28th March 2016
But zero-based budgeting just might.
Last month I was astounded to read an article titled ‘How to secure more budget for marketing’. It apparently came off the back of some research that found lack of marketing budget is the most significant barrier to success facing almost half of marketers. But I would argue that big budgets may be as much of a challenge as small ones. Because more doesn’t always equate to better; it’s not the size of our budgets that matter, it’s what we do with them.
Ever since Unilever announced in January that it was implementing a zero-based budgeting (ZBB) approach across their entire organisation – including marketing – marketers and the marketing media have been in a bit of an uproar. It’s unfortunate, really, that ZBB has traditionally been used as a cost-cutting measure, because it’s actually a powerful strategic tool that can help marketers think differently and challenge ingrained, ineffective approaches to the marketing planning and budgeting process.
ZBB is a strategic approach towards planning and budgeting that begins from square one – the zero – every time. What this means is that we need to forget about what we did last year and focus on what we need to achieve for the business this year. It starts with the strategy, not the plan. It starts with marketing talking to the business to get to grips with what they want and need to achieve, then develop a marketing plan that is accountable to the business. Only then do we look at what budget is necessary to support that.
ZBB forces us to plan and budget more effectively – and that’s not the same as cutting costs – so that we take a good hard look at what we do and why we’re doing it. ZBB is actually an empowering process for marketing and has so many advantages, but the real benefits for me are:
Even if our companies aren’t doing it, marketing can and should be embracing a zero-based budgeting approach. Because simply having a bigger budget won’t drive us to the kind of strategic thinking that will make us better marketers.
Heidi Taylor is an award-winning senior marketing strategist with 25 years' experience of helping organisations engage with their customers, creating impact and differentiation. She is a sought-after speaker at marketing conferences in the UK and internationally, and regularly contributes articles to marketing journals in print and online. You can follow her on Twitter @TaylorMadeInKew.