You Get What You Pay For, Even in Marketing

Jim Walton, CEO, Brand Acceleration, Inc.

When I was in high school, every teen boy dreamed of owning a 1967 Camaro SS, the really hot car of the era. Imagine 396 cubic inches under the hood, a Hurst four-on-the-floor speed shifter, and extra wide tires on Cragar mag wheels. It makes my heart race just thinking about it.

Flash back to reality! My first car was a 1959 Chevy Bel Air, painted John Deere green, with a brush, six oil-burning cylinders under the rusty hood, and no rear window. You see, that was all I could afford. I was a poor sixteen-year-old kid with a low-paying job at a hamburger joint. I think I paid $85 to a farmer who should have paid me to haul the car away.

Just like the proverbial “free puppy,” my car began eating up every precious cent I earned, leaving little for dates and other pastimes. Of course, I installed a rear window, then a couple of slightly used tires, and a box of oil, which I carried in the trunk.

That car was a life lesson. It taught me that had I just had a little patience and done a bit of saving and creative fundraising, I could have had a much better car. Okay, maybe not the Camaro, but a reliable car that would have served its primary purpose.  Over time, the true cost of ownership might have been about the same as “Ol Smokey.”

Similarly, the cost and quality of marketing can vary significantly. Since the early days of my career, which has always been in the marketing industry, I have admired people who placed emphasis on excellence rather than low price. Over those thirty plus years, I’ve witnessed great design, amazing writing, and outstanding audience-focused marketing communications, the culmination of which generated unheard of results.

I’m not advocating overspending on high priced services. I am suggesting that high quality marketing is a worthwhile investment that you will never regret.

So, how are you supposed to know what is a worthwhile investment and which should cause you concern? Here are a few tips to consider when selecting a marketing vendor:

  1. How much depth in the economic development industry does the company bring to the table? Hint: Just because they have produced beautiful work for an economic development organization doesn’t mean they are qualified. It just means they’ve sold their services to someone else.

True economic development marketing firms have a deep understanding of the needs, desires, and idiosyncrasies of prize audiences like site consultants, corporate executives, and real estate professionals. This knowledge could mean the difference between a powerful, results-driven marketing tool and a pig wearing bright red lipstick.

  1. How much of the work will you have to do? Are you going to have to direct the creative process, write the copy, and educate the marketing firm about the economic development industry? Really?

Here’s an example: professional website copywriters not only write beautiful prose that will romance human audiences, they are also experts at writing for search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing. Anything less may result in really poor search rankings that mean your website may never be seen. Is that really worth the savings?

  1. Don’t be blinded by beautiful design. We’ve all seen those movies where a guy or girl has stunning looks, but then he or she speaks and the sad reality comes out. Wow!

Marketing communications is no difference. A beautifully designed piece is important, but so is a solid strategy, excellent copywriting, and stellar execution. Pretty alone is not enough.

  1. During the interview process, ask the vendor what the number one most important website page is, and how that page, poorly managed, can kill deals. Also ask which page typically ranks very low in importance, except with millennials. I’m not going to give the answers here, we save that info for our clients. But if your proposed vendor can’t answer this questions, you should move on.

The point is that if a marketing firm offers a low price, there is usually a very good reason. Your website, videos, and other marketing tools are very important investments. There are always lower priced options out there that you may live to regret, just as I suffered the agony of “Ol Smokey.”

Excellence is almost always a better investment. After all, you’re asking companies to invest millions of dollars in your community. Aren’t they worth the investment?


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