9 Mistakes Marketers Keep Making

We all make mistakes. Some of us more than others, it is a natural and human thing to do. Most mistakes are easy to identify, some are easily rectified and others are just to be ignored. The most important thing is to learn from those mistakes, and move forward. But there are some mistakes that seem to happen over and over again. We may be aware of the mistakes, but mostly we tend to make mistakes that we are completely oblivious to. We see the result of those mistakes, but we can’t identify the problem. This especially happens a lot in marketing. Not because people in marketing and advertising are less enlightened, but because there are no set answers. There is no way that anyone with 100% accuracy can predict the outcome of a marketing activity. But there are many things we can do to eliminate the risk of making big mistakes. Here are 9 mistakes marketers keep making, with some thoughts on how to rectify the problem:

1. They think the consumer actually goes around thinking about their brand
Ok, so this is a tough one for many brands and marketing people. They love their brand, and they want it to succeed. In fact, many see their competitors as the actual enemy and fight in the trenches to achieve success. And because they love their brand so much they think that the consumer also loves their brand. Now, there are (a very few) exceptions, but people have other things to think about. They think about brands when they are looking to buy, or having a great experience – but most of the time, they are thinking about their boyfriend, their dog, their jobs, their family, their friends, food, sex – well. pretty much anything but brands. And they have so many brands and categories to interact with, that in a week they probably spend less than a tenth of a second thinking about one specific brand. So rather than focusing only on the brand (many brands have close to 100% recognition anyway), think of the “Point of Experience” – that moment when people feel something, understand something or do something connected to the category or the brand. That’s the opportunity.

2.They tell their agency what to do, not what to achieve.
As a Creative Director, this was my mantra to the strategists and account team: “Don’t tell me what to do, tell me what to achieve”. Unfortunately, after more than 20 years in the ad business, there are still a lot of briefs from clients that tells us quite specifically what to do. And I understand why that happens, many marketers feel that they need to be specific so they get what they want. However, it shuts the door to getting what they need rather than what they want. It even shuts down the possibility of something completely new, something that disrupts the industry and are true game changing ideas. That doesn’t mean we should disperse with briefs, but rather change the focus of the brief. Let the brief be about the business challenges the brand is facing, and what the goal is. I guarantee that the outcome will be more interesting, more engaging and produce better results.

3. They pre-empt what their superiors will think
We see this a lot. Many marketers are afraid of what their superiors might say, so they steer away from anything controversial. They go for the safe option, because “no one has ever gotten fired for choosing IBM”. The safe option puts them in the trustworthy category, or so they think. In reality, most senior marketers love pushing boundaries. They want to see digital savvy marketing that connects with the consumer. But they haven’t managed to get their teams to feel that trust. Pushing for innovation requires both vision and executional ability. Engaging the whole team in the vision and then empowering them to execute as a team is a key success factor when organising a marketing team. But it also requires “permission to fail”. If people feel they aren’t allowed to fail, they will choose the safe option (aka doing what they’ve always done) every time.

4. They compromise ideas to ensure “brand consistency”
This is a big one. We’ve all laughed at the constant request to “make the logo bigger”, but this happens on a daily basis. Many brands have so many guidelines that they forget the purpose of the communication – which is to communicate – not hit people over the head with logos, fonts, colour schemes and visual elements. The mistake actually leads to the opposite of what they want to achieve  – they alienate their audience instead of connecting with them. Of course, no one is saying there shouldn’t be logos or fonts, but everything needs to have flexibility or it becomes a straight jacket.

5. They listen to random friends and family about communication
“My wife didn’t like it, so let’s look at some other options.” Who hasn’t heard this line a few times in their career? It is always very tempting to consult people we know to get affirmation on an idea or a concept. And honestly, it’s very easy to understand why people do this. By getting feedback from friends or family, the decision feels easier and brings a bit of “proof” to a discipline that cannot be described as an accurate science by any standards. The problem with the approach is on several layers. First of all, pre-testing creative concepts is difficult even for professional research companies. People tend to like what they’ve seen before, so they lean towards the safer options. But a new concept will only be new for a short period, and will then gain familiarity while still remaining unique. Secondly, friends don’t share the risks and rewards in marketing activities. They have nothing to gain or anything to lose. Even though that sounds like neutral advice, it means they don’t put the effort into fully understanding the task and the solution (which at this stage is a mock-up) Last, but not least, they are probably not the target audience. If the target is young adults with kids, a 40+ friend won’t do, if the target audience is retirees in their 60s, a 35 year old wife is not the right person to give advice. It is better then to trust professional advisors with experience in communicating with multiple audiences.

6. They see digital as a media channel
Most marketers dream about a complete integrated approach. Unfortunately, not many have seen it. There are many reasons for this, but the one that seems to be most prevalent is seeing digital as just another media channel. Even some agencies keep saying this, “digital is nothing special, it’s just another media channel, like print, radio and TV”. But this is a huge misconception, and a big mistake. Digital is culture – not channel. So what does that mean? If we see digital as culture, rather than a channel, we will realise that it’s not about technology, but rather how people apply technology. The culture of digital impacts how people consume all media, including analog media such as linear TV and print. By seeing digital as a range of opportunities where connections are created through being useful or entertaining to the audience, it is easier to push boundaries and create true experiences for the consumers.

7. They look to the past, rather than to the future
“It’s the way we’ve always done it”. This must be one of the most reactionary statements that gets said over and over again in organisations around the globe. This disregard for innovation and progress is not as common today as in the past, but it is still one of the major reasons why some brands never evolve, become extinct or just irrelevant. The best way to stay on top is to never “just do what was done last year”. Always look for new ways of relating to the audience and evolving as a brand – but never giving up the essence of what the brand stands for.

8. They think branding, digital, retail, customer service and so on are segregated disciplines
Many marketing organisations believe the world looks like their marketing department. One handles digital, one customer service, one pricing, a couple to handle products etc. But the consumers are fully integrated. It is the same people who speak to customer service, who browse the website, who buy a product in a retail store and see an ad. This may sound like a silly thing to say, but many marketers see everything as separate issues. Since they are clearly not, it it extremely important to find an integrated strategy that follows the consumer – not just the brand. Honestly this topic is so big that it requires a blog post of its own. I’ll get on to that soon.

9. They listen to vendors with a specific agenda to push
Everyone has something to sell. And obviously, there’s nothing wrong with that. The problem is when you have vendors who give advice with their own interests at heart. An interior decorator who sells furniture, will not be able to give unbiased advice, because it’s in their interest to sell you more furniture. Same thing in marketing. An agency that pushes one channel or discipline over another may have a reason for doing so. And it’s worth looking in to. Social media agencies will always recommend social media. Advertising agencies will always push advertising, PR agencies will sell PR etc. The only way to avoid this, is to work with fully integrated companies, who do not have any vested interest one way or the other. They have to be completely media neutral and technology agnostic. In addition, the remuneration model has to be neutral, so that there is no bonus for pushing a channel over the other.

And there you have it. I’m sure there are lots more, so why not let us know your opinion below.

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Erik Ingvoldstad is the Managing Director of Acoustic.
Follow Erik on Twitter @ingvoldSTAR
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[Main photo by Herman Yung, under CC]

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