The 10 Most Common Mistakes in Marketing

I scribbled my original “Twelve Most Common Mistakes in Marketing” on a hotel bar napkin in Portland, Oregon in 1997 and then presented those mistakes in a seminar the next day to 800 people.

The following year it became an important chapter in my first book, The Wizard of Ads. Happily, that book went on to become Business Book of the Year in 1998 and it launched a trilogy of New York Timesand Wall Street Journal bestsellers for me.

Even though plenty of people still make the original 12 mistakes, I believe it’s time for an update since a new group has emerged to become the 10 Most Common.

1. Inappropriate Use of Social Media

The whole world is on FaceBook, but is that the right place for your product or service to be advertised? To get a clear idea of the kinds of offers that are working well on FaceBook, go to the Success Stories page at Judging from this list of success stories, it would appear that FaceBook works extremely well for getting people together socially, not so well for hard goods and services. (HINT: I think there may be a reason they call it “social” media.)

2. Overconfidence in the Value of Targeting

Jeffrey Eisenberg insightfully points out that, “online customers are exactly the same people as offline customers, yet advertisers tend to think of them as an entirely different species.” For the same amount of money it costs you to reach 5 tightly targeted customers online, you can reach 5 customers who have that same profile PLUS 127 of their friends by using broadcast TV or radio. Do you want your brand to be the one people think of immediately and feel the best about when they finally need what you sell?

3. The Assumption that Every Message is Relevant

Why does every advertiser believe their product or service category to be intrinsically interesting? More than information, entertainment is the currency with which you can happily buy your prospective customer’s time and attention. But most ads have zero entertainment value.

4. Fear of Criticism

Most ads aren’t written to persuade. They’re written not to offend. But any message that has the power to move people will always move some of them in the wrong direction. When you’ve written a good ad, you must brace yourself for the negative backlash you’ll receive from people who are anxious to be offended. The only alternative is to forever settle for ads that are mushy, mundane and mediocre. Please don’t.

5. Measuring Ad Effectiveness Too Quickly

Its claim to “instantly and accurately measure every ad’s effectiveness” is part of what makes digital marketing so appealing to advertisers. But didn’t you say you want your brand to be the one people think of immediately and feel the best about when they finally need what you sell? This requires ongoing advertising and longer measurement cycles. You cannot hold every ad immediately accountable and expect to build relationship with your customer.

6. Unsubstantiated Claims

Adjectives are the marks of an ad filled with empty rhetoric.
Verbs are the marks of an ad that demonstrates its claims.
Verbs – action words – “show” your customer what your product can do. Fluffy adjectives simply “tell” them. In the words of Christopher J. Maddock, “Show, don’t tell.”

7. Believing that “Old” Media No Longer Works

It is true that you need a website and that most customers are going to visit your website before making first contact with you. Therefore, it’s vital that your website be a good one. But if you believe that online marketing is the most efficient way to drive traffic to your website, you need to go back and read Most Common Mistake #2. Do you want to see a massive jump in the effectiveness of your online ads? Begin advertising on radio or television. But Take Note: your elevated metrics will make it appear as though your online efforts are working magically well when, in fact, the credit should be attributed to mass media.

8. Assuming “The Decision Maker” Is The Only Person You Need to Reach

Decisions aren’t made in a vacuum. You must also win the influencers if you want to create a successful brand. If you don’t value the opinions of influencers you’ll evolve into a direct-response marketer. But does your business category lend itself to direct response?

9. Believing that “Millennials” Aren’t Like the Rest of Us

Millennials aren’t a tribe, they are a collection of tribes. They do not behave as a single, cohesive birth cohort. Google “Millennials” and the dictionary definition that will pop up will show the word “millennial” most commonly used in this sentence: “The industry brims with theories on what makes millennials tick.” But when you look at a list of what millennials supposedly want, it’s exactly what the rest of us want. Yes, they’re not like we “50-somethings” used to be, but then we’re not like we used to be, either.

10. AdSpeak

People don’t hate advertising; they hate boring advertising; they hate predictable advertising. They hate the time-wasting, life-sucking sound of too many words wrapped around too small an idea. They hate AdSpeak. But they love entertainment. Learn to purchase your customer’s time and attention and goodwill with delightful, interesting, entertaining ads.

Come to Wizard Academy and we’ll teach you how.

Roy H. Williams

PS – I promise I’m not making this up: Late Friday afternoon, long after the above MMMemo was written and posted, I spoke to the client I told you about in the MMMemo for April 4, 2016 – and he told me that his sales volume leaped from $1.8 million in June, 2015 to $4.2 million in June, 2016. Not bad, huh?  And he said he could have done 50% more if he’d had the manpower. And what do you know! He said his cost per online lead had dropped from $354 per lead to just $28 per lead. (See Most Common Mistake #7, above. 🙂)

PPS – To download a PDF of the 10 Most Common Mistakes, go here.