9 Marketing Mistakes You Don’t Realize You’re Making (And How to Avoid Them)

9 Marketing Mistakes You Don't Realize You're Making

This post by Bryan Johnston originally appeared on Single Grain, a growth marketing agency focused on scaling customer acquisition.

Marketing is simple, right? Anyone can do it—you just get the word out to entice people to buy your service or product.

Nope. Marketing is simple in theory…but that doesn’t mean it’s easy in reality. There’s a lot going on under the hood, and since most of us would never dream of messing around with our car’s engine, it doesn’t make sense to think we can pull off successful marketing without knowing anything about it.

Before you can fix your mistakes (and you are making mistakes) you must first know what they are.

What Marketing Is

Marketing is complex. It is not just sex and slogans. It’s about putting the right product, at the right price, at the right time, in the right place. Those are the essentials, and referred to as the 4Ps of marketing (product, price, place, and promotion).

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Modern marketing can take many forms: content, inbound, outbound, sandwich board on the street (is that still a thing?).

“Marketing is the management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably.” ~The Chartered Institute of Marketing

Marketing is multi-faceted, with its many elements working in harmony to deliver the goods. The many arms of marketing include:

  • Public relations
  • Brand management
  • Market research
  • Marketing communications, which can be further divided into digital marketing, social media marketing, direct (mail) marketing, and traditional channels like print, radio, and billboards.
  • Sales
  • Customer service

Marketing can be B2C (business to consumer) or B2B (business to business). It can be pushy or pully (to coin a new phrase).

Much like a cryptozoologist looking for Bigfoot, it can be hard to find the right tactics and formula to get what you’re after. That’s when the amateur gives up. But that’s not you, is it?

What Marketing Isn’t

Marketing is also sales. Yes, it leads to sales by getting the word out there through branding and advertising, via both the written word and images, and then luring prospective customers in, but a marketer is not the one to actually interact with the sales lead—that’s the job of the sales person in the sales department.

Marketing is also not creative nor does it belong in the content department. Again, marketers work closely with these departments by sharing the analytics and insights they’ve gained from the information and research they’ve produced, but a marketer is not the one to actually produce or design the content.

And as mentioned already, marketing is not easy. Many companies—and especially small businesses—make the error of doing all their own marketing without any know-how. That could work, providing you have someone who knows what they’re doing—like your very own Don Draper. But most brands just starting out don’t have that luxury, so they must go it alone. You can do it…if you have a map highlighting all the booby traps.

So without further ado, here are the 9 most common marketing mistakes you’re probably making…and how to fix them.

Mistake #1 – Too Many Discounts/Promos

“Attract” and “increase” are two of the most popular words to any business owner. Attract more customers, and increase sales. Those are good reasons to offer your customer base a special rate or discount.

It’s not all rainbows and unicorns, though. Discounts can blow up in your face. New businesses often make the mistake of offering big discounts at launch or when sales are stagnating. They’re a quick shot in the arm, like a can of spinach for Popeye. What you don’t see? The leafy green hangover the next day. Likewise, discounts can have serious and long-term negative effects.

Giving discounts too often or too casually and they can turn on you like a rabid dog because they:

  • Weaken and devalue your brand (why would anyone pay full price if you’re always offering a discount?)
  • Put focus on price rather than value
  • Reduce overall effectiveness and satisfaction with your product (counterintuitive, but true)
  • Set a precedent (customers may demand and expect the same discount, or wait until your next promo)
  • Hurt your bottom line

It’s a question of price versus value. Customers want excellent value for their money and the actual amount in many ways is irrelevant.

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Instead, try an alternative like earned discounts (such as volume quotas), early payment discounts, or multi-buy options. Focus on the static value of your product or service. Use discounts for appreciation, not retention. Offer only to a select group and be careful about how you announce it.

Derek Halpern of Social Triggers believes you should never, ever discount your product. Not sometimes. Not rarely. Never. He likens discounts to a drug, and your customers will become addicted. He suggests that you add value instead of lowering prices. This can lead to the same sales spike without the long-term damage.

