Brand or Die!

A Small Business Survival Guide

My list of the Top 8 Marketing Mistakes Small Businesses Make (1-4)

  • Posted: 12:08 PM
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  • Author: Mikal J. Caldwell

When marketing efforts are not successful, many companies wonder why. They sent out direct mail, or refreshed their website, initiated Google Adwords, or attended a trade show, but are left disappointed and frustrated with languishing sales and underused resources. Why isn’t the phone ringing? What went wrong?

My answer comes from analyzing the top 8 biggest marketing mistakes I’ve seen companies make. Are you making one or more of these? If so, consider these tips on how to recover:


Common Mistake: Believing your product does everything, your target market is anyone who has money to spend, and /or you don’t have competition, so your marketing plan is the strategic equivalent of simply turning on the “open” sign.

Because companies are frustrated by a lack of desired success (measured in revenue, sales, membership or other KPI’s), they often equate limiting their target market with limiting opportunity. The fact is, for marketing efforts to succeed, you must define a target market segment where your product has the most relevance and the best competitive advantage. As great as your product/service might be, don’t make the mistake of thinking that your customers don’t have other options.

Recovery Plan: You need a strategy—and fast. Stop all marketing activities immediately and take the next three to six weeks to plan your new approach.
Build a brief overview description of each product and service you offer, including features and benefits—concentrating on the differentiating features only.
Research your competition and document their offer, pricing structure, strengths and weaknesses, along with your competitive advantage. Once you identify your key advantage over the competition, play it up consistently in every marketing vehicle you produce.
Recognize you can’t afford to market to everyone and define your target markets by grouping and categorizing the characteristics of your current customer base. Then choose marketing vehicles that only cater to that defined group of potential buyers.
Finally, create a calendar of events and associated budget that will act as your roadmap to success!

Watch your sales begin to climb! But don’t congratulate yourself yet; effective marketing takes patience and persistence. Remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint and your journey is just beginning!


Common Mistake: Rushing straight to advertising without identifying your core brand identity.

When most people think of marketing, they think about the Big 3: Television, Radio, and Print. You hire a great graphic designer and they come up with some really great looking stuff. You get the guys at the radio station to work on your ad and it sounds perfect. The problem is, they don’t really say anything about you or why you’re any different from the other guys. Of course, that’s probably because you haven’t sat down and figured that out for yourself yet. So when your advertising launches, you have less than stellar results. You just can’t seem to break through to your audience.

Recovery Plan: Take some time and figure out what makes your business unique. What is it that you offer that no one else can offer? Extra points if it’s meaningful to your target audience. Sometimes the answer isn’t about the tangible things like response time or inventory. A lot of times it’s more about the intangibles, like security, feeling cared for, or the attitude of the staff. Use those points of difference as the foundation for your marketing and make a real connection with your audience.


Common Mistake: Changing your company’s positioning depending on the audience, marketing vehicle used, or person delivering it.

Although some companies have actually gone through the steps of clearly outlining their company’s positioning language, I find that many individuals within that company still have their own version. And this “customized” statement can change depending on who is receiving the information. The result? A confused audience, unsure of who you are and what your company does. An audience that is unable to convey your offering to anyone else. Brand awareness is only built by CONSISTENTLY communicating your company’s position and identity each and every time, so that eventually your “listeners” will repeat your positioning exactly as you intend them to repeat it.

Recovery Plan: You need positioning language that clearly defines who you are and what you offer, strongly differentiates you from competition, and can be delivered consistently by every employee. Host a brainstorming session with key team-members and craft a statement that everyone agrees upon, understands, and supports. The positioning statement must include who you are, what you offer, for whom, for what result, and why someone should choose you over anyone else. Launch it internally, and define its use and how employees will support it. Then do a full audit of your materials and fix any inconsistencies. Gaining buy-in at the executive level will ensure success from the top down.

Remember all employees must work together as ambassadors of the brand. Understanding this concept before you spend money on marketing activities is imperative to your success!


Common Mistake: Fixating on only one marketing vehicle to promote a company and/or its products.

Many marketing plans we see only focus on one activity like direct mail, advertising, public relations, or cold calling, and do not use several or all of these vehicles together in concert. Putting your eggs in only one basket may generate some leads for your company, but this strategy will ultimately limit your ability to maximize sales opportunities within a target market. Your customers need to see and learn about your company through a few different vehicles before they will be finally prompted to respond to your offer.

Recovery Plan: Your goal should be to touch your prospects from the many angles they conduct business. Choose the activities that cater specifically to your target market, and then create a program schedule that ensures the right level of coverage across the multiple channels, increasing activities around key product launches or to address seasonality issues. Then be patient and let them work. It takes time, but rest assured, the variety of vehicles, working in concert, will build awareness and generate leads at an exponentially higher rate than any one vehicle alone can accomplish.

Look for parts 5-8 tomorrow!

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