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How to Do Visual Content With Low, Medium, and High Budgets

I was excited to attend a particular session at Content Marketing World. With 10 minutes to go, I picked up my pace down the hallway. When I arrived, the door was closed with a sign that read “FULL.”


A missed opportunity for sure, but I made up for it by viewing the presentation later and writing about it for you here.

Highly Effective Social Creative For Any Budget was presented by a duo from Pace Communications: Adam Constantine, director, social media; and Nicole Martin, vice president, strategy, media and analytics.

(People) believe that to create really strong, effective content, you have to have the deepest of pockets, and that just isn’t the case,” Nicole says. “Sometimes you can determine how to take your budget and use it between tools, staff, time, or the creative itself, and be resourceful to create successful outcomes.

Budget doesn’t have to dictate successful outcomes for visual assets, says @StrategySavvy via @cmicontent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

To guide their discussion, Adam and Nicole outlined three tiers for social media creative budgets:

  • No or low budget: $5,000 or less
  • Medium budget: $5,000 to $30,000
  • High budget: over $30,000

Low budget ($0 to $5,000)

Without much of an investment, you can try simple things and see what works. As Adam says, “Smaller budgets mean that things can move forward quicker. At the very least, you’re joining the conversation. Sometimes it’s best to get out there and share. Pick something and run with it.”

Beware, however. If you’re experimenting with low-cost options, others are too. With undifferentiated social creative, you risk adding to the noise, Adam says. “A lower financial investment leads to a lower time investment, which can mean inconsistent cadences when you’re posting,” he explains.

Adam says that while smartphones work well for low-cost video, everyone should use a tripod, a ring light, and a microphone.

Great low-cost #video involves a tripod, ring light, microphone, and smartphone, says @TheycallmeAC via @cmicontent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Your phone sits in the tripod holder with the ring light behind it. The light can have multiple color settings, along with an adjustable brightness setting. Ring lights can eliminate shadows, evenly distribute lighting for close-ups and provide good lighting for videos.

Image source

For marketers with limited budgets, Adam recommends these software tools, all of which are free or freemium (i.e., free with paid versions):

Adam likes Canva for graphic design and InShot for video editing. I use Canva to create images for social shares because it provides a library of templates and images, some of which are free and some which cost a few dollars.

Adobe Express and Adobe Rush, which are part of the Adobe Creative Suite, are a little higher quality, Adam says. They can work on the go and for small budget projects because they offer free light versions.

Low-budget example

As a proof point that low-budget projects can yield amazing results, Adam detailed a campaign for a cookie-selling client showing astronauts eating a cookie in outer space. The project involved buying a space glove on Amazon and placing a cookie in the glove.

They spent 30 minutes in a professional photo studio. A digital artist edited the images and gave them new backgrounds:

The low-budget project got high-budget results:

  • 357,837 audience reach
  • 1,500% increase in organic engagement
  • 396,123 paid impressions
  • 1% paid Facebook engagement rate

Bonus idea: Create content shorts

Let’s say your CEO is doing a one-hour talk at a company event. Your team plans to film the talk. Take it one step further and record related footage for content shorts. Nicole calls these “short little fun things” (e.g., the CEO backstage before walking on stage, the CEO walking off the stage, etc.). These content shorts can be used in social media shares. (Note: This suggestion also works for medium and high budgets.)

Medium budget ($5,000 to $30,000)

At the medium budget tier, marketers spend more to generate higher-quality content. You might move away from lower-cost, user-generated content and gain more creative influence and control.

You also may hire third-party providers to assist with production and editing (e.g., photographers, designers, videographers, agencies). Calculate how their involvement will affect the project timeline.

As Adam explains, “You have larger crews to deal with. It may be somebody from the outside that you’re going to have to meet with and make sure that they’re understanding the vision that you have in your head. There’s also a higher creative learning curve.”

Medium-budget example

Adam and Nicole shared an example from a real estate company to demonstrate how a medium budget can outperform a low budget. The company showed two images of the same apartment to 1,000 prospective tenants. One photo was an amateur shot, while the other was professionally shot and edited:

I noticed a few things right away. In the amateur shot (left), glare comes from behind the blinds. In the professional shot, the photographer shot the image at a better time of day (i.e., not direct sunlight) and raised the blinds to reveal a nice backyard. The photographer also removed the pink toddler chair and the highchair.

