Two Key Mistakes Marketers Make Every Day

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There are two key mistakes I’ve seen marketers of all disciplines, including myself, make during my days in this business. Okay, so I’ve seen a lot more than two, but these two specifically kill great ideas before they ever get a chance to live and push forward bad ideas that never should see the light of day.

Mistaking yourself for the target audience. This happens every day both on the client side and the agency side. “I would never stop by Bryant Park on a whim and stand in line for a free spa experience.” Of course you wouldn’t. You’re a 52-year-old man. We’re targeting 25 – 50 year old women, remember?

That’s a pretty obvious example, but I’ve seen clients say something along those lines many times. Here are a few examples of different statements used to kick off this mistake.

  • “I would never do that.”
  • “Would you really take time to do that?”
  • “Would that actually be compelling to you?”

Be on the watch for this mistake and, when it rears its ugly head, politely call attention back to the fact that it is intended to connect with the target.

  • “I agree. I’d never do that either. Luckily, I’m not the target audience!”
  • “It wouldn’t be compelling to me, personally, but our focus groups show that the primary audience loves it.”

Mistaking yourself as the spokesperson for your demographic. This holds as much potential for problems as the first mistake. Let’s say you actually happen to fall within the demographic breakdown of your target audience. That’s great, but it doesn’t make you the spokesperson for the whole group.

For example, I can’t tell you how many times someone has looked at me in a brainstorm or when discussing a new idea and said, “As a dad, what do you think about…?” I’m more than happy to tell you how I feel about anything, but that doesn’t mean all dads feel the same way. Approving or squashing an idea based on the feedback of one marketing team member who falls within the target audience is a huge mistake.

Make sure your ears perk up when you hear a colleague say something along these lines:

  • “Well, I have two kids and I would never do that!”
  • “There’s no way me and my girlfriends would ever do that.”
  • “My little brother is in college and he would love that! We should do it!”

When you hear these things, politely call attention to the fact that the culprit doesn’t speak on behalf of the entire target audience.

  • “That’s great to know, Joe. It’ll be good to see how that message does in testing.”

When you ask a colleague for her opinion as part of the target audience, remind the room that she doesn’t speak for the whole group.

  • “Liz, I know you don’t speak on behalf of all 20-somethings, but how would you react to that promotion if you saw it in-store?”

Have you been the culprit of these mistakes before? Have your ideas been the victim of them? What other critical mistakes have you seen marketers make that kill efforts before they ever make it past being printed on a sheet of paper?

*Image by tiny_packages.

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11 responses to “Two Key Mistakes Marketers Make Every Day

  1. Harrumph! (That’s a ‘harumph’ in agreement a-la Blazing Saddles!)

    How critical is it to understand the wants/needs and perception of the audience? Totally!

    How variable are those wants/needs & perceptions within any given audience? Tremendously!

    I think that this problem used to be a lot worse than it is – at least in my experience. There was a lot more ‘oh you can paint them all with the same brush’ when I was started doing PR for IT companies (nearly 15 years ago!). But as that bubble expanded we had the budgets to start truly understanding the nuances of our audience – indeed turning them in to audiences each requiring a slightly different approach. And the media we talked to were doing the same thing. The competition to get media attention, much like the competition to get a unique slant on a story, was such that you had to find a key differentiator to get your (or your client’s) story noticed.

    On a related note, something I’ve spoken about before, is the difference between knowing what you want to say versus knowing what the audience (in general) wants to hear. The former is basic sales. The latter is The Buying Conversation. And it is the latter that serves as a guide when working with the media or with bloggers or with customers. Only once you build the relationship to the point where you understand what they want and why should you figure out what it is that you’re going to say/pitch.

  2. Amen! I used to see those mistakes made internally all the time… from PR to product development. I have seen services developed based on one hallway comment and an “oh yeah, they’d buy that!” Really… Can you imagine developing a service that actually took some data center infrastructure costs and partner investment to pick up slack based on a hallway conversation and the notion that you “got” the audience?! WOW! But it happens all the time…

    A sign of a good marketer is that they don’t fall into that trap and they ask the tough questions. It seems to me that marketers sometimes forget that you need proof that a target market exists…that’s why marketing research will never go away. 🙂

    And from a social media perspective, do I even need to mention Chris Brogan’s KMart post or Motrin?! Both were riddled with posts from marketers who thought they spoke for the audience.

  3. And indeed in the Motrin case a portion of the audience that believed they spoke for the entire audience!

  4. I think what you just described are two of the most common mistakes made in our field. The age demographic is a good example of this. There was a time in my life where I wished jazz would be extinct as an art form. Now, I love jazz. And, I could completely change my mind tomorrow. I’d venture to say I’m not the only consumer that has ever changed their mind, or attitude, about a product.
    You reminded me of too many people I run into that make decisions almost solely on whether “they” would buy an idea.
    Nicely written, and something that needed to be said. Thanks.

  5. I have a related mistake to add: Mistaking one member of a focus group as the spokesperson for the target audience.

    Have you ever witnessed this? A colleague or client selects one member of a focus group whose perspective they happen to agree with and proclaims, “That’s our customer!” This, in total denial of the opinions of the rest of the group. Be careful with selective hearing!

  6. What I find most interesting about this post, Dave, is your advice on how to redirect the conversation when discussing with a client. These kinds of skills separate the counselors from the tacticians. Well done, sir.

  7. @PRJack – if it was once worse than it currently is now, then I can imagine I would have pulled my hair out then! I still see it pretty often, whether it’s from clients, colleagues or bloggers ranting on someone else’s marketing initiative.

    @Beth – Chris’ Kmart “controversy” and the Motrin Moms debacle both came to mind as I wrote this post. Excellent examples, especially of the second mistake.

    @Terry – Thanks. Let’s email the post to people after they make the mistake in meetings. 🙂 (just kidding… kind of.)

    @Kirk – Great addition. I’ve seen that happen recently, too. Glad you brought it up here.

    @Arik – Thanks. I’ve learned a few tricks about shaping the content of a conversation along the way in this business. 🙂

  8. It was ‘worse’ when using today’s measurement metrics. At the time, it was more the norm so didn’t seem so bad… or to be honest, even if seen as a concern doing something about it fell into the ‘law of diminishing returns’ back then.

  9. Spot on David. On top of us not speaking for the whole target market, we always need to remember that we come from a PR and Marketing background. We can see, understand, disect and appreciate several components of a campaign that average consumers may never notice. This doesn’t make us better, but it certainly makes us different. Something amazing to us, may not seem so hot to others and may not be appreciated. On the flip, something we think is basic and overlook might really strike a chord with lots of consumers.

  10. Pingback: Is Your Marketing Pilot Light Lit? » Media Emerging

  11. I could tell you why I feel about your article the way I do (which I LOVED by the way)…but it’s already been said by the others.

    Great post!

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