Mistake #2 – Loving Your Prospects but Ignoring Your Customers

With a prospect, it’s a lot like dating. You’re wooing, making promises, offering the best service or product, and you’re in constant communication. You can’t stop thinking about them. You send them little notes all day. They feel loved and appreciated.

But once they’re a customer, it can quickly become a bad marriage. You take them for granted. You forget those promises. You don’t call as much. You never send cute little notes anymore.

It’s mind-boggling. Customers are the lifeblood, no? A prospect may buy. A customer has bought. And lest we forget, it’s more expensive to get a new customer than to retain an existing one; 3-10x more expensive depending on the source, with some claiming upwards of 20-30x!

Even if it’s “only” twice as much, it doesn’t make sense to not focus on customer retention at least as much as customer acquisition.

Adobe estimates that for every 1% of buyers that return for another online visit, revenue will increase by approximately 10%. If retailers focused on turning 10% of their customers into repeat buyers, they could double their overall revenue! But businesses spend only about 2% of their marketing budget on customer relationships. What the what?

You need a steady supply of leads. Absolutely. But share the love. Bring flowers home for no reason. Offer those special “new customer only” discounts to your loyal and repeat clients. Remind them that you can’t live without them.

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Mistake #3 – Abusing the Six Principles of Influence

Even if you’ve never heard of him, you’re probably using (and abusing) some of his ideas. Robert Cialdini is a psychologist and author of the best-seller Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. In it, he outlines what he calls the 6 principles (or weapons, depending on where you land on the good-evil sliding scale) of persuasion:

  1. Reciprocity – we’re hardwired to pay back favors and debts.
  2. Commitment and Consistency – we stick with and follow through on something we’ve previously chosen in some way.
  3. Social Proof – if something is popular with the masses, or individuals we know and like, we tend to trust it more.
  4. Liking – we agree to requests from people we like more readily.
  5. Authority – we follow people who at least look like they know what they’re doing (doctors, police officers, scientists, “experts”).
  6. Scarcity – if something is limited or in short supply, we want it even more.

You can—and should—use these principles in your marketing efforts. Without them, you’re not as persuasive as you could be…and marketing is ultimately about persuading someone to purchase what you’re selling. They help boost conversions and sales.

But the principles can be abused. Sincerity is vitally important because consumers are very good at sniffing out insincerity and exaggeration when it comes to marketing.

Take the scarcity principle. Use it too frequently, and like the boy who cried wolf, eventually no one will believe you. Think of all the television infomercials abusing this one: Call now! Only available for the next ten minutes! Only 3 left in the world! Today only, and then gone forever!

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How much do you believe those claims? Not much. Fake scarcity will bite you in the butt with plummeting sales, bad word-of-mouth, low opinions, and a mass exodus of prospects and customers. So don’t do it.

The same is true for abusing any of the principles. Use them sparingly and use them genuinely.

Mistake #4 – No Unique Selling Proposition

In our rush to bring our product to the public, we often gloss over the minute details, believing that its sheer awesomeness will bring in customers by the thousands (the “if you build it, they will come” sales philosophy). But that rarely happens.

So you need to get out there. You need to show them exactly how and in what way it’s awesome. You need to know—for yourself first and foremost—what makes you better than the rest. You need a clearly defined and articulated unique selling proposition (USP).

Positioning is key…what makes you special? You should have a dynamite elevator pitch that explains it perfectly. Skip this and you have no real idea who you are, who your ideal customer is, or how to market to them. And if you’re not sure, why would a customer be?

In a global market, you’re competing not only against similar businesses in your town or city, but also the rest of your country, if not the rest of the world. You need to stand out. You need to show and convince prospects that you’re the best choice because [insert your USP here].

How do you do that? It’s tricky but worth it. A few starting points:

  • First of all, check out some kickass examples to get a feel for strong USPs. Ask yourself why they work so well.
  • Consider your ideal customer. Who are they, what do they need or want that your product fulfills, and how do they characterize themselves? Appeal to that group.
  • All bias and hyperbole aside, why would someone choose you over a competitor? Is it just price? What specifically motivates them to buy? If you’re unsure, ask your customers!
  • Let your brand’s personality shine through. It makes you special…which is the first part of your unique selling proposition (otherwise it’d be just an SP).

