When working with clients we always want to make their campaigns make an impact, regardless of the budget level.  Oftentimes, new clients dipping their toes into digital for the first time seek to avoid risk by limiting budgets, occasionally making them so small that there’s a question about how much value could actually be provided.

As good media partners, the word “No” is not included in our vocabulary, but it is important to understand that there are times when “No, but…” is entirely appropriate. In fact, when receiving a proposed budget below the dreaded campaign minimum, “No, but…” becomes an absolute necessity.

Why Are There Minimums?

Between planning, set-up, tracking, reporting and optimization, digital marketing campaigns are labor intensive. Without a budget sufficient to cover these costs, it’s difficult to make a compelling business case to potential publishers who are typically flooded with competing (and sometimes far more lucrative) offers.

Yes, our partners are willing to bend over backwards to accommodate budgets of any size, but that’s exactly why we have standard minimums in place – so they’ll remain willing partners! Keep in mind too, that minimums are negotiable, but that there are consequences for dipping below the standard minimum spends.

Digital advertising requires a certain level of investment to be successful, no matter what medium is being used. Digital minimums aren’t just a land grab for more budget, they’re a necessary evil to ensure that campaigns have a chance of being successful by returning a positive ROI.

Digital media is all about accountability, performance and optimization, but when there isn’t a large enough budget to generate a certain level of impressions, clicks, conversions or other data, any learnings collected can’t be acted upon since they’re not statistically valid.

Without enough data and some diversity in media placements, it becomes terribly difficult (if not impossible) to optimize a campaign to reach performance goals. In this case, a campaign that doesn’t perform from launch won’t offer sufficient options for changing course.

But that’s not all, because reach and frequency are also vital as well. We want to reach a significant portion of the desired audience, which requires a certain number of impressions, depending on market size and audience demographics.

If the spend is too low, and the market is large, then there is not enough share of voice to have any significant impact. In a smaller market with a tightly defined audience, it still remains feasible to operate with lower budgets, but only under those conditions is a tiny spend likely to lead to successful results.

When determining the lowest acceptable spend level to generate impactful results, many different factors must be considered. Sometimes the stated minimum will work, and won’t risk performance, but since there are conditions under which even smaller budgets could be successful, we recommend that campaign minimums be treated as a discussion point, rather than a budget mandate.

What Are The Alternatives?

Instead of approaching campaign funding with a “minimum or nothing” approach, we recommend considering alternatives for the available budget.

This is the point in the media planning process when creativity counts, where effective planners will need to take a step back and think about their goals holistically and strategically.

Potential solutions include:

  • Try a different tactic – Pre-roll may be out of the question, but many digital tactics such as Search Engine Marketing (AKA Pay Per Click) buys can certainly be optimized, even at very low spends. Furthermore, even limited PPC campaigns produce reliable data that has proven to serve as an effective foundation for developing scalable strategies across other marketing channels.
  • Limit the scope of the project – Focus on a smaller geography, covering fewer locations, tighten up the targeted audience, decreasing the scope of the project, or consider reducing the campaign length, or flighting the campaign for certain dates or times of day, instead of allowing it to run 24/7. Come up with an effective way to use the smaller budget, prove performance, and prepare to unleash a more comprehensive plan once larger budgets are approved.
  • Shift budget to/from other media tactics – If there is only a small, or especially a tiny, budget for digital, then think about shifting that budget to strengthen other media channels.  Conversely, if there are other channels at play which seem over-funded, then explore leveraging some portion of that budget for digital buys. 
    • As an example, we often leverage TV budgets to test video, and we also use terrestrial radio budgets to test internet radio. Since we can provide comparable GRP/TRP measurements, there’s no risk that money will be spent without access to measurable results.

Instead of thinking about campaign budgets as a “minimum or nothing” issue, we recommend considering alternative opportunities based on whatever budget is available. This is the time to get creative, take a step back from the hard and fast rules, and think about goals both holistically and strategically. 

In some cases, the client relationship will be strengthened by turning down projects that don’t have enough available funds, but only when that’s done for all the right reasons.

Sure, it’s possible to force a square peg in a round hole, to take a project and struggle through performance reports, facing tough questions and frustration as the campaign doesn’t produce desired results, but doing so doesn’t make business sense in the long-run.

Instead, have that important conversation about goals, get strategic, and offer alternative options to demonstrate that you are committed to doing what it takes to make the campaign a “Win” for everyone involved.

In some cases, that may mean waiting for the timing and the budget to be right, and that’s exactly why minimums really do make sense.