Customer Experience Innovation Blog with Toni Newman

Don’t Blame the B Word!

What did you think the B stands for in Don’t Blame the B word?


Could it be Bureaucracy?
Your Bank Balance?

Well, we’re getting closer because the dreaded B word is Budget.

Let me be clear on this once and for all.

A limited budget is no excuse for a limited imagination.

In my work with clients around innovation as a competitive advantage I have the privilege of interacting with businesses large and small from a wide variety of sectors. Yes – there are times when our clients have pretty sizable budgets to work with. But in today’s economy, those situations are few and far between and most of our clients are trying to innovate on a budget.

I’m ok with budgets. What I’m not ok with is blaming a lack of budget when the real issue is a lack of imagination.

Innovation Insight …Think outside the Budget

How often do you let a limited budget get in the way of a limitless imagination?

I think that we have all been guilty of budget bashing at one time or another so today I thought I’d share a few tips that can help you and your team move past price and into possibilities.

Tip #1 – Get Inspired
There are a myriad of examples of businesses and organizations that have created powerful and innovative customer experiences on a shoestring budget.

Belgian agency Samusocial International invited customers of large telecom companies to replace their personal voicemail with a recorded message from an actual homeless person and turned other people’s voicemail into an innovative touchpoint experience that raised $42,000 in less than 4 days.

When ReThink Breast Cancer was facing their 10th annual fundraising event with a zero budget, they had a group of women – including several breast cancer survivors – hit the streets topless in Toronto. Slogans painted on their chests included phrases such as Bras aren’t the only support we need; Where Cleavage meets Charity and my personal favorite – Hang out for a Good Cause.

One of my favorite low budget Unexpected Encounters is a simple paper sign that clothing store Nordstrom posted in late October of 2011. It read ” At Nordstrom, we won’t be decking our halls until Friday, November 23rd. Why? Well, we just like the idea of celebrating one holiday at a time. From our family to yours, Happy Thanksgiving. ” One small sign. Big opportunity for Nordstrom to differentiate themselves from their competition.

Why not collect examples of great low cost Unexpected Encounters and use them to inspire to your team. Remember to look for the Flashpoint (the idea behind the idea) in each encounter. For example, breasts may not be your ideal Touchpoint Opportunity but the idea of enlisting the assistance of your most satisfied and loyal customers may trigger some thought.

Tip #2 – Start with the Touchpoint
When faced with a limited budget, sometimes it helps to brainstorm low cost Touchpoint Opportunities before you start to brainstorm ideas for those Touchpoints. Ask yourselves which Touchpoint Opportunities are inherently low cost? Anything sent electronically is an obvious choice. Social media is another – especially YouTube and the growing importance of having videos online. But don’t stop at the obvious. What about those invoices that you are sending out anyway? What about your voice-mail message? What about the phone messages that you leave? The list goes on and on and by brainstorming these low cost Touchpoint Opportunities at the beginning of your process, not only will you start off on the right fiscal foot, you will also get your creative juices flowing in the right direction.

Tip #3 – Budget proof your Brainstorming
Talk about a tight budget can kill a brainstorming in the blink of an eye. Here are a few techniques that you can use to keep budget banter at bay during your brainstormings.

a) Pay the Price: At the beginning of your sessions, make it clear that anyone who makes any comment – or any version of a comment – about not having enough budget do to something will be fined. Five cents? One dollar? Five dollars? The amount is up to you but the money goes into a fund that gets put towards the budget for the idea in question. In this case, talk is definitely not cheap.

b) Double your money: Whatever your budget is, double it for the purposes of your idea generation sessions. Once you have some great ideas, it is always easier to scale something back. Look at the key elements of your idea and work on bringing them under budget one by one without losing the integrity of your original concept. Use phrases like “ok – we can’t do this, but what could we do that would have the same impact?”

c) Lead by Example: It’s great to tell your team to put budget out of their minds for now but is their fearless leader able to do the same? When I facilitate idea generation events I put a wad of Monopoly money on the table. As soon as I begin to hear the bothersome budget voices inside my head – even if I haven’t said anything about it out loud – I reach over, grab a handful of play money and throw it over my shoulder. As the session goes on, other participants will often reach over and do the same – a clear gesture that although the question of cost may be clamoring in their brain – they have tossed it away, at least for the moment.

Tip #4 – Show me the Money (I know. I said that there were three tips but this is Big Bonus Tip)
Often we are so focused on finding an innovative idea that fits within our budget that we neglect to put our creative energies to find ways that we could expand our budget. Bottom line? There’s probably money somewhere. If you have a Big Idea, and you can sell the return on investment of your idea to those who control the purse strings, chances are they might well come to your rescue. In the days when we had our event management company, we would often go into pitches with 3 different concepts. One would fit within the budget we were given. The other two were above budget but were always positioned in the context of return on investment. So don’t give up. And if the boss won’t top up your funds, maybe you can team up with another department, find a sponsor, or create some other innovative way to Show Me the Money.

I know that it can be hard not to Blame the B Word but remember … “Never confuse a lack of budget with a lack of imagination”.

I would love to hear your ideas about Thinking Outside the Budget.

Imagine the Possibilities!

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