Photo Credit Kristy Johnson

The 7 Most Common Marketing Mistakes Companies Make

“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” — John Wanamaker

I have a love hate relationship with marketing.

On the one hand it’s a crucial business function that can multiply a business’s value and be the difference between a market leader or a failure in the marketplace.

On the other hand, marketing can be complete fluff, relying on buzzwords which can send conversations in circles and never add an ounce of real value to a business.

After 7 years in digital marketing I keep seeing the same issues over and over again.

Below is a list of the 7 mistakes I see companies make. It doesn’t matter if you work for a startup with two employees, a Fortune 500 company, or have a b2b or b2c product.

Is your team falling victim to any of them?

1. Spending Too Much Time Planning and Not Enough Time Doing

Analysis paralysis. So many marketers I’ve worked with love to talk endlessly about big ideas, plans and frameworks. Unfortunately the big idea talk can lead to very little action taking place.

One of my first full time jobs was at a digital agency that worked with many Fortune 500 brands. While we made some beautiful websites, much of the “work” we did was months of planning and presentations without any “real work” being shipped.

Planning meetings, presenting about plans, planning about presentations, presentations about presentations, it would go on and on until finally a project actually got started. This was starkly different than my first day at a startup in San Francisco when I suggested a website change, and the CEO replied, “why haven’t you changed it already?

The rule of thumb for me is that if you find your team spending more time planning than on actually doing marketing that touches a customer, then you’re probably planning too much.

Don’t get me wrong, having a strategy outline is important, but the plan will change multiple times as you begin the work. And beginning the work is sometimes the hardest part.

Paul Roetzer, Founder/CEO of PR 20/20 and author of the New Marketing Agency Blueprint recently echoed this sentiment with his article, The Marketing Growth Hackathon: Spend Less Time Planning, More Time Doing.

His solution to analysis paralysis is to do a time-boxed marketing hackathon to generate ideas, evaluate their potential impact then execute on them within a month.

2. Not Having Any Metrics OR Using Too Many Metrics

Last month I was on a call with a client who wanted to redesign their Wordpress website. After learning about their business and the changes they wanted to make I asked, “What metrics are you currently tracking to gauge whether your website is successful or not?


“If we don’t have any metrics guiding what we want the website to do, how are we going to know if the changes we make are better or worse than the current version?”

More silence.

This is all too common for small businesses who hire a designer or developer to do some work, without having anyone to ask the important results-oriented marketing questions.

At a high level, here are some marketing metrics you should track each month:

  • how many unique website visitors does your site get a month?
  • what percent of these visitors get converted into a lead?
  • what percent of these leads are qualified potential customers for your business?
  • what percent of qualified leads become customers?
  • where did these leads/customers come from?

On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve worked with startups who want to measure the ROI of every minute spent on every marketing activity.

While this is well-intentioned, if you try to measure the ROI of every single marketing action, you will spend more time collecting and analyzing data (analysis paralysis) than you will on using your best judgement to refine and ship more marketing campaigns.

Like most things in life, balance is key.

One question I always ask myself when gathering a metric is, “If we track this metric, what will we change if it is higher or lower than expected?”

It’s better to start with some simple metrics that evolve over time when you need to understand a particular aspect of your business than spending half your team’s energy gathering metrics for metrics’ sake.

3. Getting Distracted by 80% and Not Focusing on the 20%

The 80/20 rule or the Pareto Principle states that most of the results in any situation are determined by a small number of causes.

The marketing landscape today has so many tools, networks and ways to potentially reach customers. Unfortunately 80% of them are probably a waste of your time.

Most companies I’ve seen take a “checklist approach” when diving into marketing. The marketing checklist dictates how they spend their time.

  • email newsletter
  • Linked In page
  • post content on Twitter
  • get more Facebook followers
  • write a blog post
  • run a google adwords campaign
  • the list goes on and on…

This is the absolute wrong way to approach marketing problems.

Instead of coming up with tasks to do based on a checklist you should be doing user-research to figure out where customers are coming from and how to get more of them.

It’s also smart as you’re doing your research and deciding which marketing activities to focus on that you start at the bottom of the funnel and testing/optimizing your way up to the top.

A 25% increase at the last stage of the funnel is worth a lot more than 25% increase at the top. Here’s an example:

  • 1,000 unique website visitors
  • 10 people sign up for your webinar
  • 1 of the signups becomes a customer

If you increase your website traffic by 25% (focusing on the top of the funnel) then it’ll look something like this.

  • 1,250 unique visitors
  • 12.5 average sign ups (it’s thought experiment remember?)
  • 1.25 customers

Now let’s say you can take that same amount of energy to increase your conversion from webinar sign up to customer from 10% to 25%.

  • 1,000 unique visitors
  • 10 signups
  • 2.5 customers

Now you’ve doubled your income by focusing on the right stage of the funnel.

It’s so easy for a marketer to get distracted by all the activities they need to complete. However you need to be disciplined and focus on the highest impact activities at the right stage of the funnel.

4. Not Investing in REAL Content

At an early stage of a business, especially a B2B SAS company, it’s important to have an outbound sales effort to get your initial customer base. However, soon after you’ve gotten some traction it’s time for marketing to nurture disqualified leads, uncover and generate new leads so that people who have never heard about you are onto your sales team’s radar.

The #1 way to do this is by investing in content.

