THE HIGH AND HIDDEN COSTS OF CHEAP MARKETING – refocus your choices!
“If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur.”
Paul Neal “Red” Adair (18th June, 1915 – 7th August, 2004) American oil well fire-fighter
From shoes and cosmetics, to wine and food, it might be attractive to go for the cheap option. However, going cheap is as attractive as risky. You might hurt your feet badly in the long terms with a pair of cheap shoes. You might have an allergic reaction with a cheap cosmetic. You might lose your favourite t-shirt after the first wash.
Nobody seems to speak about cheap marketing and communication solutions. Indeed, that these solutions are promoted as valuable and super effective. A cheap marketing move can be a silent beast that screws completely your investment. From big or small corporations to institutions and associations, cheap marketing and “DIY” (do-it-yourself) philosophies could be dangerous.
The question is this: in deciding the right communication agency for a project, is the price the main factor? The answer is “tendentially yes”. The major problem is the market, which is starting to be saturated, with increasingly similar services, promoted in the same way. All bespoken, all tailor made, all innovative, all creative, all award-winning specialists – in three words: all the same. This is even truer for communication, as a service industry, where it is not possible to assess the quality of the final product, as it does not exist yet. In services, it is all about convenience or value, and the value sometimes is really hard to spot! That is the reason why the price could really be the decisive factor at the end.
Quality, time and price – please chose two!
Luckily, price is not the only variable. Quality and time have a big role in the decision-making, also given that marketing and communications are always part of a broader strategy. In project management and design fields, there is the rule of “pick two between good, fast and cheap”. Contrarily to what the majority of people think, I believe that the good, fast and cheap is indeed possible in a very limited range of cases (love, family and charity causes). Otherwise, that is true: you really cannot have these three together! Here is a summary:
It is clear that choosing the cheap option has its own issues. But let’s go in-depth – let’s name the main 6 hidden costs!
1. Quality: lowering standards
Cheap campaigns and advertisements, cheap design and branding, cheap content and printing material – it is all coming down to lowering the quality standards. It could happen that a great idea can become not so great because of the quality of the colour choices or the paper/ink quality, or just because of a bad project management. It could be the case that an idea is not so good, and it is not going to be improved because of a lack of strategic thinking. This is how the cheap is working — it is inevitable that it lowers the standards in order go fast.
2. Creativity: the “already seen” beast
The worst part is that cheap marketing is lowering our standard of communication and modifying our concept of time. Lowering standards is one of the worst aspects of it. Creativity is not an “already-kind-of-thing”. It requires study, craziness, given genius, contextualization and originality. Going cheap could mean to chose an “already seen” design, “already launched” campaigns, “already used” brilliant ideas. It could really be only about you receiving a knockoff of a great marketing, and have it ready for you, fitting your business, within a few days. Most of the time, the “already seen” do not have an impact in terms of communications.
3. Time: it won’t last
If the design is only a design, the content for a leaflet is merely a content, or the tagline is only intended to be a tagline, it won’t last. If you are willing to pay a little bit more, you could really find well-developed design pieces, made for you, that are both attractive and made to last. The goal of an agency and of any other communication professionals should be also to help you invest in well-calibrated strategy, that fit your needs properly and will win the test of time. That is why money spent on high quality marketing and communications can be a better investment.
4. Effectiveness – say bye to your investment!
Given that marketing is just another piece of a broader business investments strategy, any mistakes can be expensive. Communications tool should help you maximizing returns on your investments, even when this return is about having more members or simply increase the awareness of a given topic. If you pay less today for a cheap and quick solution for your logo, this probably won’t last. You will be probably forced to re-invest on a new logo, and by that time, the damage is done. You missed out opportunities to generate brand awareness, new clients or members, revenues and time. These are other way of losing money too.
5. Partnership – the missed added value
There’s a bunch of things you are probably going to miss, when you go cheap. If you pay less, there is a reason for that, as well as there is a reason for paying more. Price alone is not the only indicator, but it could be a way of measuring the expected added value of a communication professional or an agency. You pay for much more than just a cute and well-wrapped design. You pay for reliability, accuracy, partnership, relationships. You pay for high innovation, strategic understanding, smart solutions creation, experience and the fact that people in the agency are taking the challenge with an energetic smile and ready to start working. Sometimes you pay for honesty, trust and support, and the fact the agency team is by your side as a partner rather than simply a service provider. Having a partner in the market nowadays is a rock-hard advantage. Then, yes, I agree, sometimes you pay for the name of the agency, and maybe you do not have all the support you deserve. But that’s life at the end.
6. Reputation – the worst end of the story
I really think that you can re-invest, change your strategy many times and reinvent your logo/brand identity whenever you want… but it will have an impact. If you use weak and cheap marketing, your customers or members will probably realise the fact that you are able to place your company name and messaging anywhere and on anything, not caring about the quality. If the quality of a design is poor or the quality of a communication advice is low, it will deliver a poor experience to your audience, resulting in a bad impression, and ultimately in a poor reputation.
There is a funny side of the story – insecurity
Everybody knows what going cheap really means. It is alluring, but scary at the same time, even more if your dream that is going to become reality, or if you fixed clear KPIs, or if a social-cause awareness is more than important than everything. When something really matter to us, we ask for the best. And here is where the funny story begins. Clients are not really keen to go cheap immediately, for a matter of reasons:
the designs seem to be all the same
the images developed are not very appealing
the quality of their printing is not very good
their customers or members deserve more
In other words, we all know, deeply inside, how inexpensive design, communication strategy or content development could end up in a weak investment. Of course, I don’t want to generalise. It could be that a cheap solution will work at the end. Here’s my last thoughts about it!
Fair prices & added value – it must be said that there is a difference between “cheap” and “fair”. There are some agencies and professionals that simply put fair prices and you can get a genuine agreement at the end. Investing in quality creates a long-term advantage. In evaluating the prices, it is always good to take into account what you can really get from a company, and see the price in the context. If you are asking for a logo, and you know that in the future you will also need branding guidelines, a website and a membership program, see also whether the agency or professional can offer you these additional services. In this way, you will be sure that it is going to be a partnership, rather than just a logo.
Go cheap! – As a marketer and a strategist, I also know that sometimes you just have to go cheap. It really depends from the cases: for instance, you can be in a weak financial situation, or the occasion itself, or even the brand, does not require high quality. There, you have to survive by being at the right place at the right time! In every business development process, it is important to cut costs every now and then. The most important thing is that you avoid compromising the entire job. There is no doubt that some cheap marketing can indeed work wonderfully for a company or an association. However, if you hire an agency rather than an amateurish, the agency will take care also of advising you about when, where and how you can go cheap or get advantages from economies of scales. That is a proper relationship, which can be beneficial in the long term. There is always a cheaper option, but it works only sometimes and only very good professionals will know it! The fact of having a strong relationship with your communication agency or professional is going to make the difference in the long term also in terms of inexpensive solutions.
I would say that price will always be a big variable for clients in a profits maximisation optic. However, nowadays the world is driven by added-value and competitive advantage. Investing in good communication competences, with the right professionals by your side can ensure you a better development process, innovation, creative and unique design and integrated strategic visions. I hope you will make loyal relationships be your future choice.
My best advice? Chose wisely, analysing and comparing the proposals, and meet the team to feel it – the spark of love!
Did you experience cheap? Did it work? Please share your opinions with us!
by Chiara Lamacchia