When Bad Marketing Happens to Good Companies


Bad marketing, the scourge of business and squelcher of growth dreams, can happen to the best of companies. Sometimes it stems from a concept that wasn’t executed properly due to budget or talent, other times it can be simply bad luck, such as a campaign launch the same day as a major disaster. No matter the cause, bad marketing can be a right hook to business growth, leading to a loss in customers and revenue if left unchecked.

At this point you may be thinking, “yes, it’s bad, but our business has bigger problems and we can always fix our marketing later”. Perhaps. In face of the fact that 80% of businesses fail in their first 18 months, a wise owner, even one well past that 18 month mark, knows that marketing can be a make or break activity. After all, Accounting and HR issues simply aren’t as problematic when there aren’t enough customers to keep the lights on!

Catastrophic events aside, bad marketing can almost always be traced back to someone making a poor business decision. We all know that marketing is an investment in future profits, which means it’s in your business’s best interest to identify and remedy bad marketing as quickly as possible. To do this, you’ll need to take a critical look at your program and ferret out bad marketing at work.

How does Bad Marketing Happen?

Bad marketing can manifest itself in seemingly innocuous forms such as an antiquated logo or a humorous campaign falling flat, or more seriously in what I have dubbed, Aimless Marketing Syndrome™ (see below). Bad marketing almost always fails to thoroughly research its target buyers, plan ahead, create a budget, maintain consistency, and adapt. It can also be off-point, off-target, off-brand, and in general, a bad idea.

Aimless Marketing Syndrome™

Imagine wandering blindfolded through life, throwing money left and right, wherever and whenever a whim takes you. Now replace “you” with your business and you’ll grasp Aimless Marketing Syndrome™, which affects far too many businesses. Aimless Marketing Syndrome™ has but one cure: a well researched and thought out marketing strategy. Businesses that lack a strategy find themselves launching random campaigns and spending money on marketing efforts that fail to deliver and may alienate or confuse potential buyers. Not having a well researched and planned marketing strategy can leave a business owner wondering what to do, when, and how to best spend budget and achieve maximum return on investment.

Solution: The cure for an aimless marketing approach is to map out a plan for all marketing activities that incorporates your business growth plans, budget, and activities. A professional marketing strategy will take into account your unique buyers and marketplace to ensure the best chance at ROI. If your business lacks a full marketing department, periodic check-ins from an outside source will help keep your marketing program on track.

Marketing, What Marketing?

While technically not an activity, doing nothing is bad marketing by omission. Tuning out marketing is very common with smaller business owners who find themselves with too much on their plates or not enough marketing budget. It is common for these same business owners to feel overwhelmed and shut down in face of marketing’s many options. Marketing may be thought about, but ends up pushed and pushed and pushed until desperation sets in. It’s at this point that an owner, facing decreased revenue, finally enlists marketing as a last-ditch salvation. Desperation makes a very poor marketing setup, and resulting projects are often rushed and poorly executed. The by-product of doing nothing is that potential buyers aren’t hearing from you, allowing your company to slip from their memories. This is never a good idea!

Solution: It’s far better to have a plan in place before desperation sets in! Creating a marketing calendar that lists priority activities by month or season will help keep your program alive and breathing. Researching your options and matching them up with your marketing plan will help you prioritize what projects should be distributed when and to whom.

Hiring an Un(or Under) Qualified Resource

Would you hire a law student to try your company’s case in court? Or have an assistant calculate and file your company’s taxes? Hopefully not, yet there are businesses who think nothing of having a high school student handle design projects or an inexperienced marketer to manage marketing efforts. These resources are often less expensive than hiring a seasoned professional and may try their best, but without hard-won experience, probably don’t have all the tools they need to make your business thrive. I often see smaller business owners take on marketing projects themselves – and it shows! It’s often all too easy to spot a piece designed by a non-professional, which makes the business look smaller and less relevant in buyers’ eyes. I also see businesses who allow graphic or web designers handle their “marketing”. Designers may have logo design down and can build a web page, but seldom have expertise in true branding principals, buyer and marketplace profiling, content creation, etc.

