Most common business marketing mistakes

We’ve been doing this marketing malarkey for the best part of twelve years. Over that time, I reckon we’ve seen just about every marketing mistake, wrong assumption, or badly set up communication initiative.

Bad marketing doesn’t just cost you time, money, and effort. In the more extreme cases it can even turn potential customers away from you. Effective marketing is far more than just using such-and-such a tactic, channel, or content strategy. At its most fundamental marketing is about developing a clear position that also sits in alignment with the expectations of your intended target audience groups.

To help you reduce the trial-and-error phase of your marketing plan – and there’s always a trial-and-error phase – here’s a list of top marketing mistakes we see from small businesses (and a few large ones too):

Table of contents

1. You Don’t Have A Marketing Plan

It’s imperative to have a defined list of the underlying business goals the marketing plan is meant to address. Once you know what the target is, you then design a clearly-defined plan outlining the ways and means you intend to deliver those business goals. Sounds obvious, right? If only.

Most business owners fail to bother with clearly identifying what the business goals are before investing in marketing. It only stands to reason that any plan built on incorrect or poorly-defined data hasn’t got a chance of delivering the goods.

From our experience, the reasons why many businesses don’t have a marketing plan are:

  • They’re doing their marketing in-house, so don’t know what they don’t know
  • They didn’t know how important it is to have one
  • They don’t know how to create a marketing plan
  • They’re too lazy (yes, really!)

Without a marketing plan to steer your efforts, you don’t know when – and why – you’re winning. Without defining target audience segments, customer value proposition, market situation, customer expectations, competitive analyses, etc. you risk losing opportunities. Unless you know exactly why your marketing isn’t working, you can’t do anything to change it.

Maybe you’re saying the wrong thing to the wrong people, or communicating from a place they don’t want/expect you to be. Maybe you pricing is off, or your distribution model sucks. Maybe they want to buy in in red but you only sell it in blue.

Without keeping track of what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, how often you’re doing it, where you’re doing it, and what kind of results you’re getting; you’re flying blind.

The days of waving a wet finger in the air and ‘trying something’ need to be consigned to the past. You’re either committed to implementing a business-wide lead generation process, against defined and measurable goals, or you’re not. If you can’t be bothered, don’t come crying when it all comes crashing down.

Oh, and a marketing strategy isn’t the same thing as a marketing tactic. Stop confusing them.

2. You Stop Doing Anything

OK, I get it. Business comes first. It’s all very well publishing articles, filming videos, pushing out ad campaigns, designing landing pages, writing email newsletters, or even recording a podcast. But there are only so many hours in the day. You’re being pulled in twenty different directions and simply don’t have the time, so you need to take a break. Yes, marketing’s important – but so is all this other stuff filling up your diary and clogging-up your inbox.

What happens? You skip the next couple of weeks because it’s the end of your sales quarter, you’re on the road visiting customers, or you’re at some conference. All of a sudden six months have gone by. Your website visitors numbers fall off a cliff, the site ranking drops to page 7 on Google, no-ones reading your emails – and the phone’s no longer ringing. D’oh…

Sure, you can get back to where you were. But it’s going to take a ton of work and all the while your competition are pulling away from you.

If you don’t have anyone within the business to run with this stuff when you’re busy, pass the responsibility over to a third-party. Put a limit on how much they can spend (both timewise and moneywise) and let them get on with it. It’ll be a darn sight cheaper than playing catch-up after letting things languish for a few months.

3. Your Budget Is Unrealistic

You want a new eCommerce website, updated company branding, new sales materials, and a series of ads. But you don’t want to spend more than $500 per month.

Are you kidding me?

If you’re relying on the digital side of your marketing to bring in revenue, consider your marketing budget in terms of what you’d pay a top salesperson. I’ve worked in organizations where the top salespeople take home more than the CEO – deserving every single cent of their paycheck.

Unlike a salesperson, great marketing works for your business every single day. It never takes a vacation, never turns up late, and never calls in sick. Marketing doesn’t ask for a 401K contribution, a company credit card, or free dental. If the leads it generates are more than its cost, why are you undervaluing its contribution to the business?

What? You thought digital marketing was cheaper than ‘traditional’ marketing? Only when it’s being done badly.

Stop thinking in short sprints and start planning long term. As long as your marketing efforts are bringing in more than they cost you, it shouldn’t matter how much you’re spending. I’m not saying it’s an infinite climb. But as long as you’re ROI positive, you’re winning.

Once you have a clear and validated revenue-capture process, you’ll be able to identify areas where you can reduce costs and optimize processes. But the reality is 99% of business don’t get to that point of saturation. They bring out the machete far too early, hacking away at what they believe is unnecessary wastage.

