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Balance Marketing Spend Between Free and Fee

Balance Marketing Spend Between Free and Fee

The power and influence of advertising in paid media, including print ads, TV commercials, radio, and even online digital campaigns, is waning, in favor of free messages sourced and owned from your website, social media, key market influencers, and words from existing customers. Word of mouth But startups need to remember that even zero paid media doesn’t mean marketing is free.

The case for zero paid media as the new marketing model was highlighted a few years ago in the classic book, “Z.E.R.O.” by Joseph Jaffe and Maarten Albarda, both marketing experts who work with startups as well as larger firms. They advocate investing in their new frame, where the Z.E.R.O. Initials have the following meaning:

  1. Fans, disciples and influencers. New products and startups often require a culture change to drive acceptance, which can best be accelerated by fans or a visible lead disciple, like Steve Jobs. Other sources stronger than paid media today include key social media influencers such as “mom bloggers” and popular YouTube events.
  2. Earned media. This is media exposure from a neutral third party, such as an unpaid news story about your product or service to highlight innovations or social value. This exposure is highly credible, as you do not control the message, and extremely valuable, as it is not seen as part of any advertising context.
  3. Real customers. Real-time, real-time customer media content marketing is now common through sites like Yelp, Foursquare, and online reviews. This word-of-mouth media source is also highly credible and valuable as it comes from “peer” customers, rather than you as the source or any paid source.
  4. Own media. This includes your website, blog, and presence on social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, and many more. They typically provide the customer’s first impression of your offering, and shouldn’t be blatantly self-promotional, but rather informative, educational, and even entertaining.


As I mentioned, this framework is powerful, but none of these elements are free. In a blog post a while ago, I pointed out that neither of these justify a startup business plan with little or no budget for marketing. They all require planning, deliberate action, and quality content and event creation that will likely absorb all the savings from scaled-down paid media campaigns.

Regardless, reframing the conversation from paid media marketing to the new framework requires balancing and metrics along the way to better manage ROI. In the book, Jaffe introduces three new sets of metrics to measure progress:

  • Medium term metrics. It’s essentially a series of provisional forecasts not unlike the mile markers in a marathon race that advise whether it’s time to pick up the pace or slow down to smell the roses. Examples include counting members of an advocacy program, app downloads, repeat customers, or subscribers to an email list.
  • Long term sales. We often talk about short-term sales and long-term relationships in mutually exclusive terms. They are polar opposites in terms of their time frames, but how about building a bridge of engagement between them? While any short-term initiative is similar to a traditional campaign, the long-term sales effort is commitment.
  • Short term wins. Accountability is not optional, as it is still important to quickly have something to show for your efforts. Only this time, consider the big “W” (big win), the little “w” (small win), or in some cases even the little “l” (small loss), which represents fail fast or fail smart, pleasant ideas, lessons, learning or initial results.


I’m not suggesting that paid media channels should be seen as dead for young companies, as even gamechangers like Google, Facebook and Apple still rely on paid media to optimize their own efforts. And paid media isn’t sitting still, continually looking for ways to be more effective, using big data and other innovations to get more customer attention.

So while I see startups quickly jumping on the zero-pay bandwagon (for budget reasons), I recommend a balance. First, opt into that owned and earned media channel, using the same budget parameters you might have previously allocated for paid media. Later, you can reduce the pre

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We write books, which, considering where you’re reading this, makes perfect sense. We're best known for writing science fiction, political news, technology, entertainment, etc. We also writes non-fiction, on subjects ranging from personal finance to astronomy to film, was the Creative Consultant for the Stargate. We enjoys pie, as should all right-thinking people.

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