The 10 Most Common Marketing Pitfalls (and How to Avoid Them)

How to avoid marketing mistakes

1. Failing to create a set of goals

At the beginning of a marketing campaign, it’s easy to aim for an uptick of any kind: a flock of new customers, general awareness or simply a well-placed trade article. While you may ultimately be satisfied with any positive results, however, don’t fall into the trap of ignoring basic goals. Think of it like trying to navigate an unfamiliar city without a map: You may be happy with any neighborhood you stumble into, but you’ll never find the serious treats until you know where you’re going.

Writing down a list of specific goals not only helps you focus your business, but it also allows you to target your efforts to specific results. For instance, a campaign that strives to promote brand awareness will often function very differently than a campaign that aims to increase web sales by 10 percent. Know what you want to achieve within six months, one year and five years, and then tailor your plans to each milestone.

2. Going forward without a solid plan

Of course, knowing what you want to achieve is only a fraction of the battle. We call this pitfall the Bouillabaisse Syndrome: A hodgepodge of items is often delicious, but one wrong ingredient can ruin the stew. Think of your marketing plan like a thoughtful recipe; the results may seem effortless to an outsider, but the process is actually tightly controlled.

Once you’ve mapped out your goals, populate each list item with the specific strategies that will lead the charge. This is also crucial for determining the tone of your marketing. Will you be educational or entertaining? Will your collateral feel cutting edge or traditional? Design your marketing recipe, and hold your focus; it’ll be your no-nonsense guide through the entire campaign.

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3. Forgoing research for gut feelings

While small business marketing certainly demands a fair share of guesswork, resist the temptation to base your plans entirely on hunches. Making assumptions about audience reaction and outcome tends to lead even the most seasoned professionals astray, and it’s difficult to bounce back when you don’t have solid research to support where you might have gone wrong. Before you begin mapping out your plan, dedicate a considerable amount of time to researching everything you can about audience demographics, price structures and competition. You may still make a few decisions based on that gut feeling, but you’ll find that an informed choice is almost always preferable to a blind assumption.

4. Positioning your brand awkwardly

We’ve all seen this pitfall in action: a lawn-care service trying desperately to be hip, for instance, or a colorful clothing store with no personality.

Though it’s ultimately up to you to choose the right voice for your brand, make sure you’re basing that decision on the reality of your customers. Who are they? Where do they work? What sort of activities populate their daily lives? If your product is most useful to 40-year-old men, don’t pepper your marketing with teenage lingo. Apple knows that creative professionals are among their best customers, for instance, so they create campaigns that speak directly to that audience. Be aspirational, but don’t wander into fantasy land; an awkward brand identity will just decrease customer loyalty from the people you want most.

5. Staying firmly inside the box

Small business advertising is always tricky, but this is especially true if you’re working with a limited budget. On one hand, you want to create moments that will truly drive engagement. On the other, you don’t want to go all in on a cutting-edge concept that could eat up your funds and backfire immediately.

Don’t let that fear keep you from exercising your creativity; customers are savvier than ever, and they can smell an been-there-done-that concept from miles away. Consider Geico’s creative television spots: The company could’ve easily produced ads that featured happy families using their services — after all, it’s worked for other brands — but they chose an outside-the-box route that’s paid off for years. Use traditional methods where they’re most effective, but keep an open mind when it comes to blue-sky thinking. You’ll never know until you take the risk.

6. Marketing only to new customers

Every business hopes for an influx of new sales, but focusing only on the clients you don’t have is a surefire way to annihilate your customer loyalty. That’s why so many successful companies feature loyalty programs: to reward repeat business with a series of members-only perks and exclusive delights. What’s more, this is actually a fantastic way to lure new customers in the first place; satisfied clients are more likely to tell their friends about your business, and a creative loyalty program can pique audience interest entirely on its own.

Keep an eye on the future, but tend to your loyal customers. They’ll be the ones who keep your company afloat.

7. Muddying your message with overwrought creative

Repeat after us: Less is more. In order to effectively communicate with your customers, you need to get right to the point, and marketing pieces crammed with copy and images threaten to confuse potential clients.

You can even test this concept on yourself; quickly flip through a magazine or newspaper, and take note of the ads that immediately catch your eye. More often than not, they’ll highlight no more than two messages and will frequently be surrounded by plenty of negative space. Use those ads as a guiding light for all your efforts, and enlist the help of an experienced copywriter and designer if you need an extra pair of hands.

8. Using social incorrectly

Everyone has those friends or family members who can’t manage to figure out exactly how Twitter works but insist upon using it anyway. Here’s a word to the wise: Don’t be the brand version of that person. Social media isn’t just the province of teenagers anymore; a wide demographic uses these platforms on a daily basis, and most people expect a basic level of proficiency from every company they encounter.

Disregarding best practices and site-specific etiquette does more to damage your credibility than you might assume, and it can actively encourage disengagement. Brush up on your social skills before you dive in, or get a savvy team member to handle the online duties if you’re feeling unsure about what to post where.

9. Expecting immediate gratification

When it comes to marketing, it’s all about the long game. While it’s definitely frustrating not to see results immediately, understand that big-picture campaigns can take a little time to reach their full impact. Measure your successes by the small wins, and don’t hastily switch tactics before you’ve seen the full result. You always want to be measuring the efficiency of your strategies, but not becoming a household name within two months isn’t a solid justification for completely switching gears.

10. Not differentiating yourself from the competition

This is among the toughest pitfalls to avoid, and nearly every small business has stumbled into it on some scale. In fact, many marketing consultants focus entirely on this dilemma: what to do when your company has become more of the same. If you’re creating an alternative to a well-established product or service, be careful not to position yourself as a carbon copy.

Customers need a reason to choose you over the other guy, and simply being the new kid on the block won’t cut it. Analyze your competition from every angle — pricing, marketing and brand positioning are great places to start — and then spend some time examining how you could pitch yourself differently. Coke and Pepsi, for instance, have been playing this game for years, and neither brand has ever won by trying to imitate the other. What works for the competition won’t always work for you; it’ll likely just keep working for the competition.

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