Marketing wisdom, such as when and how to apply humor or to knowing how to structure an affordable campaign, is often hard-won and does cost more than an-house. However, using this expertise will end up saving – and earning – you more money in the long run.

Solution: Successful marketing demands experience and expertise, and screening any professional is highly recommended. Proper screening will weed out less experienced marketers or those who are simply faking or embellishing their background. Ask your potential professional how many years he or she performed the proposed activity (for instance, how many years writing strategies), their basic approach to the task, and examples where his or her marketing work has led to client growth. There’s nothing wrong with having a marketing coordinator or marketing manager handle day to day coordination, but when it comes to higher level projects such as writing strategies or campaign concepts, you’ll be well served by having an experienced professional on your side.

Using Free, Packaged, or Outdated Technology in Marketing

There are certainly times when bargains can be had in marketing, however, many free or packaged programs are intentionally basic or vague to ensure that they work with a high volume of businesses. For it to be effective, marketing has to be customized! Trying to fit your unique business features into a pre-determined package can be infuriating, and the result is often off the mark. You also run the risk of seeing your marketing over and over as others take advantage of the same deal. $5 logos and free or cheap web sites may sound like a great deal, until you see that same logo or website template promoting another business.

Along the same lines, deliberately opting for outdated technology is not a true cost savings. Dated technology can affect your business image and leave buyers with a less than professional image. Nothing quelchs a desire to purchase faster than a negative impression! For example, an increasing number of today’s buyers use mobile phones and tablets to surf the web, yet there are businesses who would invest time and money in an unresponsive web site, knowing that it could cost them buyers and income. Visitors often “jump” from unresponsive sites without reviewing them, resulting in lost opportunities. In other words, bad marketing in action.

Solution: Project your marketing investments out at least 1-2 years. Ignore bargains when it comes to important projects such as highly visible branding and websites because the cost of replacing them in the future will negate the bargain. When it comes to technology, determine whether the potential purchase is a “patch” situation that will need to be replaced within a year and consider how the lesser technology could affect your bottom line in that year. If it could negatively impact sales, you’ll want to revisit that purchase. Review my “11 Waste Money In Marketing” for more information.

Emotional Attachments

Taking the saying, “emotions cloud judgment” a step farther, I say, “emotions cloud marketing planning.” Obviously you’ll want your marketing efforts to evoke positive emotions from buyers, but the strategic side needs to be emotionless and based on research, analytics, and tried and true experience. Emotional attachments to tag lines, logos, or even approaches can have serious ramifications in the marketing world. They can cloud how you view your own business, leading you to target the wrong buyer, present the wrong brand image, or hold on to products or services that should have been cut long before.

Solution: Take a step back and review your marketing from a buyers’ standpoint. Enlisting an outside expert to conduct a marketing audit can help reveal holes and inconsistencies. With products and services that are failing, focus groups and secret shoppers can provide unemotional reviews.

Change Bad Marketing To Good

Unless you’re locking your business doors and shutting off the lights for the last time, all hope is not lost! Proper messaging, planning, research, and sticking to a calendar can overcome bad marketing and set your business back on track. It’s always better to engage “good marketing” sooner rather than later and stave off desperate actions. If you suspect bad marketing, set up a marketing audit to give you an outsider’s view of your program. If you’re suffering from Aimless Marketing Syndrome™, hire an experienced marketer to write your strategy and give your program focus and purpose. Marketing should help your business grow! If it isn’t, there’s no time like the present to fix the issue!

Written by Bonnie Taylor, CCS Innovations, LLC’s Chief Marketing Strategist and author of the bestselling book, I Think I Need Marketing. Named one of 2014’s “Top 40 Digital Marketing Luminaries & Educators” by the Online Marketing Institute, Ms. Taylor has spent the last two decades focused on Strategic Marketing and has been instrumental in leading many small to mid-size businesses to growth awards and international expansion.