Sep 03, 2021

Common Problems With Your Marketing Program (That Are Totally Fixable)

By: Polly Yakovich


I’m just going to give it to you straight. You are probably the cause of many of the problems in your marketing program. 

Sorry to just drop it on you like that.

Again and again, we see self-inflicted wounds bog down marketing programs. Decisions made based on bad inputs. Or people making decisions when they  shouldn’t have any influence at all. 

Here’s the good news. When the problems are self-inflicted, they’re also relatively easy to fix. Let’s dive into 6 common problems you’re making for yourself, or letting happen to you, and how to start fixing them.


1. You don’t give enough away for free

We run into this with clients all the time. And we get it (to an extent). You think your product or service is totally unique, and you don’t want to share any of your secret sauce. But here’s the thing. Giving away the ingredients isn’t giving away the sauce. The things that should bring you the most distinction are unreplicable, even with specific instructions. They’re your brand essence, the way you do things, the how.

Your content’s job is to build trust. To offer proof. According to FocusVision, B2B decision makers typically consume 13 pieces of content during the buying process. They must find enough value in your content to keep coming back. They won’t read 13 pieces focused on why you (or your customers) think you are great.

In his Forbes article, Aaron Agius says “If you help a prospect generate some results with your free content, you’re probably the first person they’re going to think of when they hit a roadblock. Strategies need to be customized to specific situations to work at their full potential anyways, and you can take advantage of this.”

Here’s another brutal truth. Competitors probably can do similar work to yours. So you need to stand out in another way. That’s where your brand comes in. And your prospects can’t do it alone. They aren’t solving the problems you are every day, at your scale. You have nothing to lose by helping them get better, and everything to gain.

Luckily this fix is so easy! Share more. Tell what you know, post client case study results on your blog. Make some of your best stuff readily available and ungated. Here’s the coolest part: Your boldness in sharing and giving away your knowledge for free will convince your prospects you have something special that they have to have.



2. You don’t control the narrative

Have you ever been in a meeting where someone shared some feedback, or a criticism about a program that was more of a feeling than a fact? Loudly and strongly. People nodded, because it seemed like it could be true. “Yeah, I hate getting stuff in the mail too!” And you offered some pushback but it was more like “I don’t think that’s right, let me check the data and report back.” Maybe you did, but you went back to just that person with your data, not the people who were in the meeting. That person might even admit they were wrong, but the damage is already done.

We’ve seen this happen literally thousands of times.

False narratives really hurt you, and your program. Letting false narratives stand that aren’t data driven take organizations off track.

Don’t make it personal. Work to bring your organizational focus back to data-driven decision making. Harvard Business says that “data is logical and concrete in a way that gut instinct and intuition simply aren’t. By removing the subjective elements from your business decisions, you can instill confidence in yourself and your company as a whole. This confidence allows your organization to commit fully to a particular vision or strategy without being overly concerned that the wrong decision has been made.”

If you’re in leadership, practice declining input from strong voices just because they’re forceful. Most of us in leadership have learned to act intuitively or trust our guts, which doesn’t always work when we’re getting bad information. Loudness doesn’t equal accuracy. Set the example for others by saying things like “That’s an interesting reflection. Is that a feeling, or data driven? What are the numbers? What do our reports say? Before we let this statement of feeling stand, who can research whether this is true and bring the information back to our next meeting? Let’s ask our customers if they feel this way.” Even if you agree, try to fight the urge to jump on the bandwagon and set the stage for data-driven decision making.

If someone makes an erroneous claim, make sure the correction comes back to the group. This is important for a couple of reasons. This is another way to reinforce a data-driven culture. It also helps everyone understand that they won’t be able to poke endless holes as a defensive strategy without correction. 

For some departments, this can be a quasi-strategy. If the sales team isn’t producing enough new business, you can be sure that they’re going to come into a meeting with marketing and point the finger at lead quality. How many marketing teams think that sales pushes them around, or stalls their efforts? Set the stage for data-based conversations and work to eliminate the hearsay.



3. You let the wrong people give input (and take it)

This one may start out kindly, and we support an environment that gives a place at the table to all voices. It’s great that the new analyst has 1 million ideas and is super excited to be there. It’s even better that you let them share. But you should not be scoring their contributions in the same way as the 20 year-old veterans. 

Besides making bad decisions, you’ll also frustrate other members of your team by treating all ideas and contributions as valuable. 

Ted Levitt, in his article Creativity Is Not Enough, says that many companies “generally fail to distinguish between the relatively easy process of being creative in the abstract and the infinitely more difficult process of being innovationist in the concrete. Indeed, they misdefine “creativity” itself. Too often, for them, “creativity” means having great, original ideas. Their emphasis is almost all on the thoughts themselves. Moreover, the ideas are often judged more by their novelty than by their potential usefulness, either to consumers or to the company.”

This is a relatively easy fix, and you don’t have to squash all the great ideas to implement it. Work to implement a decision-making criteria that is thorough and fact based. This fits in well with the data-driven culture you’re building from the point above. 

There is a time and a place for brainstorming and the following criteria doesn’t slow you down too much, but the right amount. Try this workflow for new ideas:

  • That’s a great idea! Tell me more about it. 
  • How would you implement it?
  • What are the benefits? What are the costs?
  • What does the data say the outcomes would be?
  • What internal changes are required to implement it? Since we can’t do everything at once, what activity do you suggest we replace this with? Does this require new people? New budget? Who would work on this?
  • If you can’t answer any of the above, please work on the answers and bring them back to your next meeting in X weeks and we’ll give you time to present your idea.
  • After presentation, leadership can move the idea to a decision matrix and prioritize with other items for consideration.


