Calculating the Marketing Allowable – Or How Much to Spend on Marketing

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Before starting a direct marketing campaign, managers often wonder, “How much should I spend on the actual marketing costs?” There’s actually a way to calculate this figure. You don’t have to guess, leave it to chance, or the whims of the accounting department.

Called the marketing allowable, this figure is a form of sensitivity analysis that gives you a good guestimate of the amount left to spend on marketing after the major costs are accounted for.

In order to calculate the marketing allowable, you’ll need a few numbers handy:

  • Net sales. If you don’t have your net sales figure, take your gross sales and subtract out the returns. That’s your net sales.
  • Variable costs: To figure out your variable costs, add together the cost of good sold by percent of orders, the fulfilment cost as a percent, and the bad deby percent, then multiply it by sales. Did your eyes just glaze over? Take a deep breath. You should know your cost of goods sold. If you don’t know your fulfillment costs, use a placeholder. Twenty percent (.20) is not unrealistic.
  • Overhead costs
  • Premiums: If you give away little items with every sale, like a free exercise DVD with the purchase of a home gym system, the DVD is the premium. The cost to make each is the number you’re going to use to determine your marketing allowable.

Marketing Allowable: The Formula

The formula to calculate the marketing allowable looks like this:

Net Sales

– Variable Costs

– Overheard

– Premium


What It Looks Like with Real Numbers

I’ll plug in some numbers now from a real client, who has graciously given permission for me to use their numbers as long as I don’t mention the name of the business. It’s a small, family owned e-commerce business selling gift items.

Net Sales: $48,000 (rounded out for our example)

– Variable Costs: $11,000

– Overhead: $28,000

– Premiums: $1,000

Marketing allowable: $8,000

So technically, this client is “allowed” or can spend about $8,000 on direct marketing to obtain $48,000 in net sales. Remember that I kept the numbers small and nice and round so they would be easy to follow. In truth, a company generating these revenues would need a much higher net sale figure to pay a salary – which I’d include in the overhead line as part of the operating expenses of the company.

When to Use Marketing Allowables

Calculating the marketing allowable isn’t just a subtraction and decimals example, even if you have to work some decimal magic on the variable costs line. It’s actually a useful tool for budgeting. if your company does zero-based budgeting, the kind where you have to justify your spend from the bottom up for each fiscal year, you’ll want to know your marketing allowable for the product or product category. You can easily run some figures and adjust amounts in the spreadsheet for the premiums, for example, or the overhead costs, and see how it impacts the marketing allowable.

Remember that marketing numbers are rarely fixed in stone. One of the benefits of placing these numbers into a spreadsheet and playing around with them is watching how changing one line in the formula impacts others. For example, if you can keep your overhead nice and low, look at how much is left to funnel into marketing. And if you could funnel more money into marketing, how many more potential customers can you reach? Conversely, if you up the premium amount and offer a spiffy DVD player with that DVD, you may have less for marketing, but if you test that concept and it pulls in more sales, it can be a winning combination.

Direct marketing is all about measurement. Math is the language of reality, and direct marketing, so heavily based in math, takes nebulous marketing concepts that scare CEO’s and makes them real by adding dollars, cents, and sales to the conversation.

So calculate your marketing allowable today, and play the numbers out. Maybe there’s more in your marketing budget than you thought!

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