Brands With Small Budgets Should Not Buy Media


“Maybe brands with small budgets shouldn’t buy media.”

The words came out of the mouth of one of our Brand Manager clients, frustrated by the higher spend of his direct competitors. Given my experience in brands that spend $1MM-$30MM, the question I am asked the most is how to take a modest media budget (whether it be modest out of pocket or when compared to a brand’s competitors) to drive brand growth. Knowing before you even begin to write the media brief that you will be outshouted by the competition is not a fun place to start, but it’s also not a death sentence. Your media plan can still be effective in paid media.

The cost of being wrong is less than the cost of doing nothing.
— Seth Godin

I recommend three strategies to consider when faced with this challenge:

  1. Focus Your Media Plan

    Isolating specific geographies is often the best way to maximize limited dollars. Not only does it allow you to test a more robust mix of media channels that work together, it also allows you full creative expression. Taking national dreams and applying them regionally, you stand a significantly better chance of actually seeing the results of your spend. Resist the temptation to stretch a tiny budget nationally simply because your brand is sold nationally.

  2. Demand (real) measurement

    Whether measuring a simple lift in awareness/purchase intent or using third-party attribution and forecasting software, you must demand measurement. Media spends only measured by clickthrough rates and engagements will never grow. Ever. As Peter Drucker famously said, “What gets measured gets managed.” Your CEO will pat you on the back when you share “clickthrough rates exceeding benchmarks,” but hand you a blank check when you can show definitive ROI or a lift in core brand metrics.

  3. Go Inside Out

    We are not going against our own advice - we know that brand scale and growth come from broader targeting. But brand relevance and tighter consumer relationships come from precise targeting. Start from the inside and scale outwards, measuring which tribes and audiences are the most engaged when held to the same KPIs. (Just know that growing reach is the key to making your brand a nine (or ten) figure brand.)

Constructing the right media plan with limited spend requires more than these three ideas to yield an effective media strategy, but they are the right place to start. I also find that plans are best implemented when senior management aligns to clear measurement standards and commits to increased budgets when benchmarks are hit. Don’t treat getting a media budget as a victory, treat alignment on a stepped plan to grow that investment as a victory.

Too often, feeling intimidated becomes our excuse not to be awesome.
— Scott Stratton

In today’s marketplace, it’s all about growth. A limited paid media budget and measurable sales lift are not diametrically opposed to one another. Regardless of your budgets, it’s time to get working.