Imagine this scenario for a moment, a grocer and a shopper discussing the necessary ingredients to bake a chocolate cake as seen in a popular magazine.
- Grocer: Here are all of the ingredients you need to make the chocolate cake that you’ve highlighted in this magazine. It should be a wonderful cake.
- Shopper: (pauses and looks through items) Well, yes, but I was hoping to spend less than this. Could you cut back some of the costs?
- Grocer: Sir, the recipe clearly asks for these ingredients in the quantities in your basket.
- Shopper: Yes, but I want to spend less. I don’t really need this much sugar. In fact, it’s unhealthy. (hands the grocer the sugar)
- Grocer: You do realize the cake will not taste sweet?
- Shopper: Look, I’m the customer. I’m always right. Now these eggs, they’re really quite pricey. Let’s leave those out.
- Grocer: Fine. (face palm) What else?
- Shopper: I can substitute water for this milk. That’ll cut costs. Oh, and I like the sound of this yeast making everything BIGGER, so let’s have double that with the savings from the milk.
- Grocer: All right, you’re the customer. What else can I do for you?
- Shopper: This cocoa is quite expensive. Could you substitute something, like this squeezable chocolate syrup?
- Grocer: Could you? Yes. I wouldn’t advise it. But you could make that choice.
- Shopper: Wonderful. I’m about at what I wanted to spend. Thanks so much.
A week passes. The shopper comes back into the store in a fit of rage, holding what appears to be a giant mushroom-like item.
- Shopper: LOOK AT MY CAKE! IT LOOKS NOTHING LIKE THE PICTURE! I WANT MY MONEY BACK!
- Grocer: What did you expect? You removed the sugar and eggs, replaced the milk with water, doubled the yeast, and substituted the baking cocoa for chocolate syrup. You’re lucky anything baked at all.
- Shopper: WELL I WANT MY MONEY BACK! CLEARLY YOUR GOODS ARE DEFECTIVE! THIS ISN’T THE CAKE I WAS PROMISED!
If this scenario happened to you or in front of you at the grocery store, chances are you’d be tempted to call the shopper a complete idiot, possibly to their face. You can’t expect to bake a cake according to a recipe, violate the recipe entirely, and still expect to get a cake at the end of the process. If you don’t follow the recipe, the cake is a lie. No grocer would even refund the shopper their money, and if the scene carried out more, they’d probably call security.
Yet astonishingly, corporate executives routinely undercut their marketing departments in scenarios exactly like this, then wonder why their marketing programs suffer and their staff churns more than a butter factory. They routinely prune down budgets on advertising, marketing, public relations, even sales, and behave as those the end result from a greatly diminished recipe should come out the same as using the proper ingredients at correctly funded levels.
Take this analogy with you the next time you’re defending your budget, your methods, or the agencies that you work with. It might make it easier for executive sponsors to understand, rather than endless spreadsheets of cost-benefit analyses!
If you don’t follow the recipe, the cake is a lie.
Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology
Keep in Touch
Want fresh perspective on communications trends & strategy? Sign up for the SHIFT/ahead newsletter.