4. You think it’s better because it’s new

Everyone gets bored doing the same thing. Marketers are some of the worst offenders. We’re creative! We have great ideas! We thrive on change! The problem is that the best predictor of what will work well today is what worked in the past.

Optimizing is much more effective than rolling out anything new. New starts from scratch. Optimization builds on success. You’ll get more success from repeating or incrementally changing proven tactics. 

Don’t believe me? A couple years ago, Hubspot looked at their data and saw 76% of their monthly blog views and 92% of monthly blog leads came from “old” posts, posts published prior to that month. They embarked on an experiment to see how much optimization helped improve the performance of old posts. Their work resulted in doubling the number of monthly leads generated by the old posts, and increasing the number of monthly organic search views of those posts by an average of 106%.

The fix here is mostly to shift some of your marketing time and focus to optimization. Make sure that you have dedicated resources here, even if it delays some new projects you have in the queue. Luckily I wrote about some specific optimizations you can focus on first in this blog post: Q4 Is Upon Us, It’s Time To Optimize!


5. You let perfect be the enemy of the good

Neil Patel wrote an article back in 2015 that is as relevant today as ever. In it he shares the dangers of seeking perfection, and why we have to resist the dopamine hit our brains are looking for.

“We’ve been conditioned to think that the right combination of actions will achieve a flash of exhilaration. When we happen upon the perfect marketing strategy, we expect a rush of joy. When we discover the best business for us to start, we're flooded with an electric sensation of excitement.”

When you’re reaching for perfect, you delay getting into market, which is the only place you’re going to get the information you need to optimize and improve. (I’d also argue you are losing sight of the goal.) As we talk about so much with our team here at A Brave New, our goal isn’t to produce great content, or even launch incredible campaigns. The work isn’t the goal, results are.

You’ll have to train your team, and even your boss. Set people up for success by letting them know exactly what you want from their review, and what the consequences are if they pull you off track from launch.

Neil suggests that skewing our expectations cripples our actions. Here’s the antidote:

  • Instead of expecting aha moments, prepare yourself for gradual improvement
  • Rather than expecting sudden leaps in ability, skill, or progress, expect marginal improvement over periods of time. And if this feels a little depressing, pick a point in the future where you’ll be able to look back and celebrate how far you’ve come
  • Rather than waiting for a rush of exhilaration, expect modest satisfaction over time

Success is more likely to be gradual. There is no perfect. The best resource is one that is out in the market working for you.



6. You’re judging from a company perspective, not an audience perspective

Who are you talking to? It’s a marketing discipline as old as time, and one that we also struggle with no matter how long we’ve been working in the field.

Over time your focus slips. Pete from sales had a lot of feedback on the last blog post, so I’m going to write it so he likes it this time. Sarah from compliance hates it when we phrase things that way (even though that’s how our prospects word all their searches), so we gotta’ get it by Sarah. Our CEO Julie really likes when her trademarks are mentioned, with a pretty lengthy bio section. 

Pretty soon your content is becoming less focused on your audience needs, and more focused on getting approved internally.

 B2B blogs that share helpful or educational content receive 52% more organic traffic than those that mainly publish content about their company. 

This happens with product delivery too. If you’re not careful, your upcoming feature releases will be more focused on what your developers want to work on and less about what your audience needs from your product.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that no matter how well intentioned, or how small these shifts may seem at the time, that they add up to take you away from your purpose - meeting your audience’s needs, understanding them, and being laser focused on being helpful to them.

This fix is relatively simple, but depending on how deep your cultural issues are, may take some time to fix.  Here’s how:

  • Do your research. You can’t advocate for your audience’s needs if you don’t know what they are and what they want. So ask them! Use your qualitative persona outreach, conduct a survey of your email file, conduct a research study. Then you can start your conversations with your audience at the center.
  • Provide context. This is a classic mistake and we all make it! We think that people are accustomed to reviewing content, and so we don’t set them up for success. But memories slip. So help your reviewers by providing context. We are writing this piece for X audience, that has asked for content about X, or has X needs. I am asking you only to review this for accuracy of the data and to sign off on a quote we attributed to you. This is scheduled to publish on X date, so I need your feedback on those items only by X at the latest. Your reviewers don’t want to make your life hard, so set them up to be helpful to you and not a burden.
  • Test it. Sometimes you’ll have to rely on the old testing fallback. That’s ok. First make sure you have the environment available for a valid test and if you really can’t come to an agreement, offer it as an option. “Hmm Julie, I’m not sure a 4 paragraph personal bio is the best thing for a product email. Let’s test that!” And then, as they say, facts are friendly! You’ll have agnostic data to back up your recommendations.
  • Give feedback. Most people aren’t trying to be difficult. They just don’t know. So tell them. It could even be as simple as letting them know when they make massive revisions and ask to see it again, they keep pushing the publish dates, and what the repercussions are for that. 

Hopefully you saw some places that you could sharpen up your program results and get out of your own way! 


If you want help becoming laser focused on your program success, make sure to download and read our guide Why Effective Marketers Must Embrace Direct Response Principles.

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