Effective marketing isn’t rocket science, but it does require a strategic approach to attract qualified customers, maximize return on investment, and increase profits. Marketing is always a learning process; what worked yesterday won’t necessarily work tomorrow, and there are always new opportunities to explore. Every good marketer makes mistakes, and great marketers learn from their mistakes to fine-tune their marketing efforts for success. You can do the same by avoiding the following five critical marketing mistakes you must stop making.

1. Failing to target your marketing

One of the most common mistakes small businesses and organizations make is failing to effectively target their promotions. One organization I’ve worked with held an annual family fun festival, and always promoted the event in a local nightlife/entertainment magazine. Most of that magazine’s readers were people interested in seeing which live bands were playing which venues, not people interested in a fun family outing.

The targeting was off, so we worked with the organization to print a special flyer with a sweepstakes entry for kids. We received kid-friendly donations from several businesses and even a baseball team, then worked with local elementary schools to have the flyers sent home with each student. To enter the sweepstakes, parents sent in their emails along with their kids’ names. In this manner, we were able to put the family fun day in front of an extremely well-targeted audience (parents and kids – families), create desire to attend the event, and even collect parents’ emails for ongoing marketing purposes.

2. Failing to test your marketing

This is one of the biggest mistakes new marketers make, yet one that is easily avoidable. Let’s say you want to launch a direct-mail postcard campaign to promote a sale on your retail website. Many companies make the mistake of creating a single postcard and sending it to their entire mailing list at once. The problem is they’re hinging the success of what is probably an expensive campaign on an unknown element: the postcards efficacy.

A better strategy would be to create two separate postcards employ different headlines, a different offer statement, a different call to action, or even a different image. Send each postcard to a small portion of your mailing list and test the results to see which performs better. You can run several rounds of A/B testing or try multiple postcards in order to identify which version yields the best response rates and greatest ROI.

Once you know which version performs best, you can send it to your entire mailing list with predictable results. Even though you’ll need to invest a little more in postcard design upfront, the increased ROI afforded by your top-performing postcard will be well worth it. Not only that, but you’ll have a control against which to test other postcard versions for your next campaign. Always strive to outperform your control, and you’ll be able to consistently earn good ROI.

3. Failing to join the conversation

I hate the term “join the conversation” as it seems clichéd and overused, but “the conversation” is also essential to marketing success. You need to engage customers in order to build brand loyalty. Use social media to not only post about your company, but to seek out people whose problems you can solve, to answer questions, and to showcase your customers. Champion the people you serve and position your brand as a solution provider rather than simply a sales company, and constantly seek ways to be a helpful voice for your customers.

A simple, but powerful, example is how many small businesses use their Facebook pages. Most of them simply post about their business, products, services, and sales. You should do that, certainly, but you should also post photos of happy customers, ask interesting questions to obtain valuable feedback, and answer questions posted by others.

The last point is a big one: I can’t tell you how many Facebook pages I’ve seen in which marketers take the time to post what they want, but they don’t take the time to respond to questions posted by their followers. What better opportunity to promote your company than to cater to specific requests?

4. Failing to ask customers what they need

Many small business owners feel they know their markets inside-and-out, but few actually do. That’s because they never take the time to learn it, to walk the proverbial mile in their customers’ shoes. That’s a shame, because many customers are happy to provide free and valuable feedback that can help you more effectively market your products and services.

Let’s say you sell a new and improved vacuum cleaner that picks up 99 percent of dirt from carpets. You offer special promotional discounts and print flyer inserts for your local newspaper, but those inserts underperform. By reaching out to customers, you might find that they’re not nearly as interested in dirt removal as they are allergen removal. Armed with this information, you might reposition your marketing to highlight the fact that your vacuum cleaners remove 99 percent of all allergens from carpets. In this manner, you’re solving the problem your customers actually need solved, and your marketing efforts are better-positioned to pay off.

5. Failing to try new things

I’m a huge effort of continually trying new things, whether it’s different postcard headlines (see “failing to test”) to new marketing channels. When it comes to marketing, you can’t get comfortable with what works; you also have to try new avenues to grow your business.

If you’ve always relied on PPC, try a direct-mail catalog. If you’ve always relied on magazine ads, try relevant blog advertising. If you’ve always relied on word-of-mouth, try Facebook marketing. I advocate trying out a new marketing strategy every quarter; or at least devoting to trying a new channel every year. Keep in mind you still need to apply the principles of testing to new marketing channels in order to identify what works and what doesn’t.

Trying new things means you’ll inevitably face a few failures, but you’ll also discover new (and sometimes surprising) revenue sources – sometimes even sources that are more lucrative than the old standbys.

If you’re making the marketing mistakes listed here, all isn’t lost; the first step is identifying your shortcomings so you can create a strategic plan to improve your marketing efforts. Don’t be afraid of failure; embrace it as a learning tool and consistently strive to improve your marketing efforts to achieve continual business growth.