5 Marketing Mistakes That You Can’t Afford to Make.

by Sep 26, 2015Brand, Research, Strategy, Tactical0 comments

“Only when you realize that less than 1 out of 10 customers will actually file a complaint when they receive utterly dissatisfactory service do you realize that an irate customer is your best friend.”


AUTHOR’S NOTE: I have worked with a number of small businesses in recent years. Based on my experience, I found that most of them make the same costly marketing mistakes. So, I was invited to Collab Space in Ottawa, a great new shared workspace for small businesses and entrepreneurs, to present on this very topic. There was a great turnout and subject matter really hit home with the attendees. So much so, that everyone stuck around for another 2 hours after the presentation to discuss the content more thoroughly. In light of spreading the word about being aware of these marketing mistakes and how to avoid making them, I thought that you might enjoy this topic as much as they did. So, here I am writing about it.

Small business owners have it rough. They work crazy long hours and they are forced to take on multiple roles during the startup phase. They are the CEO, the receptionist, the salesperson, the bookkeeper, social media manager, the human resource manager and the marketer… When you are one person taking on all of these responsibilities, it’s only normal to have to drop the ball on one thing in order to attend to another that is of higher priority.


I have come to find that most small business owners are wrongly prioritizing their marketing efforts. As a result, they are making marketing mistakes that they can’t afford to make simply because they might not know any better. So here are the most common marketing mistakes that business owners make and, more importantly, what you can do about it:

5 Marketing Mistakes That You Can't Afford To Make

Not listening to clients.

This sounds so simple, so blatantly obvious, so cliché, and yet, most small businesses neglect actually listening to their clients. This goes far beyond conducting a customer satisfaction survey.


Take irate customers, for example. They can be a business’ worst nightmare to deal with, but disregarding what they are saying to you is a big no-no. Only when you realize that less than 1 out of 10 customers will actually file a complaint when they receive utterly dissatisfactory service do you realize that an irate customer is your best friend. They may not be the best at respectfully delivering a message about poor service or product quality, but the feedback they give you provides crucial insight about a problem that 9 others (or more) may have experienced but didn’t bother to tell you about. Framed in this way, you’ll want to reflect on any previous experiences you might have had with this type of customer and prepare to swallow a hard pill next time you encounter one. Start listening to what they have to say.


How about another one? Don’t put the blame on your customers, even if they are technically in the wrong. If you always try to spin it back on you, I am sure that you will uncover an underlying marketing problem. We wrote a case study that discusses this very point. Let’s say a customer has contacted you to claim a warranty that could have been avoided had he/she read the owner’s manual. It’s their fault, right? Wrong. If you use a 40-page manual to educate your customer on how to properly use your espresso machine (that has 3 buttons!!!), then you have a marketing problem on your hands. (read more about this blog here).


When was the last time you conducted a survey to get your customer’s feedback? You might say, “well I haven’t taken a Stats class for God knows how long now…” To which I would say, “Excuses, excuses…”. There are so many free and easy to use market research tools out there. For example, we used SurveyMonkey to survey our seminar attendees at the beginning of a presentation and showed them the results immediately afterwards. (In fact, that’s what spawned the 2-hour long discussion that I mentioned in the Author’s Note). Data collection and analysis can be done with the click of a button these days, so there’s no excuse for not using these easy-to-use technologies to start listening to your clients.


By not actively seeking feedback from your customers, you are making a costly marketing mistake. It can cost you referrals, potential sales and your customers’ loyalty, all of which affect your bottom line. So start listening to your customers! It will pay off.

Inconsistencies in branding.

We’ve all come across situations where you’ll come into contact with a flyer and a company is using an old logo, or they use a completely different font then what they have on their website, or they use a new logo and pair it with old information… Why do they let these things slide? Mostly, to save money. They don’t want to pay a graphic artist to do another ad or a web developer to redesign their website. No. They save money by doing it themselves. The ironic part about all of this is that branding inconsistencies cost small business owners money. A lot of money. You are what you eat. You reap what you sow. And so on.

First off, what is a brand? It’s your company’s image. What is branding? The consistency you achieve in your company’s image across various marketing communications. So, one could argue that “branding inconsistencies”, just like “jumbo-shrimp”, is an oxymoron. It doesn’t make sense! Both words contradict each other. If you are inconsistent in your branding, do you really have a brand? Well, not a strong one.

"If you are inconsistent in your branding, do you really have a brand? Well, not a strong one."


Now let's discuss how branding inconsistencies are costly. Let’s say you’re single and mingling in a bar. You meet a super sexy person wearing your favorite team’s basketball jersey. You think, plus one. Then you both talk and the truth spills out, “Yea, I don’t even know if it’s a football, hockey or baseball team. I just bought it because I look awesome in it!!!” Still interested? The feeling you would get here is similar to that in a consumption situation. When you notice inconsistencies in branding you become confused initially. This confusing leads to uneasiness. And when you are uncomfortable, two things can happen:


  1. You don’t buy: This scenario happens very often. When you are uncomfortable, then you are highly unlikely to purchase. So, brand inconsistencies can lead to losing sales.


  1. You buy and sincerely regret regret it: This might not happen nearly as often, but under a high-pressure sales situation, you may feel pressured to buy, and then you experience post-purchase dissonance or buyer’s remorse. Simply put, you regret your decision. Kind of like the one-night-stand with that poser sport enthusiast you met at the bar…


Branding if done right, can be a very powerful asset. It’s the reason why VOSS can charge $2o for a bottle of water, or why Harley Davidson has such die-hard loyalists. Remember, big brands were once small businesses too. But would these same companies be here today if they were inconsistent with their branding? Probably not.

Neglecting the small things.

Customers notice the small things. Things like a mistake on a menu. The quality of cutlery used. The ply of toilet paper in a washroom. The sincerity of the greeting from the hostess... These are the small things that I am referring to. Here’s the thing. They may be super small details, but when you add them up, they count.


One of the questions in the survey that I got the attendees at Collab Space to fill out rated this very topic. The question read:

How strongly do you agree or disagree with the following statement:

  • If I noticed a small mistake on my business card, I would reprint before using it.


The person who disagreed with this statement had been using a business card that had a small mistake on it for a while now. I may have changed this person’s mind, when I began discussed this issue in more detail during the presentation. Ironically, she was asked for her card by other members afterwards and refused to give one out. She swore to me that she would get another batch done. And I’m sure she did.


The idea is that everything, like menus, cutlery, toilet paper thickness, hostesses’ attitudes, and even mistakes, is an extension of your brand image. Every small detail is a reflection of your company. Think about that next time you try to ignore the flickering florescent light in your office.

Treating marketing as an expense.

I refer to this as “Accountant’s Mentality”; this is exactly how Accountants view marketing. But I see that business owners think this way too, whether they acknowledge it or not. Treating marketing as an expense has a devastating impact on the growth and overall success of small businesses.


Marketing is not an expense. On the contrary, it is an investment. And if you think otherwise, then you’ve probably been doing it all wrong. Investing in the right marketing will provide you with a Return on Investment (ROI). Granted, it is impossible to forecast with 100% accuracy what you should expect to gain from your investment. Marketing is not an exact science. But market research can give you a pretty good idea. For example, you can test how a change in price will impact the demand for your product or service and impact profitability. You can research the average click-through rates for online ads by business type.


You might say, what can I possibly gain from business cards? How is that an investment? It’s more like an expense because you need one and all people do is throw them out anyway. Well, maybe you can leverage the fact that most people have ordinary, cheap looking business cards that don’t make a lasting impression. Set yourself apart. Get a custom card made. You’ll spend (I mean, invest) more to get them made, but you’ll immediately stand out from the crowd at networking events and create a lasting first impression.


So, the sooner you stop treating marketing as an expense the faster you can accelerate your business growth. Because it doesn’t matter that you have the next best product/service if no one knows about it.

Not having a plan.

If you’ve gotten this far, a few of these points may have resonated with you by now. But this one, in my experience, tops them all. It’s rare that I come across a small business that has marketing plan nowadays. But you’re making a costly mistake if you don’t have one.


Lots of companies engage in marketing without a plan. But how do you know if your investment (see what I did there?) is being used optimally? Have you evaluated all of the marketing options that are available to you to determine which ones should be prioritized based on the expected return? If not, then you are undoubtedly spending your marketing dollars on something that isn’t having the greatest impact.

I had a client come to me and say, Taro, I am going to be doing a Facebook Ad campaign this month and I wanted you to help me out with the creative messaging and stuff. I said, okay. Then I asked, why Facebook Ads? And he couldn’t give me a solid enough answer. I asked, did you consider Google AdWords or YouTube Ad? How about targeted direct mail or guerilla marketing campaign? Upon devising a marketing strategy and writing a plan, he ended up ditching the Facebook Ads idea entirely.


I’m not saying that Facebook ads aren’t a sensible solution. Not at all, it all depends on what you are trying to achieve with your marketing (objectives) and the potential return that the activity can provide.


Situations can change very quickly during the startup phase. So, small businesses should have a concrete short-term plan. Planning for the medium to long-term is never a bad thing, but small businesses need to have an actionable plan that can be executed immediately to reinforce good marketing habits and allow them to grow faster.


Even more important is to write it down. If you don’t something write down, it doesn’t exist and you will never get around to doing it.


Don’t be like the 80% of small businesses I’ve encountered and make these detrimental marketing mistakes because, in all honesty, you can’t afford to. So start listening to your customers. Make sure you are consistent with your branding and don’t neglect the small things because they add up. Change your mentality by looking at marketing as an investment, rather than an expense. And make sure you have a marketing plan, or else you are blindly spending your money on marketing.


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Meet the author.

Taro Abarbanel-Uemura

Marketing Strategist

Meet Fortified Marketing's founder and lead marketing consultant. Taro loves reading fascinating articles on various marketing-related subjects, just as much as he enjoys writing about them. When he isn’t savouring a latte while working on his newest blog post, he can be found at a coffee shop in Ottawa's Little Italy, or marathoning shows and documentaries on Netflix.

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