Marketing On A Budget: A-level Experiences On A C-level Budget

Screen-shot-2011-08-17-at-10.06.11-AMDoes this feel like your conventional marketing budget? Champagne taste on a beer budget is how a particular conundrum was described to me.

Everyone knows that budgets are tight and deals can be tough to find. But with some intentional thinking and willingness to buck convention, I’ve found some great ways to not just achieve some goals with limited resources, but deliver unique experiences that have lasting impact on business. Experiences are the things we remember, and creating them has far more intrinsic value than following the standard course of bombastic marketing.

I’ve been a part of doing this with limited edition promotional music products that paid for themselves, a riverboat cruise that cost less than a cookout, and establishing a venue for a convention that proved to be a social and business hub, all for less than an overpriced hotel suite where most other competitors were hosting media interviews. By questioning the conventional route, you can create amazing experiences as well as get far more from your money that your competitors. A couple of examples:

1) The Morton’s Dinner: several years ago, while at a record label, we were faced with the question of how to best engage influential radio programmers at an industry convention. Being a small, joint-venture with a major, we faced some basic challenges that our larger competitors (and partners) didn’t necessarily need to consider. The standard ploy was to produce a live performance showcase featuring our priority artists and wrestle with our competitors’ showcases to get the most programmers to attend. This was a long-standing tradition at this event, and one that was delivering less and less return each year. What’s more, the venues for showcases were often less than ideal (hotel ballrooms, local clubs with sub-standard PAs, etc.), and the margin for error was not insignificant.

steakBut over the years, the things that I’d heard from programmers, the things they remembered, were the times that they were able to connect individually or in small groups with the artists whose music they played. But scheduling individual meetings, particularly for newer artists, was a near impossibility. Schedules were too tight and the specter of awkward meet & greets loomed too large.

What we needed was a special environment that communicated the seriousness we had about our efforts for our artists, and that also allowed for an inviting setting where stories could be told, relationships established and experiences cemented in the minds of these important partners. So after much research, we decided that we would host two special dinners at Morton’s The Steakhouse, on consecutive nights, and invite our VIP programmers, our focus artists, and a special guest who was familiar to all of the attendees.

This strategy gave us two opportunities, during dinner hours, to attract the hardest-to-get people to a place where they knew they’d get a great meal, in an impressive environment, and get to spend relaxed time getting to know the artists whose music we were soliciting for airplay. It was a huge success. We were able to get far more people to this event than a showcase, as they knew that a dinner at Morton’s was a special meal, and a reservation means something; you don’t stiff a friend by not showing up for a reservation like that. Our artists got to spend focused time with the programmers, which established some very meaningful relationships and airplay. And the kicker: it cost a third of what we might have spent on an awkward showcase, at a time when at least two or three other labels were also producing showcases.

By choosing a place like Morton’s, our VIPs knew we were serious, and when they committed to be there, they knew that their commitment meant something. And we actually had a chance to talk with them about our decision to not compete on the same terms as everyone else, which they appreciated.

2) The Strategic Partner Cruise: While working with a publishing and events company, we were approached by a company that produced themed cruises for specific audiences. In this case it was for fans of a specific musical genre. They believed that our audience would be a core segment of their audience, and asked about partnering to reach them. Budgets were tight, but they offered us a block of cabins on the ship in exchange for an opportunity to exhibit at our conferences and communicate with our audience.

imgresAt the time that they were approaching us, we were struggling internally to determine how we could better connect with some strategic partners that were important to us, and with whom we’d been investing more and more time to establish relationships, gain insight into how we could help one another, and generally improve how we all worked together. Most of our time was spent either on the phone or in 1-2 hour meetings when we could figure out how to meet at other conferences. But this cruise presented an interesting opportunity.

We ended up inviting a number of our top strategic partners to join a few people from the company on the cruise. This was a chance to have uninterrupted time with some of our most important partners, not just with our company, but with one another, which was something that was often discussed but never achieved. Each day we gathered for working time in the morning and afternoon, and we were able to eat together and recap our days in the evening. The rest of the time people met in small groups or one-on-one, and got to enjoy a relaxed environment that we could never replicate at conferences.

At the end of the cruise, every person present said that they’d gather together again at any time, and laughed that no cruise was needed (though it was nice). This also set us on a course of quarterly group calls, an annual gathering and a program of collaboration that we all knew was going to sharpen what we did, individually and together. What’s more, the entire experience cost a fraction of previous attempts to assemble the same group, and we had a partner in the cruise company that was happy to have reached a desirable audience while creating evangelists for their exceptionally well-produced event.

How have you been able to create experiences for clients, partners or even your internal staff, not by merely throwing money after it, but by re-adjusting your view of what the goal of an event is, and making sure that those goals are reached, and not merely fulfilling what you believe is expected of you?