Inbound Marketing, Permission Marketing, Content Marketing, Thought Leadership Marketing, Demand Generation Marketing, all of these terms are basically trying to articulate the same thing.

Create something people want and give it away in exchange for their contact information aka a lead.

However you can’t just put out any crap content, the content has to be REAL. Here’s the REAL Content checklist:

  • Relevant — Does the customer care about this issue? Is it specific for their industry?
  • Educational — Does the customer actually learn something? Does it help them solve the knowledge gap they are looking to fill?
  • Actionable — Can the customer take action after reading this? Does it help your team take some sort of action with the customer?
  • Lead Generating — Does the piece of content generate a qualified lead for your business that will eventually turn into a sale?

In addition to REAL content, you must make sure that content is discoverable and downloadable from your website.

If you don’t invest in real content, you will probably fall victim to the next marketing mistake.

5. Paying to Play for Each Marketing Activity

“If you have more money than brains, you should focus on outbound marketing. If you have more brains than money, you should focus on inbound marketing.” — Guy Kawasaki

This mistake typically happens to organizations with larger budgets who don’t understand the value of content marketing. Here’s the scenario, which has happened to me on more than one occasion.

Sales numbers have slowed or the board of your startup has recently raised expectations for growth for the upcoming quarter. Marketing needs to help double sales, so they get an extra $100,000 in budget.
An “advertising campaign blitz” is suggested by the CEO and she thinks investing in the industry’s biggest conference with a gold level sponsorship will turn things around. This costs $50,000.
A few months after the money is spent, it has generated some leads, but didn’t double the lead flow like you were hoping. Now that the money was spent, the only way to continue generating leads is to pay again and again.

Since so many companies fall victim to mistake #4 they end up falling short of their lead generation targets months into the future.

Quality content, SEO, and lead generation efforts take time, but on the upside, once you invest in them, they work for you month after month without any additional investment.

Unfortunately so many companies are reactive, and by the time you realize you have a marketing problem, you’re probably 6 months too late to do anything about it.

6. Not Hiring the Right Person to Energize Your Marketing Efforts

Hiring for a marketing role might be one of the hardest hiring decisions a business can make.

An engineer and designer should have a public portfolio. A sales associate should have a record of accomplishment as well as the ability to sell you on on why they should get the job.

Marketers should have a portfolio of successful projects, but many resumes contain a lot of buzzwords and they may not have well-documented results.

Last year after a recruiter saw my marketing summary from Uversity, she said 9/10 marketing candidates she meets with don’t have any tangible assets to show for their marketing work.

Here are a few different ways this mistake ends up playing out for a business.

  1. They hire someone with “marketing experience” but the person they hire is coming from an organization that wasn’t data-driven or up-to-date with marketing best practices.
  2. They assign marketing tasks to someone inside their company for them to have a “part-time marketing” role. While an office manager, designer or salesperson might be able to help with some tasks, this should not replace an experienced, dedicated marketing resource.
  3. They hire their friend’s friend (who loves to Instagram) to run their marketing. That social media butterfly sets up a Facebook Page, Pinterest Account, Tumblr blog, Linked In Profile, Snapchat account, and an Instagram profile. If you recall mistake#3, this is not marketing.

And last but not least.

7. Believing in Magic

When I was 12, I loved magic. It blew my mind when something appeared or disappeared into thin air. In fact I dedicated much of my childhood to learning and performing as much magic as possible.

What does this have to do with marketing?

Interesting enough today I see so many CEOs and business leaders fall victim to “believing in marketing magic.” If someone doesn’t have a marketing background, it’s hard to wrap your head around the entire marketing landscape and approach marketing in a rational manner.

Often they come up with “one brilliant idea” like the conference example, or want to hire “a magical marketing agency” to rebrand the company to help grow sales.

This belief in a “magical advertising campaign” or hiring “a big name branding agency” which charges $300 an hour is usually a sign of a scared leader who is praying (and paying) for someone to solve a problem that he or she doesn’t want to think critically about themselves.

Unfortunately here’s the reality of marketing, magic and life in general.

  • there is no shortcut
  • there is no silver bullet
  • there is no such thing as magic

Sad I know, but that’s the hard truth.

So many consultants and agencies I’ve talked to, attempt to throw in as many buzzwords as possible into their presentations in order to confuse their clients into submission.

“They must know what they are talking about, cause I have no idea what they are talking about because it sounds fancy!”

Here’s my take.

If a marketing person can’t explain a concept to you in a way you understand, then they aren’t a very good marketer.

Genius is the art of making the complicated simple, not the other way around.

So that was a long post (mistake #8 is being long winded?) let’s take a moment to review. Perhaps you should share this checklist with your team to discuss what improvements you’ll make in 2016.

  1. You have an outline for a plan, but you spend most of your time doing marketing work that actually reaches a customer.

2. You have metrics that help you decide if your marketing efforts are adding business value, but aren’t overwhelmed by them.

3. Your customer research is influencing what marketing activities you focus on and you’re focusing on optimizing the right stage of the funnel.

4. You’re investing in REAL content that’s generating sales for your business this month, 6 months from now and 6 years from now.

5. You’ve got marketing working for you while you sleep, and you’re not paying to play for each marketing step forward.

6. You’ve hired the right person to energize and guide your marketing efforts.

7. You understand what you are paying for, and aren’t praying for some marketing magic to double your sales overnight.

What marketing mistakes have you seen or made in your business? Please add to this list in the comments below.