In order to effectively market anything, you have to understand everything. Your product or service needs to offer or provide or boast something that no one else can. And you need to know exactly what that is. Do. Not. Skip. This.

Buy our pizza because you’re hungry? Nope. Any pizza will fix that problem. Buy our pizza because it’s made by artisanal pizza fairies from Naples? Now, that’s unique!

Mistake #5 – None, Not Enough, or Too Much Marketing

Like Goldilocks, you have to find the perfect porridge. The easiest marketing mistake to make is not having any (ice cold), not having enough (lukewarm), or having too much (piping hot).

When you’re just starting out, you may believe that you can’t afford it or that marketing will come later, but in truth, you can’t afford not to market. And in the digital age, thankfully, it’s nowhere near as expensive as traditional outbound methods (which is generally pricey and less effective, anyway).

Not doing anything or only a little? You’re missing out. Yes, having a quality product to sell is important, and the satisfied customers you do have will likely spread the word for you. But as they say in the business world, if you’re not growing, you’re dying. The money you spend on marketing now—provided you work to see a positive ROI—will come back to you and then some. So invest in yourself.

“I have enough money/customers already.” ~No One

You gotta spend money to make money, but you can’t be constantly pitching your product either. Consider how annoying it is when you see the same television commercial all the time, hear the same radio ad multiple times each hour, encounter the same pop-up banner online, or receive dozens of e-mails hawking the same service every week. Ever feel compelled to buy whatever that annoying company is selling? Exactly. Too much is never a good thing, as you run the risk of becoming over-exposed and completely irritating to those people you’re trying to entice.

So what’s the right mix? Depends who you ask. In social media marketing, there are plenty of sharing ratios to choose from:

  • 5-3-2 (5 content from others, 3 content from you, 2 personal status updates)
  • 4-1-1 (4 content from others, 1 retweet for every 1 self-serving [i.e. promotional] update)
  • Rule of Thirds (⅓ is about you and your content, ⅓ is sharing content from others, and ⅓ are personal interactions)
  • 30/60/10 (30% owned, 60% curated, and 10% promotional)

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Pick your poison. No matter which you choose, the amount of self-serving promotional posts should be small. The bulk of your social media or content marketing should be useful material for your fans and followers.

Too many e-mails, too much self-promotion, or too many sales pitches, and your audience will leave you.

Figuring out exactly how much to spend can involve numbers, customer acquisition costs and lifetime values, and good old-fashioned math. If that makes you want to hide under the bed, just remember that it doesn’t necessarily have to be complicated (yet). Inbound marketing is the most effective and cost-friendly route to get started.

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The bottom line? You have to do something. But not too much. Find the “just right” porridge temperature. Let your e-mail subscribers select their own frequency (daily, weekly, monthly). Pick a sharing ratio that works for you and your goals. Talk more about them and less about you.

Like salt, alcohol, and Tex-Mex food…everything in moderation.

Mistake #6 – No Specified Target Market

It’s tempting to aim your marketing efforts at everyone. Don’t. You need to be specific. Who’s your ideal customer or prospect? Grant Leboff of Sticky Marketing Club suggests these six steps to identify him or her:

  1. What problem or need does your product address?
  2. Create a perfect customer (or “buyer persona”) profile of people affected by the problem or need, including demographics, goals, values, interests, motivations, lifestyle, and beliefs.
  3. Who suffers the most?
  4. Think about your market (competitors, overall value)
  5. Look closely at your company (what you can and can’t do, who you most want to attract, areas of expertise)
  6. What makes you unique compared to your competitors?

If you can’t answer everything, ask! Talk to your existing customers to fill in some blanks. And remember that you may have more than one ideal customer…and that’s okay. It’s fantastic, actually. Wide appeal and all that jazz. Create a buyer persona for each of them.

