Sunday, November 29, 2009

Dubai - a Mid East Ponzi Scheme?

I recently spoke at a Marketing & Sales conference in Yemen. I flew Emirates Airline and had the opportunity to spend some time in Dubai. Emirates Airlines is truly one of the best flying experiences I have had in decades. Great service, great food, seat back entertainment. I was dreading the 15-16 hour flights but it turned out to be more bearable than I expected.

While I was sitting in the plane, I was thinking to myself that they were probably losing money and that the airlines was both good public relations for the UAE and a comfortable means to travel for the oil rich who didn't have their own private jets. When I arrived in the airport, it too was cavernous and far larger than I would have expected given the amount of people walking around. Again, a bit of over investment.

While I was touring around, I learned that Dubai Creek (seen behind me) was not really a creek in the sense that most of us know a body of water. It's not like Dubai has lots of rain and run off so it originally was not quite as expansive as it is today. Some smart thinking and foresight envisioned the Dubai that we see today and money was borrowed from Kuwait to turn the creek into a water feature with water taxies and waterfront development opportunity.
Dubai has been compared to Las Vegas (without the gambling) or Disneyland and it does offer an exciting alternative for vacationers from neighboring countries. The question I kept asking myself was if Dubai was actually sustainable. There is no reason for a city in a desert with summer time temperatures of 130 degrees to have any real competitive advantage over other cities which have longer histories although less spectacular real estate activity.
Over the past week, Dubai has been in the news due to their financial crises. Seems they have $100 Billion of debt for an economy with a $50 Billion GDP which is driven by construction and rising real estate values. Problem is, real estate values are not rising and it is hard to imagine how they can sustain long term viability with an economy which is driven by government expenditures. A noble experiment but how much can desert real estate really be worth over the long term? Will they really find enough industry to relocate there and enough people to buy residences to sustain the real estate development driven economy?
Do visit Dubai if you have a chance. If they can't pay the air conditioning bill, it's likely to become a ghost town in the desert.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

How to Establish a Marketing Budget

To the multitudes that are following my blog, please accept my apology for not posting more frequently. Being a small consulting firm, client priorities generally take priority and the good news is that I have been quite busy in recent months. I leave soon for an international trip and promise that I will make a post when I return and be more regular in the future.

A common question among business owners is how much should they be spending on marketing. The correct answer is…it depends. As many businesses are in the process of building plans and setting budgets for the coming year, this topic seems to come up more often. There are many factors that can be considered in establishing the right amount to spend on marketing and advertising. Here are a few items to consider:

Industry Norms. Most industries have a spending range that generally encompasses most of the companies in that industry. Understanding this range is an important first step. Previous experience, feedback from other firms in the industry or searches on the internet or trade publications are all good sources of this information.

According to a report in Ad Age, ad spending in the United States as a percent of GDP was 2.2%. That number is probably low for what most organizations spend as it is just advertising and marketing services (trade shows, research, consulting, design, production, staff, etc.) can often comprise 25-50% of the total spending.

Spending ratios are obviously influenced by the business model for the industry. High margin businesses like beverages and software can afford to spend a greater amount of their revenue on advertising than lower margin business like electronics or banking.

“Fixed” Program Some business will find that their business requires a “minimum” level of marketing expenditures to be competitive. For example, if a business finds that they need to attend a certain number of industry trade shows or advertise regularly in certain publications, they will find that their budget is driven by a “fixed” set of expenditures which will set the budget.

Competitive Position If Company “A” is in an industry in which the norm is 5%, consideration needs to be given to the size of the competitors the company is faced with. If the company does one million in revenue, fixing the budget at 5% would result in a $50,000 advertising budget. If all the companies in direct competition have five million in revenue and if they also spend 5%, they will have five times the budget as Company “A”. Some consideration should be given to increasing the spending percent, focusing the budget on a specific vertical customer segment and/or limiting the geographic reach of the marketing plan.

Growth Goals A company that has aggressive goals for increasing revenues should consider how much marketing budget would be generated by the higher revenue goal. Establishing the marketing budget as a ratio of the revenue goal is another approach. Reducing marketing spending is likely to reduce the acquisition of new customers or even jeopardize the company’s current market share. Growing quickly also requires increased working capital for inventory, staffing and accounts receivable so the prospect of increasing marketing spending can often times be challenging for high growth companies. Companies that have plans to growth rapidly generally need to spend a higher percent of sales to achieve that goal.

Marketing spending is often perplexing for business owners as the security of immediate results if often elusive. Prospects generally need to be exposed to a brand multiple times before they are likely to change providers or make a purchase. Nurturing tomorrow’s customers is a process that the savvy marketer has been investing in for months or years. Each business has a slightly different situation that needs to be considered in establishing a marketing budget. Reviewing the approaches discussed in this article is a good first step. Optimizing the marketing spending through benchmarking and tracking metrics specific to the company’s situation on an ongoing basis is a requirement for businesses to thrive and have above average results.