One way of cutting down on non-working spend is right by your side, almost always, almost every day.

There is increasing pressure today to reduce the percentage of non-working dollars that’s part of an overall marketing budget. This puts pressure on ad agencies to justify how they have been operating for decades.

Here’s the upshot: a photo shoot shouldn’t have a $50,000 budget when the real desired outcome for the brand is a groundswell of consumer-generated content (CGC) that can be shared to reinforce the authentic love that people have for the brand and content. Does a $50,000 post on Instagram have a better ROI than a piece of CGC?

Many companies across the spectrum of industries are asking the question now of how to reduce the percentage of non-working dollars to working dollars. In my professional (and, it turns out, personal) world, content creation costs are an easy and obvious example of non-working dollars that need to be re-evaluated. Much better to take those resources and divert them into product development or improvement, or simply putting it back on the bottom line. Because of the seamless relationship between e-commerce and the role of content in today’s path to purchase, my involvement with such efforts has been direct as well as in a consultative mode of late.

Which brings us to Samson The Aviator.

What truly gets my head away from work is music, and I am in an all-original Chicago-based rock band called Samson The Aviator. Along with my mates (all of whom have rather prominent, visible careers) we’re rather more serious than weekend cover-song warriors but less fully engaged than, say, Portugal The Man.

On the heels of finishing the recording, mixing and mastering of a new 5-song EP, we found ourselves with a product that was ready to take to market. The next obvious step is promotion, and in the world of music that means one thing: Make a video.

It has been said that the definition of “musician” is someone who puts $5,000 of gear in a $500 car and drives 50 miles for a $5 gig. Samson The Aviator is definitely a labor of love, and we don’t mess around when it comes to our gear, but none of us has endless cash to throw at this. So the prospect of funding a music video was, to say the least, unattractive.

In the course of some long conference call or another I noticed an app on my phone that I didn’t recall downloading. (With far more apps onboard than I would ever hope to use this didn’t alarm me.) When I opened it I was blown away. The app is called Clips and it lets you do magical things with video selfies.

Boom! Problem solved. As the call dragged on I took some video selfies with a few crazy backgrounds and texted them to the drummer. “Hey,” I wrote in the message, “I think I have a solution for the video. We shoot the whole video using just this app.”

Lights! iPhone! Action!
One evening (and, it must be said, several bottles of wine) later we had finished footage of us in full craziness. That next Saturday and Sunday I pulled it all into Final Cut Pro and cut it together. A few tweaks and some wrestling with the opening and closing titles later, we had a good-looking, great-sounding 1080p YouTube-ready product.

See for yourself.

I rarely connect my work life with my musical life, but it occurred to me that, while the band made a better-than-quick-and-dirty music video on the super-cheap, what we had really done was cut non-working dollars and reserve them for purposes we could get more ROI from: additional lifts for our Facebook posts, a few hours of recording time for new tracks, or even making T-shirts to sell at gigs (which is a surprisingly good little revenue stream for us).

Further, we applied the same thinking to the product itself: there are 2 steps to creating the music you hear on Spotify, recording and mastering. The latter step is the application of equalization and compression to make the sound full, rich and loud. Mastering is an art requiring specialized equipment and a dedicated studio and can cost many hundreds of dollars per hour to do right. However, in the course of my noodling I came onto an online service that uses algorithms to take raw audio files and master them into any range of usable file formats. It takes minutes, is free to try, and if you like the results, costs a very small fraction of what proper mastering costs.

Our recording and mixing does sound good. But it’s not what I would call “Radiohead-good”. So we used the online service to quickly and inexpensively get the product out. The results sound great, we saved time and got the product to market faster, and the saved money can be plowed back into any number of high-return initiatives.

Feeling Free
In my worlds, the ability to convert non-working dollars has been largely facilitated by major advances in technologies and capabilities relating to media and content, among other things. But quality is still quality, and without a strong base product no amount of fiscal awareness and technical cleverness will make the result worthwhile for the end consumer. Great-sounding bad music is just that, where a classic song that doesn’t sound great can still be a hit.

My unplanned exercise serves to show that the tools and approaches exist for brands and enterprises of any size to take a hard look at how they’re being present for their audiences. People shop and consume far differently today than they ever have, so our ways of being there for them must also evolve. In the process of converting non-working capital to working capital, we should also take the opportunity to refine our strategies to make best use of the ways we have to reach people, ways to increase speed to market, and ways to perhaps innovate the model to keep things fresh and new.

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