Here are the results:

  • Participants viewing the professional photo valued the property at $200 more per month than the amateur image.
  • Only 5% of participants rated the amateur photo as an excellent property, while 47% did for the professional image.
  • 35% of the participants rated the property in the amateur photo as poor or fair, while only 3% of the professional photo viewers did.

Bonus idea: Add equipment and shots

Nicole suggests asking for additional equipment to produce different angles or perspectives. For example, if horizontal video is being shot, also record it in vertical format, which works better on Instagram. (Note: This idea also works for high budgets.)

#Video tip: Add a second camera for a vertical format to be used on #Instagram, says @StrategySavvy via @cmicontent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

High budget ($30,000+)

When you’re spending at least $30,000, video production usually is involved. Viewers have high expectations about video quality. Adam and Nicole shared relevant statistics:

  • 77% of viewers stopped a video due to poor quality.
  • 85% of people expect TV-like quality for every video they see online.
  • 62% of consumers develop a negative perception of your brand if you publish a poor-quality video.

Wow. Viewers want TV-like quality and if you don’t provide it, your brand perception suffers. Sounds like a good case to invest more to create high-quality video. Here are more of the benefits and challenges of the high-budget tier:

Adam says high-quality video also eliminates the evolutionary problem with lesser expensive video shot by smartphones. While video shot from a phone can be good quality at one point, the output quality drops when a better video-shooting smartphone enters the market. On the other hand, a video shot in a studio with high-end video cameras will have a longer shelf life.

In addition, a high-quality video gives you more options to slice and dice it into shorter, top-notch segments. A lower-quality video would simply result in a larger set of mediocre assets.

A high-quality #video gives you more options to slice and dice it into shorter, top-notch segments, says @TheycallmeAC via @cmicontent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Higher budgets mean higher expectations. If you’re spending $70,000 on a video, your C-suite might come knocking on the door to ask about the return on investment. Adam advises marketers to establish expectations when securing the budget.

“It’s important to set clear expectations of what part of the funnel, what part of the customer journey, you are creating this content for. If it’s awareness, make sure people know it’s awareness. If it’s for sign-ups, leads, conversions, make sure that that is clear, as well,” Adam says.

When the campaign concludes, prepare to quantify and report on how well that goal was achieved. (Side note: You really should do this for any budget campaign.)

High-budget example

Adam and Nicole detailed a campaign they ran for the hospitality brand Four Seasons. The brand was offering a luxury travel experience in which clients could purchase a seat on a private plane and fly to amazing destinations. Adam and Nicole put a travel writer on a plane and had her document the experience.

The high-budget campaign encompassed multimedia assets with related content and social media marketing to maximize exposure and generate a higher return on investment.

Adam explains: “It wasn’t just the video. We created additional content and made a landing page. We had magazine articles. We had shorter blog posts. We had Facebook posts. We were able to really stretch this content and make a full ecosystem of content due to the investment that was put in.”

Here are the results:

  • Over 1 million YouTube views
  • 17% increase in viewer awareness in the United States and United Kingdom
  • Nearly fivefold increase in email inquiries
  • Three-time increase in average weekly bookings
  • Sellout of high-end package

Bonus idea: Ask for raw data

For high-production shoots, it’s common to have 90 minutes of footage trimmed to 30 seconds. Nicole says you should mine gold from the raw footage. She discussed a client shoot for a highly produced 30-second video that highlighted a resort destination. But it was a shorter clip of a woman walking to the edge of an infinity pool that got the attention.

“It was just a three-second rotator, and that was really the best content we had. We didn’t even need to shoot the whole property. It was just those little micro-moments that make the difference,” Nicole says.

No matter the budget, let’s get creative

Adam and Nicole show that innovative and impactful social creative can be created on any budget. Their breakdown into three tiers – low, medium, and high – allows you to see the possibilities and know which tools will help you accomplish them. Then, as you find success, spend some of your budget to build on that momentum.

What budget tiers do your projects fall under? What tips have you learned along the way? What results are you seeing? Please share in the comments.

Here’s an excerpt from Adam and Nicole’s talk:

Please note: All tools included in our blog posts are suggested by authors, not the CMI editorial team. No one post can provide all relevant tools in the space. Feel free to include additional tools in the comments (from your company or ones that you have used). 

Join us in Cleveland this October for Content Marketing World. Register today to save hundreds on the all-access pass, which includes post-event access to videos of every one of the 100-plus main conference presentations.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute