to focus on taking better aim in the middle of a market crisis? The question is: Can you afford not to?

Remember BRASS. Breathe: Set aside time every week to focus on what your brand is communicating. Relax: Remember that the brand will not fail if you pause for a moment to focus. It may fail, however, if you continue to waste marketing shots that are off-target. Aim: Make sure your messaging briefs are standardized and contain these essential elements:

  1. A clear definition of the target audience that is focused enough to establish common interests
  2. A clear statement of the audience's current mental and emotional perceptions of your brand, the context in which they will make purchase decisions, and the competitive set.
  3. A short statement of the "desired" perceptual state -- one that is reasonable given your budget. What do you want the audience to think and feel after you communicate with them?
  4. A clear list of the minimum points you must communicate in order to achieve your goal. If it doesn't persuade, don't say it!
Now put steady pressure on the trigger, squeeze and shoot. Bam! An on-target shot. Do it consistently, and pretty soon, your competitors will be waving white flags.

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