Breakthrough Thinking from Zero-based Budgeting

5 Sept calendarIt’s September, which means those of you with business plans that follow the calendar year may well be turning your attention to the annual marketing budget process.

Your mission, as in all previous years, is to firstly secure the same amount as last year then grab as much incremental budget as possible at the expense of any other business silos that stand in your way.

Or is it? Is more budget always better?

Some of the world’s most successful marketing campaigns have been born out of insanely challenging constraints like insufficient time, money and people. I’m a firm believer that the best ideas don’t always cost the earth or inflict the biggest time drain.

So how about a different approach this year?

Zero-based budgeting starts by ignoring prior year investment levels. Effectively, everything is set back to zero and the plan built back up from scratch. While this often leads to more ‘budgetary bun fights’ it does allow the company to pivot quickly to address changing business priorities. And few businesses can honestly claim to be facing exactly the same challenges as they saw twelve months ago; none of us are immune from the financial meltdown.

In times of unprecedented change I think there’s great merit in the zero-based budgeting approach. Far from throwing the baby out with the bathwater, building a plan from scratch allows proper scrutiny and reassessment. It’s one of the very best ways I’ve seen of stopping what you’ve always done and embracing new approaches to old problems.

Of course, for middle managers the skill lies in ensuring that long-term community programmes like those run across the social web continue to receive sufficient focus from year to year, never falling victim to short term budget cuts. In a zero-based budget model these community costs should be among the first things you ring-fence for on-going financial support.

Give it some thought. It’s bold, it’s challenging, but disruptive and fluid times like the present call for marketing planning models that allows for truly breakthrough thinking.