Did you ever wonder why big companies have such boring marketing? I’ve heard lots of theories about this – they don’t like to take risks, they make decisions by committee and the good ideas get watered down or they do boring marketing because they have always done boring marketing. Having worked in a few big companies I can say I’ve seen all of the above but that isn’t the real reason.

Big companies have boring marketing because their budgets are too big to inspire them to be more creative.

More Isn’t Always More

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with having a big budget and you’d like yours right now thank you very much.  But my experience has been that I’ve done much, much better marketing with almost no budget than I have when I’ve had a massive budget.

Have you ever gotten a big bonus? You’ve seen this happen. For weeks you eat lunch at restaurants and get your coffee at Starbucks. You park in the expensive lot that’s close to work because it’s convenient and buy your friends beer on Friday night. And then slowly your bank balance dwindles down until you’re on your last 200 bucks and suddenly everything changes. You learn how to make a mean pasta salad! You convince your boss there should be free coffee in the office! You notice the two free parking spots on the side street you use for free if you show up at exactly 8:15AM! You discover the dive bar around the corner with the best happy hour in town! You’re getting creative and doing new things in a way your flush-with-cash-post-bonus self never dreamed of.

The Beauty of Constraints

What do we do when there are no constraints? The most easy, obvious, boring thing possible, that’s what. You do what everyone else does because it’s easy and you can afford it. This is a recipe for marketing failure.

I’ve had big marketing budgets and trust me, it’s really hard to motivate people to try new things and be really creative when there are tantalizingly easy options available to you like – hire an agency to do everything or do that thing our competitors are doing or just spend more on customer acquisition.

Taking the money away often takes away all of the really obvious options. And that’s exactly where the magic happens. So we can’t just spend more to acquire new customers. Now what? Well, we could figure out ways to engage them to send more business our way, we could figure out ways to sell more to the customers we have, we could figure out ways to improve our customer retention. There are always a thousand things you can do with a small budget.

Big budgets make us lazy. You’ll start hearing things like: But we have the budget to just keep doing ads, why should we mess with that? We don’t own customer retention. It’s too hard to get customers to refer us and we’ve never successfully done it before. Give a marketing group a budget that’s too big and you’ll here a chorus of lame excuses.

So here’s my advice. Embrace your puny marketing budget. Use it like a weapon against the bloated, ineffective, unremarkable marketing of your competitors. Trust me, they’ll never know what hit them.