You’re Going to Need a Bigger Budget

by Patricia Fitzgerald

As much as we wish they were, clients are not made of money. They have marketing budgets with limits, and we totally respect that. We also understand the desire to save money whenever and wherever possible. But when it comes to producing effective marketing materials, there are a few areas where it pays to, well, pay.

This week's post focuses on those marketing services that clients are often reluctant to spend money on, but which they probably should. The upfront investment you make in these key areas can end up saving costs in the long-run while improving the results you see from your marketing efforts. Let’s dive right in, shall we?

Nobody reads the copy. Right?

Not so fast. The quality and competence of your copy (the words in your marketing materials) do make a difference — a huge one, we might add. We’ve had plenty of clients tell us, “Oh, don’t worry, we’ll provide the copy.” Only to come back six months later without a single word written, or with questionable content written by their 17-year-old nephew who's an aspiring poet. Yeah, that happened.

Copywriting is just as important as the design (hence the name of our agency). You hire a professional for one; you should hire a professional for the other. A good, experienced copywriter will know how to nuance language for print and web, emails and direct mail. They’ll not only write about your product or service’s features, but how those features translate into value for your customers. They can craft a powerful headline as well as compelling calls to action. In short: they know how to write marketing.

Instead of reading like an English paper, a cliché-fest, or a spec sheet, professionally written copy will have a voice and personality. It’ll grab attention, sing, seduce and ultimately sell. People will read it simply for the fact that it will be readable — and enjoyable. And the best part of all: you won’t have to write it. Which means you can spend your time doing what you do best: running your company. So, please, we beg you, hire a copywriter. Let your nephew stick to poetry.

Just say no to stock photography.

Ah, the ol’ shaking-hands-across-a-boardroom-table photo. How many times have you see that one? Unless your business stock photos have Vince Vaughn in them, we recommend avoiding stock images whenever possible.

Yes, photographers can be expensive. But they also know what they’re doing. And they’ll shoot exactly the photos you need to capture your product or service, reflect your brand, and represent your customers. Plus, you’ll have unique images that you alone own — which means you’ll never see the same image used in your competitor’s brochures or on their websites. We know quite a few excellent and affordable photographers we’d be happy to recommend.

A legit logo.

Your logo is your company’s representative. It speaks for you when you’re not there. It’s on your business card, your letterhead, your brochures, your website, maybe even tattooed on your bicep. So make sure you’re hiring a good logo designer, and pay them what they’re worth.

Skimping on a logo can lead to some pretty horrible results. Even if your logo doesn’t turn out to be borderline pornographic, it can still look chintzy enough to reflect poorly on your company. An experienced, professional identity designer will understand how to capture and visually distill your company’s personality into a mark that works on all mediums, in full color as well as black and white. They’ll know how to design a logo that leaves a memorable impression on your customers’ frontal lobes. You instantly recognize most of these, right? There’s an art to creating a good logo. And it ain’t of the clip variety.

The woes of WordPress.

There’s been much discussion in the web-design world about how all websites are starting to look the same. That’s because a lot of them are built in WordPress, using one of its themed templates (which look remarkably like all their other themed templates).

Look, we get it. Hiring a web designer to create and build a custom website that’s entirely unique to you — that costs money. And for good reason. Template-based websites not only all look alike. They’re usually also very slow to load, and crammed with computer-generated code that’s indecipherable to humans. Need your template-based site to perform a specific function? That’ll take about ten third-party plug-ins, several aspirins, and one frustrated web guy ripping out what’s left of his hair.

We can’t stress enough the importance of investing in a custom website hand-coded specifically for your business, your audience, and your functionality needs. One that uses clean, human-generated code, has fast load times, and won’t break your customers’ web browsers. Check out our recent blog post to read more about that.

Printers who know their pre-press.

I can’t tell you how many times we’ve seen beautifully designed brochures completely mangled by super-cheap and super-incompetent print shops. Colors are off, pages get printed in the wrong order or to the wrong size, logos and text bleed off the edge, quantities fall short or over — we’ve witnessed it all.

Most small print shops can handle small jobs just fine. But when it comes to your more important pieces — your brochures, catalogs, annual reports, multi-panel self-mailers, and anything with a specialty paper, coating or diecut — you’re much safer going with a more experienced (and more expensive) printer who knows what they’re doing. You may have to pay more for the job, but at least you won’t have to pay to have your piece re-printed.

The best way to find a quality printer is to ask your creative firm or art director who they like to work with. Chances are, they have one or two printers they prefer to use, based on previous experience. Trust them to hook you up with a trust-worthy professional.

Survey says…

Many small businesses don’t think they can afford to do research to learn more about their audience, competitors, and their own position in the market. But if you can set aside at least some budget for market research, we highly recommend it.

There are a number of resources out there that let you conduct some basic research on your own, including this government website. There are also free email and online services like SurveyMonkey that let you do some basic surveying of current and potential customers to gather valuable feedback.

The best way to get more bang from your research efforts, however, is to hire a market research professional. These folks know where and how to find your ideal prospective customers (which can be a lot harder than you might think). They also know which questions to ask, and have the resources to conduct phone and online surveys as well as focus groups.

The information and insight you’ll capture through these efforts will prove invaluable — not only for developing your marketing strategy but for your overall business strategy. We’ll be sharing a case study on the value of market research and focus-group testing in a later post, so stay tuned.

Don’t sell yourself short.

So basically what we’re saying here is: in the quest to cut costs, don’t cut too many corners in your marketing efforts. The savings you realize will soon be overshadowed by the price of sloppy work, missed deadlines, off-mark messaging, and marketing materials that don’t generate results.

The good new is: you can still get quality, professional creative work without breaking the bank. If you’d like to find out how, drop us a line. Our talented, experienced, and surprisingly affordable copywriters, designers, logo specialists, photographers, printers and market researchers are standing by.

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