A bigger budget won’t make you a better marketer

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.

A see through piggy bank with money coins

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:

  • Changing perceptions about marketing within the business: by having clear communication, collaboration and agreement upfront with all stakeholders on the marketing strategy, goals and objectives – and what measures will be used to identify success – marketing then becomes an activity that’s done in partnership with the business, not in isolation to the business.
  • Accountability: by embracing ZBB we become accountable for our marketing investment choices and that accountability gives us what we need to demonstrate value within the business.
  • New ways of thinking: ZBB challenges us to become better marketers, who think as well as do, pushing the boundaries of what marketing can and should be, and educating ourselves on where we need to go next. Traditional marketing planning and budgeting too often is draining and frustrating, and allows too many of us to get away with mediocrity.
  • Focus: so that we stop doing those activities that ‘we’ve always done’ and are no longer making an impact; we have simply got to stop doing so much ‘stuff’ and start doing fewer, more meaningful, impactful activities – but do them better, deeper, wider and for far longer.

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.

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