4. You’re Splitting Marketing Activities Across Multiple Providers

You’ve got a logo designer whom you’ve tasked with, er, designing your logo. You’ve got someone else putting together your website, and yet another person setting up your social media marketing campaigns. Is it any wonder that nothing matches with anything else? All the while you’re patting yourself on your back since you think you’ve saved a fortune – when you’ve actually cost yourself a bundle.

The reality is customers see an uncoordinated mess. Nothing looks like it belongs with anything else. The ads don’t ‘feel’ like they’re coming from the same position as the website copy, email newsletter, or blog articles. That’s because your ‘marketing team’ is actually a bunch of different freelancers producing stuff in isolation from one another.

There’s no single point of management, direction, or coordination – apart from you.

Even though you don’t have a plan nor any real marketing experience, you’ve taken on the mantle of managing everything. But since you don’t have formal training or education in marketing, or worked in a marketing capacity, you don’t know what to focus on and what to ignore. The result invariably looks like something the cat spewed-up.

5. You’re Impatient

You haven’t done any real marketing since you started the business. Now you’re expecting marketing efforts to double corporate revenue by the end of the week – if not sooner. That ain’t gonna happen.

SEO vs Paid Ads is a good example. Both tactics will give you traffic. But while Pay-Per-Click ads start delivering eyeballs as soon as you pay some money, SEO is a slow burn. How slow? That depends on many factors, but for competitive industries it could easily take 6 months or more before you’re seeing tangible results.

“Six months! I can’t wait that long! I need results now!” Sure, no problem – but it’ll cost you. Keep paying Google/Facebook/Amazon/Whoever and you’ll keep getting traffic. But as soon as you stop paying, those pageviews will disappear faster than a fart in a hurricane.

SEO, in contrast, is the gift that keeps on giving. Yes, it’ll take longer for you to appear on the first pages of Google. But once you’re there, it’s takes a lot less effort (and money) to keep you there. If you’re clever with content marketing and keyword research there’s no reason why pages can’t keep a first-page Google result for years.

6. You’re Taking Bad Marketing Advice

The number of times I’ve heard clients of ours curse whenever the names of ‘certain’ self-professed marketing soothsayers are mentioned…

Suffice to say there’s a lot of bad marketing advice on the web. For example ‘going all-in’ on any particular marketing tactic – Facebook or Instagram ads, podcasts, whatever social media channel is flavor of the month – is probably not going to bring you the results you’re expecting.

Another often-quoted piece of advice is “your message should be consistent across platforms.” That’s good advice. But that doesn’t mean publishing the exact same message and creative execution across every social media channel.

Of course messaging should be consistent, but that doesn’t mean the execution should be the same. In fact, creative execution should absolutely not be the same.

Firstly, people behave differently and expect different things depending on channel. Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat lend themselves to video. Email works better with the occasional still image, but don’t go overboard. Then there’s the message copy. The way you construct a piece on Facebook probably needs tweaking before pushing it out on LinkedIn, for example.

The optimization of customer experience should be driven by their existing behavior, not cordoned-off by the choice of channel. Engage customers with relevant, contextual experiences at a time, location and channel of their choice – not yours.

Advertising verbiage, the Call To Action, the creative, the headline – they are all channel-dependent. Oh, and if you’re automating your social media posts across platforms – posting the same updates on Facebook and Twitter, for example – you shouldn’t be surprised that nothing’s working. Stop it. Now.

7. You’re Only Thinking About New Customers

For many businesses it’s a gazillion times easier to sell to existing customers than to new ones. Make sure the people who’ve bought are as happy – if not happier – than customers who’ve just bought from you. How do you do that? You speak to them!

Listen to customer feedback. More often than not, if an existing customer brings up an issue with your product or service, they’re right. Call it market research, a customer survey, or whatever you want. The fact is most customers take the time to give constructive criticism because they want you to succeed.

Sometimes improving a product isn’t about adding some extra feature or gimmick, but something much more basic. Take mobile phones as an example. Manufacturers add more and more cameras, 3D screens, virtual reality, bigger screens, etc. when all most people really want is better battery life.

8. You’re Only Talking About Yourself

“We’re the best!” (No you’re not. If you were, you wouldn’t have to say it.)
“We’ve been in business for thirty years!” (Are you implying a competitor that’s 20 years old isn’t as good because they’re ten years younger than you are?)
“We’re committed to delivering outstanding customer service!” (Do you really think your competition isn’t saying the same thing, or doesn’t give a stuff about customer service?)

All that corporate chest-beating bravado? No-one cares. No only that, your customers don’t believe you.

This kind of marketing mistake usually happens when the people within the business forget who the communication is aimed at. Instead of thinking of the customer, they’re thinking of themselves. One of the hardest things for business owners to accept is you are not your target audience.

Let me tell you a secret. It’s sad but true, but customers would rather not have to buy whatever it is your selling if it wasn’t for the fact that your product/service allows them to do something that couldn’t otherwise do as easily.

