Small Business and Startup Tips: 5 Marketing Mistakes to Avoid

Marketing your small business is simple, right? Just get your web page live, set up a Twitter account and a Facebook page, start building that email list and you’re on your way to endless riches! Well, unfortunately it is not quite that easy and many businesses end up making mistakes that they could have easily avoided.

We have written often about lean marketing techniques, provided lots of ideas on tactics and strategies for marketing, discussed budgeting, offered pointers on testing, given advice on analysis, and suggested tools to use, but we have never really talked about what NOT to do with your marketing efforts. Until now that is.

It has been pointed out that history repeats itself and the same can be said of the mistakes that managers make. The great philosopher, George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Or as that other great philosopher, Yogi Berra said, “This is like deja vu all over again.” Small business owners can an should learn from the mistakes of those who came before them, and should work hard to not repeat the mistakes that you will inevitably make. Learn from the experience of others and, more importunity, learn from your own experience.

Here are 5 mistakes that many managers will fall prey to; avoiding these will (hopefully) help you to gracefully sidestep some of the obstacles in your path.

1. Trusting your instincts. Building your business is a complex undertaking and, for better our worse, every action you take will have an impact on its performance, profitability, and growth. Each and every one of us is a walking victim of our own biases and beliefs; from day 1 you should go to lengths to avoid letting your own bias get in the way of making good decisions. The ultimate antidote to instinct and “gut” is data. A maxim of business is “that which can not be measured can not be managed” is a good approach here; every marketing effort you design and every campaign you launch should be designed with measurement in mind and it’s success or failure should be based on how well it performs. In other words, if you can’t figure out how to collect data on a campaign, you probably shouldn’t do it, even if your “instinct” is telling you that you should.

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Tools abound for collecting and analyzing data, perhaps the simplest (not to mention free) tools for your website are available from Google, including  Google Analytics and Google Website Optimizer. These web-based tools allows you to track traffic, users, behaviors, page views, conversion, and demographics in order to measure the efficacy of your campaigns, and your messaging.

2. Not setting goals. Hand in hand with measurement is setting goals for your marketing efforts. How can measurement tell you if a campaign was successful or not if you haven’t set a goal to reach? It is critical that you are able to quantify the results you receive and that you are clear in what you are trying to accomplish. For instance, if your intention is to increase traffic to a certain page on your site, be specific on how great an increase you need. By articulating exactly what you are trying to accomplish, you can more easily set strategy and define benchmarks to track your progress, apply resources, and measure success.

3. Disregarding social. A presence in the social media is more important to small businesses and startups then ever before. Your customers (more importantly, potential customers) are using social media and they are looking for you there. Half of small businesses are currently finding new customers through SM and over 64% of Twitter users are more likely to buy from the brands they follow. In addition huge percentages of small businesses have been recommended on SM by their customers, received website traffic and fresh sales leads directly through SM. We recently published a great infographic which includes these and many other statistics which emphasize the growing importance of the social media to small businesses and startups.

4. Measuring the wrong things. Choosing your metrics well is as important as the numbers themselves and this goes back to setting goals and doing it correctly. For instance, if it is your goal to register users on the site,  you might choose to simply set a base number of registrations that you are trying to achieve. While this raw number can be important, a more meaningful goal might be to set a target for the percentage of visitors to your site who ultimately become a registered user. In this example the raw numbers might help you to track progress, but the percentage will help you better understand how effectively your page design and messaging are performing and allow you to test the effectiveness different UI and different messaging.

5.¬†Using the wrong¬†message. We do a lot of email marketing to our user base and work hard to provide offers that they will find valuable and meaningful. One common mistake that marketers can make is to put the wrong message in front of the wrong customer at the wrong time. In other words, take the time to segment your customers and be selective with the messages you provide to each of these segments. A new customer with no history with your company may not be interested in the volume discount you offer to your “power buyers.” In fact, that new customer may even be put off by the fact that you are trying to sell them on volume when they haven’t even decided yet if they want to buy your product. A well-crafted and carefully targeted message can move the needle on your campaign, and a poorly chosen message can have the opposite effect and can do serious damage to your campaign and to your relationships with customers.

Photo: Chris Daniel 

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