7 Reasons Why Your Marketing is Failing and How to Fix Them


April 12, 2016

There’s a lot of change happening in marketing, and it’s not going to slow down. Ever.

I talk to many marketing leaders who realize that just keeping all the balls in the air isn’t enough anymore. They know they have to be more effective, but they can’t pinpoint the problem. Usually it’s not a single thing that’s out of place. That would be obvious and easier to fix. Instead, it’s a combination of things that either don’t exist or don’t exist in the right balance.

Here are seven things I consistently see tripping up great marketing teams in every industry:

  1. Marketing centered. I understand this sounds odd, that marketing’s failure is because it focuses on marketing. Marketing produces more “stuff” but that pushes customers away, it doesn’t attract them. And that hurts the business. Take the healthcare industry, for example. Research shows that over 50 percent of physicians seriously or moderately limit the number of reps they allow to visit them. The next generation of medical professionals will be even harder to reach – only 36 percent of graduates from the top 12 U.S. medical school are considered accessible, compared with 48 percent from all other schools.
    • Solution: Start with your company’s business objective, then build a marketing strategy that helps drive it. If you’re a healthcare company, your business strategy may be to become the top technology resource for cardiologists. Putting marketing behind the business strategy of becoming the number one resource is very different from the traditional role of marketing selling more stethoscopes.
  2. Putting tactics first. As social media gets attention in B2B, clients tell me they want to put more budget behind it. My question is why? “Doing” more social media (or anything else) because it’s a trend is a bad way to make a decision. “Doing” is the easy part, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.
    • Solution: Start with an integrated strategy. If you’re going to focus on social media (or any other specific tactic), know what purpose it has in the bigger picture, understand how everything works together and how a specific tactic contributes. Only by looking at what results you want to drive will you lower siloes and be able to collaborate better not just across marketing, but throughout the entire organization.
  3. Brand centered. This is the traditional 4 P’s of marketing – product, price, place and promotion. These principles of marketing were developed in 1960 by Edmund Jerome McCarthy, a Michigan State University marketing professor. This is the approach that many marketers still take, especially B2B marketers. But this focuses on what a brand wants to sell, not on what a customer wants to buy.
    • Solution: Become customer centered…definitely easier said than done. But the first step is to put yourself in your customers’ shoes and have empathy for their situation. What matters most to them? This is how you differentiate yourself from your competition…who is still stuck on the 4 P’s and trying to figure out how to be meaningful in their customers’ world. You can’t insert yourself into your customers’ world any more. You have to be interesting and valuable enough to inspire them to invite you in.
  4. Clueless about audience. Notice I didn’t say personas. There’s a difference. Personas are the profiles of people in specific decision-making roles. Yes, these are very important, but there are many people who influence them and they come into play much earlier in the decision-making process. And these influencers are very important because you’re not always able to get the ear of the people making the decisions. Especially in complex B2B sales.
    • Solution: Create audience profiles. The personas plus the people who influence them are what make up your audience. Understanding this makes it easier to speak to a bigger picture. For example, I worked with a technology client whose main persona was enterprise CIOs. They had a hard time reaching them directly, so they focused on the total audience – IT directors, CFOs, finance directors and key people in operations. There’s a much bigger story to tell and each of them influence the CIO’s thinking. Even though they may not be direct decision makers they’re still critical members of the audience.
  5. You haven’t established trust. Lack of trust comes as an outcome of failing at numbers 1 through 4. Tactical, brand-centered marketing that doesn’t address what audiences need makes it clear that you don’t have your customers’ best interests at heart. Who would trust a company like that with their business?
    • Solution: Add value. Craig Davis, former chief creative officer for J. Walter Thompson said, “We need to stop interrupting what people are interested in and be what people are interested in.” This is how you add value, by showing up with something that matters to your audience. And trust me, this conversation never starts with what it is you’re selling.
  6. Inconsistent. Marketing doesn’t only mean having something to say, it means creating consistency so people know what to expect. Consistency creates trust. People know that you’ll show up at the same place and the same time with something meaningful to deliver. Too many brands publish when they’re under pressure to bring in leads and then other priorities interrupt the flow.
    • Solution: Be boring as can be by being predictable. In this case, predictability is a great thing because people begin to rely on you to deliver content that’s of value (we’re going to assume that’s what you’ll do…). In addition to that consistent value be consistently recognizable. That means everything should have a similar look, feel and voice. Your audience takes in a lot of information in a day. The more consistent you are with what you say, and where and when you say it, the easier it is for them to recognize and remember you.
  7. Wrong talent. What marketers need to know and do has changed like crazy these last few years. It’s hard to keep up but you want people on your team who have the passion to always be better. To be perpetual students. That doesn’t mean doing what you’ve always done faster and better. Most likely it means doing things differently just as much as doing different things.
    • Solution: Right-skill your team. This means both hard skills as well as soft skills. Invest in training. Educate yourself. Read case studies of best practices from the best brands. If you want to be a marketer or part of a marketing organization that drives the growth of your business, continuous education is more important now than it’s ever been.

What’s the biggest challenge that your organization faces with marketing? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Photo credit: Flickr user Bruce Denis

About Carla

Carla Johnson Innovation Creativity Speaker Author

Carla Johnson helps leaders who are often paralyzed by traditional thinking. They suffer from slow growth, an eroding competitive advantage, low employee engagement, and depleted investor confidence. Their teams lack purpose and progress and constantly battle a resistance to change and new ideas.

As the world’s leading innovation architect, Carla’s spent 20 years helping leaders shatter limits and discover undiscovered possibilities. Through years of research, she’s developed a simple, scalable 5-step process that teaches people how to consistently produce inspired ideas that lead to uncommon outcomes.