9 Mistakes That Doom a Company’s Marketing

By John Graham

Marketing has never been a laid-back, trouble-free game anyone can play. Today, it’s far

more perilous than ever, particularly since prospective customers are moving targets.

Just when you think you have them figured out, they’ve moved on. If you don’t know

what they want and the way they want to get it, they’re gone. If you disappoint them by

betraying their trust, they’ll strike back. Bank on it.

Today’s customers are touchy and unforgiving. They’re in charge and they know it.

While marketing can play a key role in a company’s success, it’s a fragile function; its

efforts can easily be undermined and rendered ineffective.

Here are 9 common mistakes that will doom a company’s marketing:

Mistake #1. The boss as Marketer-in-Chief

While there may be a marketing director or even a CMO, in many companies it’s the

boss who calls the shots as to what works and what doesn’t. Although the boss may be

knowledgeable in many areas, more often than not marketing isn’t one of them. Those

working in marketing get the message: either go along or go.

Mistake #2. Lack of budget responsibility

“Just let us know what you need and we’ll do it.” Even though the words sound helpful

and supportive, control of the budget controls marketing. It makes a consistent and

integrated marketing plan irrelevant, along with turning marketers into beggars.

Marketing initiatives are designed so they get approved rather than meet verifiable


Mistake #3. Always doing the same thing

This is the “well-oiled” approach to marketing. Since everything is working smoothly,

why make changes? It’s not only an appealing mistake, it’s also dangerous. Since

conditions are always changing marketing should be responding with more appropriate

customer-centric responses.

Like others, marketers do their best work when they challenge their own performance,

identify missed opportunities, make data-driven decisions, and get feedback from others

in the company.

Mistake #4. Failing to deal with unrealistic expectations

It’s common for marketers to be faced with unworkable expectations, particularly when it

comes to time and cost considerations for marketing initiatives. It’s the old champagne

taste on a beer budget.

Without a clear agreement of expectations, marketers find themselves in the unenviable

position of having to say, “But, I thought you meant….” or “We don’t have the budget to

do that.”

Mistake #5. Not exploiting brand value

Countless marketing messages shout self-serving messages in the hope that something

will stick: “We’re the oldest…,” “You can’t do better anywhere else,” “We love our

customers…,” and more.

Marketing’s job is creating customers who decide it’s in their best interest to do

business with a brand. Self-serving messaging begs the question: What do you offer

that aligns with their lifestyle, values, aspirations, or needs? In other words, taking

advantage of your brand’s value.

Mistake #6. Dropping marketing initiatives too soon

There’s always pressure to try something new and different. While there can be good

reasons for making changes, a strong case can be made for not quitting too soon.

Messages sink in slowly and action occurs when there’s a felt need.

For example, the hazelnut cocoa spread Nutella has a year-long campaign to own

weekend breakfasts that includes TV spots and social media. It offers rewards to

consumers who report on their weekend breakfasts.

Mistake #7. Not engaging individual customers

“If you can’t give me exactly what I want, you don’t know me so I’m gone.” This stark

message tells the story. Fortunately, the expertise, data, techniques, and channels are

available to meet the challenge for engaging individuals. As one restaurant chain puts it,

“You can’t fake steak.”

Mistake #8. Permitting constant interruptions

Uber’s CEO recently said the company’s 1,200-member marketing team was “bloated”

and promptly fired 400 of them. Far from being overstaffed, most marketing teams are

spread too thin. If that isn’t enough, they face a steady stream of interruptions. “Give it

to marketing, they’ll take care of it.”

Marketers are good at solving problems, which is why companies turn to them when

needs arise. Yet, if they are expected to do their best work, there comes a time to say


Mistake #9. Not having enough time

Marketing is all about creativity and that takes time. It can’t be forced like squeezing

toothpaste out of a tube.

Teresa Amabile, a retired Harvard Business School researcher, along with others,

studied the conditions for creativity and found that their subjects were most creative

“under low to moderate pressure.” When under more intense pressure, they still felt

creative, but, as she says, “What they tended to get done was not their most important

work. They tended to get done a lot of stuff that came flying to them, crises that arose,

that kind of thing.”

We kid ourselves if we think we do our best work under pressure. Things take time and

creativity is one of them.

John Graham of GrahamComm (Boston, MA) is a marketing and sales strategy consultant and businesswriter. He is the creator of “Magnet Marketing,” and publishes a free monthly eBulletin, “No

Nonsense Marketing & Sales Ideas.” Contact him at jgraham@grahamcomm.com or