Eight pitfalls in Marketing and how to avoid them
I jumped in them so you don’t have to
In a disturbing turn of events, I realised that I have been in Marketing for over 20 years. In that time there have been numerous pitfalls that I have experienced in which, after talking to colleagues and friends, I am not alone. I thought it might be useful for others to read about them in order to mitigate or avoid them when they occur.
Now your experiences may well be different but hopefully, you find something handy in here. Oh, and they’re not in any particular order.
1. Not choosing your numbers wisely
You’ve spent ages building a budget or business case for the senior management in your company. You’ve used the best assumptions you can but ultimately you know you’ve produced an estimate, not a nailed-on certainty.
You tell senior management this. They nod sagely. You return later with a new version — maybe after a trial or with better, more solid data. The revenue number is lower or the cost number is higher. but it still looks good
However, all that nodding sagely about understanding the first version was an estimate are ignored. “What happened to the outcome of the first one? Make it that number again.”
There’s a term for this. It’s called Anchoring. By presenting an initial number you have created an Anchor against which all subsequent numbers will be compared no matter how fanciful you said the assumptions were.
The Lesson: Lie. Or rather over / underestimate so that the number being anchored to gives you some wriggle room for you to improve on it.
2. Waiting for Phase 2.
If anyone tells you that the key feature you really want for your new product or customer experience will have to be in “Phase 2”, forget it. “Phase 2” is where features go to die.
That’s for a couple of reasons:
- Maybe it’s hard to do and will take up time. Usually, there’s the pernicious drive to “Just get something out.”
- By the time Phase 2 is supposed to happen the business will have pivoted and investment will be going somewhere else. Or the people who promised to do it have left and the new person won’t.
The Lesson: To quote Peggy Carter:
“Compromise where you can. Where you can’t, don’t. Even if everyone is telling you that something wrong is something right. Even if the whole world is telling you to move, it is your duty to plant yourself like a tree, look them in the eye, and say, ‘No. You move’.”
That might be overly dramatic but still. If something is useful for the customer and integral to the experience it needs to be there from Day 1 so fight for it as much as you can.
Be careful with the idea of MVPs too. Done properly (launch something that addresses a real customer need and improve iteratively) they are great. But in my experience, there’s too much emphasis put on the ‘Minimum’ and not the ‘Viable’. Something is launched that doesn’t meet core customer needs, which can damage perceptions of future iterations.
3. Being clear about what is and isn’t an objective.
I’ve seen “objectives” like: “We want to be connected to our customers”, “We want to have highly engaged customers” or “We want to create a better purchase experience.”
None of those are objectives. They’re tactics or strategies. Ill-defined ones but still.
The Lesson: Ask “Why?” Why do you want to be “connected”? Are you trying to increase brand awareness? Average transaction frequency? Reduce churn? Over what time period? Always dig deep into the objective. I know the SMART thing is a well-worn cliché now but that’s because it’s true.
4. Using the word engagement.
One of my biggest bugbears is the use of the word “engagement” in marketing. Usually, because it’s never defined. It’s just bandied around as some sort of positive outcome.
Is engagement buying from you? Clicking on an email? Liking your post? Leaving a review? And over what period exactly?
And how is “engagement”, even if defined, helpful as an objective?
The Lesson: This is simple. The word means nothing unless you define it so the next time someone uses it please ask them to clarify their definition. And never use it yourself unless you’re sure you know what it means, why it’s useful and can express it to others.
5. The lack of desire to get involved in and understand numbers.
The number of people in data-driven marketing who can’t talk about statistical significance/power, control groups, the difference between correlation and causation, or propensity modelling is higher than I would have expected.
I’m not suggesting that you need to do the analytics yourselves but you should at least understand the principles. The ability to brief and talk with authority to analysts and data scientists is a huge benefit as is the ability to correctly interpret the output they produce.
The Lesson: No easy route here — Study. Articles like this are handy: http://blog.analytics-toolkit.com/2014/why-every-internet-marketer-should-be-a-statistician. I’d recommend @AnalyticsToolkit on twitter too.
Also it’s been a while since I did the Institute of Direct Marketing Advanced Diploma but I still use its lessons today more than 10 years later. There are great qualifications out there in this area.
6. Not understanding Confirmation bias
My team and I at DDB had a couple of quotes pinned to the wall. Most were jokey but one was something that we heard variations of with monotonous regularity: “My anecdote overrides your data points.” And yes I get the irony of using anecdotes as the main thread of this article.
Well done research or analytics can be dismissed by someone (usually with power) talking about how that doesn’t match up to their experience/beliefs.
It’s a function of confirmation bias — The idea that once we have formed a view, we embrace information that confirms that view while ignoring, or rejecting, information that casts doubt on it. I believe it’s one of the biggest issues in the world today, which is leading to the polarisation of society into entrenched beliefs. But it can be combatted to a degree.
The Lesson: Solve it in yourself first. Studies have shown being aware of confirmation bias and simply trying to be impartial is not enough. The most effective way is something called “consider the opposite” strategy. Essentially this asking yourself the question: “What are some of the reasons my initial judgement might be wrong?”. If you’re thinking about launching a new product seriously ask yourselves all the reasons NOT to do it for example. And do it thoroughly.
When addressing others using this type of language or question can be helpful when you’re presenting your recommendations.
7. Agencies being seen as servants, not partners
I’ve been lucky enough to work client-side and agency side in my career (a recommendation I’d make for most marketers if you can do it). My experience is that there are two types of relationships in that world — Master / Servant or a Partnership.
The latter is the one I always try and cultivate — mutual respect and a common goal. Being empathetic to the challenges of each side. Just being nice. I hope the people I have worked with would agree with that!
The former is toxic and frankly won’t get you great results. If a client treats the agency as a servant, rules with fear, is highly demanding, and dismisses the agency position, then you will get poor work.
The reverse can be true too — I’ve seen institutional arrogance in agency land. The idea that clients are idiots and the agency knows best. The fact is that the clients know their business better than the agency ever will.
The Lesson: It’s a partnership with each side bringing something to the party. Respect and empathy make for a better, more fruitful situation so be nice and listen, whichever side of the wall you find yourself.
8. Abdicating strategic development
I have been asked when agency side to write a client’s strategy for the coming year on multiple occasions. If you’re an agency that’s great — you’re trusted as a strategic partner. Hallowed ground.
BUT if you’re a client it’s a mistake. You aren’t inputting your knowledge and experience. You’re devaluing yourself.
The Lesson: You should own your strategy. Yes collaborate with your agency partners but never abdicate responsibility –it’s yours to take. Write something and then work with your agency to refine it.
I could sit here all day on this stuff but this feels like a good place to stop! I hope this has been of some use to you. If not, at least I got this stuff off my chest.
I am an evidence-driven marketer and consultant with over 20 years of experience across both client and agency side. I have applied my knowledge across brands as diverse as Vodafone, McDonald’s, Volkswagen, Disney, Westpac and GAME.
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Thanks to Jen Clinehens for the editing and advice