Once you’ve identified the relevant buyer personas, you can market directly to them, where they hang out, and speak to them in ways that resonate with them on a visceral level. Marketing today must be personalized and feel tailor-made to have any shot at success, and that starts with knowing exactly who you’re targeting. It’ll save you time, money, frustration, and countless nights spent wondering why no one is buying.

Mistake #7 – Believing that Marketing Ends with the Sale

Marketing is not just about getting the name and e-mail address that leads to the sale. Yes, it’s a big part, but there’s more to be done after they sign on that digital line. Too many businesses fall into this trap and believe that marketing ends when money is exchanged. Big mistake. Huge.

In the digital domain, the follow-up is equally—if not more—important. A typical buyer decision process includes five steps:

  1. Problem or need identified
  2. Research
  3. Evaluation
  4. Decision
  5. Post-purchase evaluation

After we slap down the dollars (or pounds, or euros, or yen…), we usually evaluate our experience from start to finish. Did we make the right decision? Does the product actually address the need/problem? And how well did the company meet our expectations? You need to exceed the customer’s expectations. And you do that with the sales follow-up.

Send a thank you note via e-mail. Check in a day or two later to see if they have any questions or issues. Establish channels of communication (e-mail list, social media, customer service phone line) and keep them open. Offer tips and tricks to enhance their purchase. Depending on your product, there may be opportunities for upselling and/or reselling.

But the bottom line is that you have to stay connected and available. A bad experience, or a customer who feels abandoned or forgotten, can kill you with negative social proof. Everyone has a potential audience of millions today, what with blogs and the myriad of social networks. Bad word-of-mouth will damage your reputation, guaranteed.

Consider:

Follow up, follow up, follow up. Take steps to identify and fix bad experiences before someone has the chance to air their grievance on a very public forum.

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Mistake #8 – You’re a Pantser

As in you fly by the seat of your pants. The opposite is a planner. Now, before anyone writes angry letters extolling the virtue of an unplanned life, let me just say that I agree with you.

Except when it comes to your business and your marketing.

Your marketing must have a plan. Otherwise, you’re quite literally throwing money away (much like anyone who invested in Trump Steak, or Trump University, or Trump [blank]). And it doesn’t matter whether you prioritize inbound or outbound techniques. A plan should be step #1.

A good marketing plan explicitly states:

  • Overall goals
  • Industry analysis
  • Target market
  • Tactics
  • Strategies
  • How to measure success

Content marketing, for example, can be used for a wide and far-reaching number of different goals.

Just be sure to make them smart goals, goals that you can actually achieve. Spread brand awareness, generate leads, increase revenue, maintain and develop customer relationships…no matter what the goal, make it specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely.

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Remember that the most effective marketers track the ROI of their efforts. In fact, those who checked at least three times each week were a full 20% more likely to see a positive return.

There’s no shortage of metrics you should be checking. It all depends on the particular goal of a particular campaign.

Mistake #9 – No Website

This one seems incredulous in 2016, but many businesses still don’t have a website. Nearly half (46%) of U.S. small businesses don’t have one, with the majority listing either “Not relevant to my industry” (32%) or “Cost” (30%) as the principal reason.

But guess what? It is relevant to every industry, and the cost is negligible compared to the potential lost revenue from not having one.

If you don’t have a website, you’re losing money. Period. And here’s why:

Key Takeaways

What’s the takeaway here?

  1. Offer more value than discounts.
  2. Don’t neglect customer retention.
  3. Don’t abuse the 6 principles of influence.
  4. Have a clearly defined unique selling proposition (USP).
  5. Find the sweet spot between too much and too little marketing.
  6. Specify your target market.
  7. Follow up, follow up, follow up.
  8. Make a plan.
  9. Have a website.

The potential mistakes are many. But before you drop to your knees, eyes skyward in anguish, and release a heart-wrenching “Why God, why?!”, know this: most mistakes are easily avoided. And most are easily fixed (although avoided is better than fixed if we’re ranking).

Follow these steps to know what to watch out for and then market like a pro.

Disclaimer: As with any digital marketing campaign, your individual results may vary.

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