“Do more with less.”
That’s a phrase most in marketing have heard like a drumbeat over the last 20 years. Interestingly, it doesn’t matter whether budgets are going up or down, the message is still “let’s do more with less.”
The only question is which word to emphasize – more or less.
How do you switch the emphasis when economic or other headwinds are present?
Institutionalizing degraded experiences
I’ve noticed conflicting behavior encouraged by this recent unique combination of economic conditions and the transformational challenges coming out of the last two years of lockdown.
Talent is hard to come by, but it feels like we’re headed to recession. While business profits are at an all-time high, austerity exists in the delivery of customer experiences.
It’s almost as if instead of improving the customer experience, many brands are doing less. It’s almost as if companies are using this confusing time to see how much of a degraded experience their customers will tolerate.
I recently checked into a four-night stay at a brand-name hotel. Its prices had gone up markedly in the last 18 months. I was informed upon check-in (and in the app and on the website) that my room would not be cleaned during my stay unless I requested it, and only on the day that it was requested. Further, if I needed things normally replenished during a housekeeping visit (e.g., towels, soap), I should call housekeeping to make the request.
Now, I get it. The pandemic has left many hotels short-staffed and challenged with creating a more efficient operation. (I will note that this hotel chain had a 34% increase in revenue from 2020 to 2021 and a 103% increase in revenue in 2022. Yes, really. But let’s put that aside.)
My problem isn’t that they didn’t plan to clean my room. My problem is the redesigned customer experience. Why are they purposely institutionalizing a degraded experience? They put the onus on me – the consumer – to not only pay more but to deal with more hassle than I did earlier. Why don’t they use this opportunity to redesign a better communication (experience) to the check-in process?
“Hello, Mr. Rose. Thank you for your loyalty. We’re trying to do better for the environment and our natural resources. Can you tell me on which days of your four-day stay you would prefer your room cleaned? We can clean it once, twice, or not at all.”
The hotel’s service model is unchanged, but the presentation of it to the customer is. Now, take that simple change and think about how the hotel could transform its content. This customer-focused messaging could be delivered on the website and incorporated into the content strategy. I can even see how it could play an important role in branded editorial.
So why isn’t the hotel chain doing this? Because it’s easier, that’s why. Instead of doing more with less, they are doing more with less.
It’s a subtle but important difference. Instead of moving toward more creativity and innovation in a reality where they have fewer resources to work with, they are more actively using much less energy or resources.
Content team follows do-more-with-less mandate
I’ve seen this same thing happen to content teams as well. I recently worked with a team at a company where it was in growth mode last year. At that time, the team was charged with building an innovative thought leadership program with no increase to their marketing budget. The plan was to work with select subject matter experts to produce a small number of high-quality e-books (one per subject matter expert). The plan worked brilliantly.
Despite that success, management changed and this year’s mandate to the team was to create the same or more assets with the same budget. Everything would be judged on whether they met the budget of assets produced vs. dollars spent. They also executed this perfectly.
But the business results this year have been much less inspiring.
What happened? Both years, the team was told to do “more with less.” But the difference was all in which word was emphasized. The team institutionalized a degraded set of experiences.
Measuring more or less?
If you are always told to do “more with less,” and your success isn’t necessarily correlated to having fewer resources, then how do you avoid institutionalizing a degraded experience?
One of the biggest indicators of where the emphasis is placed – more or less – is how frontline marketing and content teams are measured. In heady, growth-oriented times, marketers are often measured on their ability to provide differentiated experiences, draw more leads, create more highly engaged customers, and inspire more brand awareness. Metrics tend to influence manager behavior that favors more creativity, innovation, and content creation to create remarkable experiences. You do more with less.
On the other hand, in leaner – or more stressed – times, companies often switch measurement for marketing and content. The pendulum swings to efficiency: Do more with less. Metrics center on “how inexpensively we can achieve more activity or tasks” or “how we can perform the same function we did last time with fewer resources.”
If content teams are measured purely on efficiency, it’s only a matter of time before the content will fail the business, and a senior executive will ask, “Do we produce too much content?”
Followed by this reply: “Yup. We sure do. We continue to do more with less.”
In lean times, you often prioritize the “less” resources but still produce more content. You influence the behavior of your marketing and content practitioners to create more, cheaper, and less creative and innovative content.
Think of it this way. It’s as if you are a movie studio and have a budget of $100 million. In growth times, you hear “do more with less,” so you focus on quality, creativity, and innovation. You spend $100 million on the talent and marketing of 10 movies.
In lean times, you hear “do more with less,” so you focus on frugality and efficiency and spend $100 million on the talent and marketing of 20 movies.
It’s rare that the latter provides a better long-term business result.
Author and famous business strategist Eli Goldratt once said, “Tell me how you will measure me, and then I will tell you how I will behave. If you measure me in an illogical way, don’t complain about illogical behavior.”
As you enter what may be challenging times – you may see executives, colleagues, or even yourself tempted to transition from measuring your ability to create more value by doing more things as inexpensively as possible. This transition sometimes comes with a preface that says, “Don’t worry, it’s just transitory. We’ll be back to growth soon enough.”
If you don’t want to behave illogically and institutionalize bad content experiences, be wise to be aware and redouble your efforts on more innovation and more creativity in the reality of fewer resources to do those things.
You may actually get to a point where you learn it’s not about doing more with less but rather less is more.
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute