Learn how these common misconceptions can hurt your marketing strategy
by Sue Silva

The field of marketing has the perceived image of being fun. People tend to think of viral YouTube videos and Super Bowl ads. But when business executives get into the weeds of marketing, they quickly discover it’s not as fun or easy as it might seem. When efforts are guided by misconceptions about marketing, the result is often disappearing dollars with little to show for it. If you suspect you are harboring some misguided notions about marketing, take comfort in the fact that you’re in good company. Even the most experienced CEOs are susceptible to several common marketing myths.

Myth 1: Marketing is about great pictures & clever copy

Research and strategy drive effective marketing. Marketing materials are essential, to be sure, but without research and strategy behind them, they only amount to shots in the dark. That’s because most companies focus on what they are selling, when they should focus on what the customer is buying. Research uncovers what people are really buying when they purchase a product or service. Strategic positioning then nails down why they should purchase it from you. Auto manufacturers understand this really well. Every vehicle is a chassis and four wheels that gets you from point A to point B. But a look at positioning and taglines shows this is not what is sold. Manufacturers all sell the experience that the customer wants. For example, BMW’s positioning says, “BMW cars give you a pleasure in driving like no other.” The company’s tagline is “The ultimate driving machine.” Another example is Ford’s positioning, which says, “Ford trucks can handle anything.” Ford’s tagline is, “Built Ford Tough.” Each tagline came from strategic positioning, which came from seeing the product through the customers’ eyes. Another way to frame this is, “What do you have that your prospects want, and your competitors either don’t have or are perceived not to have?”

An example from a roofing company illustrates this nicely. The company has two advantages most others do not: a registered roof consultant and an engineer who improves on architectural specifications. Research showed that customers felt they were getting solutions that made the roof better. The company’s positioning became “Brains & Brawn” – The intelligent approach to roofing. From that came the tagline, “Smarter Approach. Stronger Roof.” The same concepts apply to your business. So before diving into the fun, creative stuff, like images and copy, you need to nail down positioning that is the following:

  • Ownable—Difficult for other companies in your industry to duplicate or emulate
  • Emotional—Focuses on what the customer is buying, not on the benefits and value of your category
  • Clear—Easily understood by anyone

Myth 2: The vice president of sales can handle it

Ninety percent of sales vice presidents have no marketing experience. You wouldn’t hand finances over to an IT staff, or human resources over to a customer service representative. And for good reason. Likewise, it’s not a good idea to expect your vice president of sales to develop and execute a marketing plan. Though marketing and sales are related, they each use very different skillsets.

Even if your vice president of sales has a marketing background, taking on two roles prevents him/her from doing either of them well. Marketing is a lot more complex than it used to be, and it typically requires a team of professionals in graphic design, writing, web development and account management. A good marketing director knows how to recruit and coordinate this talent. You might not be in the position to hire a full-time marketing director or an advertising agency. The good news is you probably don’t need to. A part-time or freelance marketing director could be a good fit for your company.

Myth 3: If you build it (a website), they will come

There are over 1 billion websites. How will your business prospects find yours? Every company needs a website. It’s your online brochure, and it may be where you sell your products or services. Yet so many companies fall short in providing ways for prospects find them. Some standard approaches include:

  • Customer referrals­­—Encourage satisfied customers to spread the word, even if it means offering incentives. Customer referrals are one of the most cost-effective sources of new business.
  • Get your URL in front of prospects—This could entail print ads, pay-per-click campaigns or email blasts, to name a few. It’s a good idea to work with a marketer who can test different tactics and determine which offer the best return on investment.
  • Search engine optimization (SEO)—SEO is about increasing the chances that your website shows up when someone searches online for a vendor in your category. It can get pretty technical and best practices change fast, but here are some SEO basics:
    • Add relevant content often, and ensure your web developer uses a site map that updates automatically with new content.
    • Use strong metatags and image names. These are snippets of text, which are invisible to website visitors, but influence how you show up in search results.
    • Use descriptions for every page of your site. These are the snippets of text that show up in search results.

Myth 4: I need a new ad

The first thing you need is a marketing strategy.Without a strategy, it’s impossible to know whether a new advertisement will accomplish what the company wants. It might work, or it might be a waste of time and money. Developing a strategy always starts with specifying the result you want, then identifying ways of achieving that result. Let’s say you want to increase sales by 8 percent. Now, what are some of the ways you could increase sales? Let’s break it down:

  • Scenario 1—Targeting new customers: 75 percent of sales will come from new customers, and 25 percent from increased business from existing customers.
  • Scenario 2—Targeting existing customers: 75 percent of sales will come from increased business from existing customers, and 25 percent from gaining new customers.

Although the desired result is the same, these two scenarios have different primary targets and objectives, and because of that, they require different approaches. When your primary target is new customers (Scenario 1), you will want to increase awareness of your product or service. Appropriate communications would be advertisements, public relations, direct mail and email blasts that speak to this audience. A second communication objective could be to encourage customer referrals. In this case, your target is still new customers, but you would be communicating with existing customers about your referral program. For Scenario 2, when your primary target is current customers, you will see why you need a different approach: This group already knows you. Your communication objectives could be to educate the audience about new products and services, or to promote add-ons and upgrades. Direct mail, e-newsletters and your customer portal are all great vehicles for reaching this audience.

Marketing is a mix of science, art and trial and error. It’s also an important part of any growing company, and doing it right takes knowledge and experience. To increase your knowledge, these three marketing classics are a great place to start: Guerilla Marketing, by Jay Conrad Levinson; Positioning and The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, both by Al Ries and Jack Trout.