Marketing Communications Mistakes: the 7 Cardinal Sins
I’ve been a marketer for more years than I’d like to count, so I’ve been able to witness numerous marketing communications triumphs, failures, and ho-hum results. And I’ve admittedly been responsible for my quota of each.
Over time, I’ve learned many things about how marketers engineer tremendous communications victories – whether they are through advertising, sales promotion, personal selling, public relations, social media, or digital marketing. And, maybe just as important, I’ve discovered how to avoid the communications mistakes that plague so many young (and not-so-young) marketers – failures that can trash a great campaign, or even an entire career.
I’m undoubtedly revealing my Roman Catholic upbringing here (Mea culpa!), but I’ve found that if marketers can sidestep what I call the Seven Cardinal Sins of Marketing Communications, they will navigate the straight and narrow path to a successful career – and a more enjoyable work life. So, here are the Seven Sins to avoid:
1. Missing the Rendezvous
Great marketing communications require a “meeting of the minds” between the seller and targeted buyers, and the responsibility for making this happen rests squarely on the shoulders of marketing communicators. Too many marketers arrogantly communicate only what they want to say, failing to fully understand and convey what their customers want to hear. In essence, they commit the most egregious communications sin of all. Like an old spy movie, the marketer who fails to make a psychological rendezvous with a key target faces a series of grim consequences.
2. Messaging in the Blind
To prevent disaster, pilots who “fly in the blind” (i.e., fly in low-visibility conditions) are well-trained to ignore their sensory instincts and place complete trust in their instruments. Unfortunately, most marketing communicators aren’t coached this way, despite having to navigate a market environment that is every bit as murky. So, instead of using their instrumentation – the marketing research and online metrics that pre-test target audience reactions to what they say and how they say it – these individuals commit the sin of “messaging in the blind.” And, like pilots who ignore their own instruments, these communicators typically crash and burn, taking their colleagues and organizations with them.
3. Anecdotal Reckoning
Marketing communicators often act on emotion instead of evidence. Therefore they are especially susceptible to anecdotal reckoning – the tendency to rely on individual opinions or squishy qualitative research to shape their communications tactics. That’s a serious sin because such inferences aren’t reliable indicators of target market
preferences and too often steer agencies and clients to formulate wrong-minded conclusions about the types of messages that should or shouldn’t be communicated. Like physicians, marketers need to combat biased anecdotal reckoning by going a step further: making their communications decisions on evidence-based quantitative research and hard-core A/B test data.
4. Running Out the Clock
Another serious sin frequently committed by marketing communicators is relying on snails-pace pre-testing techniques that drain momentum from the communications Another serious sin frequently committed by marketing communicators is relying on snails-pace pre-testing techniques that drain momentum from the communications development process. This used to be a forgivable sin because there was no way around it, but it isn’t the case any longer. That’s because in today’s digital world, marketers can get reliable and projectable data pertaining to a target market’s messaging preferences in a matter of days, if not hours. So there’s no excuse for failing to move fast.
5. Ignoring the Sweet Spots
I once had a boss who told me that when the original Chrysler minivan concept was consumer tested, its average purchase intent scores were only mediocre. Chrysler’s genius was in ignoring the overall minivan scores, and instead finding the vehicle’s demographic “sweet spot” by focusing only on the smaller segment of buyers who rated it a “9” or “10.” Inadvertently or not, many marketing communicators overlook the sweet spots for their own communications campaigns by neglecting to truly analyze the quantitative research and online data they have at hand – despite it being fast and easy to do. This is a serious transgression that marketers can easily avoid with a bit of effort.
It’s always amazed me that many marketing communicators undermine the credibility of their campaigns by sending messages that conflict with one another. Or how they repeatedly hammer a message their target market already understands when they could instead deliver additional, complementary messages to broaden brand appeal. Yes, I view this as a serious sin, especially since communicators can rely on fast and inexpensive simulators to determine the optimal combination of messages for generating the broadest possible market appeal. Plain and simple, there is no excuse for disharmony or useless duplication in a messaging platform.
7. Formless Function
Early in my career, when China was initially emerging from The Cultural Revolution, I had the opportunity to present to a Chinese trade group. They asked me a disarmingly simple question: “Why do Americans put photos on consumer packaging?” They hadn’t ever seen such a thing before in their own country. I had to explain that photos help to establish a desirable image for a product by conveying its target audience, usage situations, price/quality level, etc. It was a basic marketing lesson – one that Westerners take for granted.
Ironically, though, many of today’s marketers don’t bother with optimizing communication graphics to convey a clearer and more complete message. They concentrate on enhancing only their written words, pursuing what I call “formless function” – the last of our seven sins. In essence, these communicators act as if they’re no more sophisticated than someone who’s been sequestered for generations in a controlled economy. What’s sad is that they fail to take advantage of proven techniques that pre-test thousands of computer-generated ads, landing pages, billboards, or promotions all at once to statistically determine which graphic/copy iterations are best at motivating target customer behavior.
So, those are The Seven Cardinal Sins of Marketing Communications as I see them. The good news is that with some self-discipline, these marketing communications mistakes are entirely avoidable. Additionally, there are many professionals, such as my colleagues at Brandware, who can help you defend against them.
By the way, since communicating is a two-way street, I’d happily welcome your own opinions or questions about critical marketing communications mistakes.