Costly Marketing Mistakes You Should Avoid

by Elizabeth H. Cottrell

Here at IAHBE, we believe in accentuating the positive, but sometimes it's important to know what NOT to do, especially when it comes to spending your hard-earned marketing/promotion dollar. Many small business start-ups fail because of poor use of capital. So informing yourself about the pitfalls to avoid is vital if you want to be one of the survivors!

Examples of bad advertising are all around you. Pay attention to ads from other companies and notice the ones you like and the ones you don't like. Most savvy marketers have a “swipe file” where they keep ads, newsletters, and marketing ideas from others to use as models for their own business.

The following list of 10 Marketing Mistakes is subjective and the order is not significant. Other authors will have their own list, so take the time to peruse our resources below and take advantage of the wealth of marketing information on the Internet.


Forgetting to present a professional image

You only have one chance to make a good first impression. This may be a cliche, but it's the truth. Potential customers will make a decision whether to call you or buy from you based on the most trivial details. If your written materials (business cards, flyers, brochures, printed ads) are sloppy and homespun, readers may assume that your services or products are equally substandard. If your personal appearance is not clean and neat when you go out of your house, some will jump to negative conclusions about the quality of your business. If your young children answer your business telephone or if callers are distracted by family noises in the background when they call, your image may be tarnished.

At the risk of getting too basic, please don't forget to provide complete contact information on every promotional item that you produce. An ad, pencil, mug or T-shirt imprinted with your business name without a phone number is not maximizing the money you spent. If you have a Website, its URL should always be used. If you have a slogan, use it consistently so that prospects will begin to associate it with your business. Create a consistent and professional image, and it will become a foundation for business growth.


Focusing on yourself or your company instead of on your prospect or customer

This is probably the most common--and most preventable--marketing mistake that businesses make. In their ads, they talk about themselves, their product, their service, their length of time in business, yet they fail to address what their product or service can do for their customers. Can you save your prospect money? Can you solve a problem they have? Can you make their life easier or their own business more profitable? That's what a potential customer really wants to know: What can you do for me? Never forget this.


Emphasizing the wrong elements in your ads or promotional literature

What stands out in your ad when a reader is perusing the newspaper or scanning a Website? Far too often, it's your company name or your fancy logo. The rule of thumb for a written ad is to grab the readers attention first--with a compelling headline and a supporting sub-headline--then provide details elsewhere in the ad or provide an easy way for them to get more free information.



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Writing good ad copy is a complex topic about which entire books have been written. If you feel this is an area of your business that needs improving, make it a point to learn more about it from Internet experts or your local business library.


Cutting your marketing budget during slow times

It's such a temptation--when your sales are down and so many of your expenses are beyond your control, you think the only place to cut corners is in your marketing budget. Yet this would be cutting off the very best means for bringing new customers into your business, and without a continuous flow of new customers, your business will eventually shrivel up and blow away.

Keep your marketing campaign steady and consistent. When cash flow is tight, consider moving to less expensive--and perhaps less traditional --marketing venues, but never cut off your marketing all together. If a dairy farmer started reducing the amount of feed he gave his cows, he would soon start seeing a reduction in milk production and a deterioration of his business. Don't let temporary cash flow shortages put you into a downward business spiral.


Not giving prospects a compelling reason to take action

Even if you have gotten your prospects attention and convinced them that your product or service can provide a solution for them, you must motivate them to take action immediately--before their attention is diverted to something else.

This can be done by offering such incentives as discounts, rewards/ bonuses, or limited time offers. You"ve probably seen television shopping ads that do this beautifully: Order today and we'll also send you an additional item or two for the price of one...or free shipping, etc. Give your prospects a compelling reason to act now, and you'll greatly increase the chance that they will do so.


Neglecting current customers

Keeping your current customers satisfied so they will give you repeat business is much less expensive than getting new customers, yet so many business owners neglect this powerful fact. These simple activities can help:

1· Stay in touch with your customers through mail, newsletters, or phone calls.

2· Follow up after you've made a sale to see if they are satisfied.

3· Return phone calls promptly.

4· Correct problems immediately.

5· Ask for testimonials and keep a file for future use in your marketing literature (See Mistake #7 below). One testimonial from a popular or influential member of your community can be more effective than many other ads combined.

Negative comments from dissatisfied customers can severely hurt you, so keep your customers happy!


Not using testimonials in your marketing literature

Building credibility is one of your main tasks as a business owner, but this can be tough when you're new and have no positive track record. Using testimonials in your marketing materials can be an extremely effective way of gaining a prospect's confidence.

Whenever you get positive feedback from a customer, ask if you may quote them. As mentioned in #6 above, keep a file of these and use them in your next ad, flyer, or brochure. Failure to do this is wasting a free and powerful marketing tool.


Not offering a guarantee

The fear of being dissatisfied or taken advantage of is frequently the underlying reason why prospects do not buy, yet many small business owners fear offering a guarantee because they believe it will encourage more returns.

Marketing research has shown that the increased sales from offering a guarantee will more than offset any increase in percentage of returns. Anything that converts prospects to customers more easily is to your advantage, and a customer who knows he can return something he doesn't like is much more likely to make a purchase in the first place.


Not testing your market and tracking your results

Far too many business owners believe that their product or service will be snatched up by thousands of customers without having done the market research to support this belief. They spend thousands of dollars promoting something, only to find that the market is not what they thought or that a modification would have greatly improved the products marketability.

Use the Internet to look for published information on products/services like yours. Get free feedback from chat rooms. Take surveys (your local business school may have students who will design and conduct a survey for you as a project for a very reasonable fee). Put together a focus group composed of prospects from your target market.

Virtually ALL effective marketers track their ads and marketing methods so they know which ones pull and which ones don't. You can easily spend thousands of dollars on promotions that aren't producing results, but if you don't know which ones they are, you've wasted money. Ad results can be measured by using a code of some sort. Direct mail results can be measured by using response cards or coupons. As in market testing, surveys and focus groups can also be used to provide marketing feedback. Think about how you can track your results when you plan a marketing strategy.


Not diversifying your marketing methods

Plan your marketing budget so that it covers as broad a range of marketing methods as you can afford. When you use only one or two methods, you could be severely limiting your exposure to the maximum number of potential customers. Direct mail, print, radio, and Internet ads are important, and sometimes TV and magazine ads can be effective if they are carefully targeted and professionally done.

Don't forget less obvious ways of promoting your business:

1· Get involved with community organizations and charities.

2· Network at chamber of commerce gatherings or business associations.

3· Offer yourself as a speaker or presenter--find out if there is a speakers bureau in your area.

4· Offer low-cost or free seminars.

5· Throw a party to celebrate your opening, your business anniversary, or a national holiday.

6· Insert small flyers in every bill you pay.

7· Sponsor local teams.

8· Participate in local discount cards.

9· Partner with other small businesses to put on an event or sponsor an activity.

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