The Zero Budget

Feb 28, 2019 in Marketing
Posted By : Upendra Namburi


Are we really making our marketing money sweat?


‘Hi Hema. What happened? Why’re you looking so flustered?’

She sighed and then looked up at me, thinking to herself. ‘You’re the one that cut my marketing budget!’

‘Nothing. Will need to figure out how to make this work.’

‘These are tough times. Everyone is taking a cut Hema.’

‘Yes. We are making a habit of it?!’ she sipped her coffee, politely glaring at me.


I picked up my coffee and wondered if we should have been spending Rs.400 for those two cappuccinos?

There are two main problems in life. The plenty of too little and too much. We encounter the former more often than any of us would like.

I was touring Kerala as a brand manager for a fruit beverage, several years back, when I met a marketing manager with a leading beverages company. He was stressed! He didn’t know how to fully utilise his quarterly marketing budgets, and was making frantic calls to partners and vendors if they could quickly execute stuff, just about anything. Glowsigns, in shop promotions, displays. The works.

And, there I was, in awe of the crores that he had at his disposal. I, of course, was too embarrassed to tell him, that I was there trying to convert my allocated travel budget to a marketing promotion budget to pull off a retailer contest for a couple of thousand bucks. Life was indeed brutal. I was just emerging from a budget cut, but the sheer audacity and wastage of his spends puzzled me.

There was a clear divide between the haves and have nots. The budget cut was here to stay. It wasn’t going anywhere.

A couple of years later, Murphy emerged again. Joined a new assignment, to undertake a national brand launch. Within a couple of months, the budget was slashed, by over 80%. I hated reality.

A few sulking sessions later, with neither pity nor funds forthcoming, it was apparent that life moved on, as did the product launch. But what ensued, was an invaluable learning.

We had planned a mass media TV campaign, with outdoor and below the line promotions. The TVc was now relegated to a couple of states, giving us scant air cover. It was more to tell retailers that we were supporting it big time. You know. Buy cheap spots, high frequency. We really weren’t convinced that it was going to trigger sufficient consumer pull.

We barely had twenty lakhs left. I of course had the privilege of working with a determined manager. We set about executing a school sampling programme, wherein we managed to reach 2 million children across India in that sparse budget. Every paise spent was scrutinized, every activity examined to maximize impact. Each and every unit of the product was  reconciled, we couldn’t afford wastage. And, when the CEO enquired on the price of the free sticker which was being handed over to the children, the message was clear.

Make your money sweat.

That was a turning point for me in my career. Budget cuts wouldn’t upset me, and it’s not that we didn’t fight it. I had slowly begin to refine the concept of Zero Budget, and I still do

1.      Does your sales team enjoy selling the product?

Your product may appear on their sales targets. But there is a difference in having it as a target, believing in the product and enjoying selling it. There is an entire experience cycle from introducing the product, training them and then making it sell in the market.

Is the launch event just slides and booze? Was it memorable?

Was the training session fresh and different?

Was there a different experience with which they could introduce the product to the trade or customers?

What’re those edgy experiences being built in the selling cycle?


2.      Is your employee selling for you?

Let’s assume you’re working in a company with a thousand employees. How many of them engage with your brand in social media and their networks? How many of them share the message on their whatsapp networks?

On the assumption that even 10% of your employees engage effectively, you could potentially reach over 100,000 unique customers, provided of course there is memorable content for them to engage with. And, if you’ve got great content, you could keep adding zeros to the reach.

That’s expensive media money being saved. More importantly, quality reach!


3.      Is your customer selling for you?


Yes. How are you helping your customer selling for you? This is not a typo. And, this doesn’t end with inane referral programmes.

Is the product truly co created with your consumers? Think kickstarter?

Is the campaign developed along with the trade and consumers?

What’s the delight point for the consumer, when she consumes your product? What’s that memory asset being created in the experience curve?

Remember, the bell you strike when you finish a meal at Pizza Hut? Which is your bell?



4.      Are your agencies & partners selling for you?

Most of your partners and agencies would be working with several other organizations? They can connect you with other brands. What could be done quickly and for free. Let Barter rule!

A joint twitter campaign? Cross selling to each other’s employees? The list is endless

5.      Are you selling?

How many units are sold by the marketing team? Yes. Could be a crate of soft drink or a supercomputer. It’s all hands on deck folks. No departmental divides. No silos. Hit the field and sell.


‘Hi Hema. Let’s roll up our sleeves? And, let’s have nimbu paani next time?’


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