They don’t care if you’ve been in business for thirty years, your six offices, or that you have 100 staff. What they want to know is whether what you’re selling makes their lives better – in whatever way they define ‘better’.

So stop talking to them about how great you think you are. It’s not about what you do – it’s about what you do for them.

9. You’re Looking At Things Through A Magnifying Glass

There isn’t a customer on the planet that refused to buy from you because your last Twitter post used a comma instead of a semicolon.

Stop waiting for perfect. Perfect does not exist. Get comfortable with stuff going out of the door that isn’t as good as you want it to be.

That doesn’t mean you should publish rubbish. Quality guidelines exist for a reason.

Consistency in execution, delivery, message, creative, etc all matter – of course they do. But there comes a time when we run into the law of diminishing returns. Spending (yet) another day rewriting an article won’t boost conversions enough to warrant the additional time you – or your marketing agency – may spend on it.

No-one else is looking at it as closely as you are. Get it done, get it out there, then move on to the next thing. Of course you should be measuring reach, effectiveness, etc. and iterating your marketing accordingly. But not to the point where you’re spending your time gilding the lily.

10. You’re Copying Whatever The Competition Is Doing

If all you’re doing is whatever the competition is doing, why should customers buy from you and not from them?

Even if you’re in the same market space, your value proposition is different from the competition (and if it’s not, you’ve got bigger problems). Aping the content, lead generation, or advertising tactics of the competition puts you into the same category – as far as the market is concerned. You’re riding on their coat-tails yet expecting to stand out from them – can you see the paradox?

Unless you have comprehensive insider intel, it’s very likely that whatever you’re seeing the competition doing with their marketing is only a part of their overall tactical plan. You’re bound to be missing stuff. As a result, you don’t know what parts of what they’re doing are working better than others.

The competition may be running a different business model to yours. Perhaps they have lower costs, or working on different profit margins. Perhaps they’re funded differently.

Of course, you’re also assuming that whatever the competition are doing is actually working for them – that’s not a given. Maybe they’re copying someone else!

11. You’re confusing “Efficiency” With “Effectiveness”

Yeah, there’s a ‘Number 11’ in a list of 10. So shoot me…

The terms ‘efficiency’ and ‘effectiveness’ are not interchangeable. They mean very different things – and not just in reference to marketing. Focusing on one of these terms drives business success. Focusing on the other drives a business into the ground.

Far too many organizations are obsessed with efficiency rather than effectiveness – which is ultimately hurting their business.

Effectiveness is about how well you’re doing in achieving your goals. How successful you are in delivering on what you set out to do. Efficiency, in contrast, is a ratio. It’s about how much input you make to deliver a particular output.

If you’re chasing effectiveness you’re about maximizing the outcome to a particular marketing tactic, or combination of tactics. It’s about achieving the biggest success you can.

Efficiency-driven businesses, on the other hand, are not looking to get the best result from their effort/investment. They’re looking to get the most positive result from the least amount of effort/investment. That’s a very different thing. Since efficiency is a ratio between input vs. output, maximizing efficiency is about reducing input. It’s a bit like how the finance department sees the marketing department.

If I spend $1 on marketing to get $10 dollars in sales, that’s ‘efficient’. But if by spending $3 I get a $50 return today, $100 next week, and $250 next month, what’s the better plan?

Organizations looking for efficient marketing tend to concentrate on quick and easy wins – the low-hanging fruit. They’re about cutting budgets to the bone and focusing on smaller activities. Yes, these activities are ‘efficient’ in that they cost tiny amounts of money. But they only ever generate modest results – you’ll never be able to achieve the maximum outcome possible from whatever marketing initiative you’re doing.

Cutting budget – in both effort and monetary terms – to maximize efficiency actually has the reverse effect on the business. Over the longer term it means less growth and less market share. Taken to its logical extreme, the ‘most efficient’ business is one that doesn’t spend anything on marketing – or indeed anything else. You could fire your staff, work from home, and cut all your budgets to zero. Your revenue generation will then be as efficient as it can possibly be!

If you focus on the effectiveness of your marketing you’re not just maximizing revenue – and profits – in the short term. Building brand awareness, visibility, reach, and engagement reduces the cost of new customer acquisition, reduces pricing sensitivity, increases existing customer loyalty, and strengthens your market position against the competition.

Avoiding Marketing Mistakes

Marketing may not be that easy, but that doesn’t mean it has to be difficult. It may not be the most original advice, but your best bet in avoiding screw-ups is to find someone who knows what they’re doing.

Sure, that could be a marketing agency. But it could also be someone in your network, an ex-colleague, or a past mentor. Maybe you know someone with their own business who can advise you, or point you in the right direction.

The key is realizing there isn’t any guaranteed formula or recipe. Every marketing execution is different because every business is different. Start with a customer-focused mindset and concentrate on measurements that relate to a tangible business outcome, and you’ll be off to a good start.