Byline: Dianne M. Pogoda

NEW YORK — “You have to spend money to make money.”
While this is an adage most executives accept, it makes some reach for their wallets and some reach for the Maalox.
It’s easy to fork over big bucks for major national ad campaigns and splashy runway shows when a company already commands tremendous brand awareness — and volume to match. But the good news for small apparel companies on a tighter budget is that they don’t necessarily have to deplete their bank accounts to get a little recognition.
Opinions vary on how much money is needed. The advertising/marketing fund can be a bottomless pit, but for most makers, there is a limit.
“In today’s marketplace, if you don’t have a lot of money, you’re not building a brand,” said Herb Frichner, an adjunct professor of fashion buying and merchandising at the Fashion Institute of Technology here. “We live in a society bombarded by media, images, messages — that’s a lot to compete with. It’s very difficult to build a brand in this environment.”
That said, however, Frichner noted a maker can set spending priorities to best reach a targeted audience. He suggested a company participate in a store’s catalog, or, if it is lucky enough to be chosen, run a newspaper ad with a store. Another option: individualized direct mail, where a company sends out its own literature.
There is also the question of distribution.
“How you connect with the target consumer depends a lot on his or her lifestyle,” Frichner said. “There are so many more channels of distribution today, from department and specialty stores to mail order to TV home shopping to the Internet. It requires a great deal of consumer research to determine the best way to reach your audience. With all the options available, a maker can find a cost-effective way to distribute.
“Continuous consumer research must be a factor in any plan,” he said. “If you have a limited budget, I think that’s the best way to spend money. You can identify and focus on the market with that segment of the population that wants and can buy your product.”
Brand-building generally takes a lot of image reinforcement, such as advertising, promotion, opinion leaders identified with the brand, signs and packaging, said management consultant R. Fulton Macdonald, of International Business Development Corp.
“As with any project, pouring money at it doesn’t yield positive sustained results,” he said. “But money helps a lot. The product has to live up to the image being driven. If it doesn’t, money is quickly wasted, and credibility is hard to win twice.”
Macdonald explained that in implementing and refining the marketing strategy, a maker should “place great attention on details that put the brand out there” and “convey the emotional as well as intellectual images that have been identified as desirable.”
“The main reason brands fail is because the concept sounds good, but implementation falls far short of the sophisticated nuances that separate the outstanding from the humdrum,” he said.
“Brand building is a lot like a politician building his or her image and acceptance,” Macdonald observed. “It takes a lot of ‘working the crowd,’ coupled with market research to tell how one is doing. Rarely does a brand-builder actually take polls. Maybe there is a fear that the money and effort being expended might not be working. But fooling oneself doesn’t get the job done.
“Entrenched brands are hard to dislodge,” he concluded. “It takes a lot of campaigning to win out over an established brand. But it can be done, and is done, every day — somewhere.”
Companies don’t have to spend a lot, but they do have to spend right, according to Sydney Brooks and Carol Fertig, partners in The Smart Co., a marketing and consulting firm here.
“You have to figure out whether you’re going to execute your marketing plans in-house or externally,” said Fertig. “This is the time to bring in the specialists.”
Brooks added, “There are plenty of formulas that have been developed over the years as to the right percentage of sales to spend on advertising or marketing, but that doesn’t always work. The best way is to determine a number you’re comfortable with, and work from there to figure the best value for your money.”
The partners advised makers looking for a specialist in communications or advertising to check out the prospective agency’s client roster, so a maker will know the agency understands his type of business; see how the agency solved the problems and met the challenges of its previous clients, and finally, check with those clients to get a read on how successful the projects were.
“It can be more of a challenge — and more exciting — to come up with a solution working with a smaller budget,” said Fertig.
When money is tight, Brooks and Fertig suggested, a maker might consider an investment of time to gain some publicity. For example, hooking up with a local charity in a community with the right demographics might cost a small donation, but can generate a lot of free press and connect with the consumer. Similarly, participating in a store wardrobe-building clinic provides information to the consumer and builds trust and credibility.
“Makers have to make an emotional connection with the consumer,” Fertig said.
“This is not to negate the importance of advertising,” said Brooks, “but that comes with time. You might have to begin by taking baby steps. There’s nothing wrong with starting with a small budget.”

Editor’s Note: This is part of a monthly series.

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