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Marketing myths and mistakesMar­keting moves fast, but mar­keting myths die hard. It’s common to copy “tra­di­tional mar­keting wisdom” without real­ising that risks copying tra­di­tional mar­keting mis­takes.

The web gives digital mar­keters masses of imme­diate audience feedback to learn from — far more than tra­di­tional mar­keters have ever had.

So whatever you’ve learned may well be out­dated already. Times change, com­pet­itors learn and update their strategies, and mar­keting evolves. What worked a few years ago may not work now. Or perhaps it never worked, but was based on false, yet popular, assump­tions. Yet many people still spread these myths as if they’re in the know.

Many useful lessons in mar­keting have been twisted by mis­quotes and false assump­tions over the years, too. Here are seven of the top mar­keting myths that I still see today and why you should think twice before falling for them.

Myth 1: You only need marketing when you’re in trouble

This is the most dan­gerous of mar­keting myths. It kills more busi­nesses than any other.

Mar­keting is gen­erally what keeps you out of trouble. Effective mar­keting builds sales, and pays for itself. Without it, you’ll lose sales, which restricts your cash flow. Then, when you start to struggle, you won’t have much budget for mar­keting to help you out. You may be short on time, too — few effective mar­keting tactics offer rapid results, and those tend to be cash-intensive.

Still, it’s all too easy to put off mar­keting, espe­cially if you’re busy with current clients. That’s all very well — but what are you doing for your future clients? That’s who mar­keting is for. Times change and clients move on. When they do, and you run short on work, it’ll be too late to start thinking about mar­keting. That “feast and famine” thinking des­troys many small busi­nesses.

So, don’t delay mar­keting — get started today, or this week at the latest. Treat it like you’re working for a client — but the client is your future business.

Myth 2: Good products and services market themselves

Also known as the “hope mar­keting” or “build it and they will come” myth. I’ve even heard this twisted into, “You can’t be very good if you need mar­keting” — mostly by those who mistake mar­keting for a cost, rather than an investment.

Even if you’re a leader in your field, the modern world moves too fast to wait for your repu­tation to spread on its own by word of mouth. By the time it does, others will have seized the oppor­tunity and your market. They don’t even need to be able to compete with you on quality, or price. Most of the time, they just need to be the first firm your potential cus­tomers find when they’re looking for what you offer.

Don’t believe me? Look at all the shoddy products and ser­vices people buy. The firms pro­ducing those focus on mar­keting more than quality. The sad truth is, that’s all it takes to stay in business. You can turn that around (and I’d like to think you’d want to) — but you can’t ignore mar­keting.

Quality is still a strong selling point — and people will pay more for it — but only if you make sure your target market knows about it. That means act­ively tar­geting a market. You need to identify your ideal cus­tomers and get your products and ser­vices in front of them. They may not need them straight away — but you need to be the obvious choice when they do.

Digital marketing matters

Whatever business you’re in, mar­keting is what makes it a business. After all, how well do you think a shop would do — even on a busy high street — without a sign? Retailers pay a premium for places with a shop window, and put effort into dis­plays that entice cus­tomers in. They simply wouldn’t spend time and money on that if they didn’t have to.

That’s fine when cus­tomers happen to be walking down that street, but what got them there? These days, if someone wants some­thing, they look online first. Then they search for rel­evant reviews and videos. By the time they reach the street, they often know what they want and where to get it. So offline mar­keting can still be worth­while, but if you aren’t using digital mar­keting, you’re leaving money on the table.

Myth 3: Email marketing is spam and doesn’t work

No? Then why do people still sign up for email lists? “Oh, to get a deal,” you may say — yes, and then they stay sub­scribed to get more deals. They’re pleased to get those emails. That is not spam — at least, not if they’re given adequate inform­ation up-front and every oppor­tunity to unsub­scribe. Not even under the GDPR, despite some of the scare­mon­gering “expert” advice I’ve seen bouncing around.

That sort of email mar­keting has tra­di­tionally had an average ROI of 30x or more. As digital mar­keters have said for years, “the money is in the (mailing) list”.

Has GDPR dented that? Cer­tainly — but it hasn’t inval­idated it. Now you’ll need to work at building a list instead of buying one, to pick a legal basis for pro­cessing, and to track consent if you’re using that one (espe­cially for B2C mar­keting). Even if all that extra work halves the profit margin, a 15x ROI is not to be sneezed at.

As long as you do it eth­ically and in a com­pliant way, email mar­keting remains a legit­imate business interest and a very effective mar­keting tool.

Myth 4: Social media is free advertising

Of all the mar­keting myths, this one is closest to the truth, but it’s not as simple as it sounds. Sure, signing up for an account is free, and as the modern form of “word of mouth” advert­ising, you can’t afford to ignore it. Nor can you afford to get it wrong, though many do — partly because they take this mar­keting myth at face value.

Social media isn’t meant to be just advert­ising. If you ignore the “social” part, you’ll fail. People buy from people that they know, trust and like. If you only ever post advert­ising and sales pitches, they won’t know, trust or like you enough to buy from you. Instead, they’ll ignore you — and will probably stop fol­lowing you on social media.

Get that bit right, though, and you can get a fair way by making friends and growing your brand organ­ically. If you’re engaging and enter­taining enough, you may even­tually become an influ­encer, or may be able to get help from those who are.

Social media marketing made easy

If that sounds like a lot of work and a long term strategy… well, it is. That’s why it being “free advert­ising is one of these mar­keting myths. It can be a lot easier and faster — but only if you’re pre­pared to invest money into growing your social media presence.

Buying likes and fol­lowers is a fool’s game (see the next of these mar­keting myths, below), but other options can be very cost-effective. Main­taining a con­stant social media presence takes time. So if you value your own time, it’s cheaper to com­mission regular content, whilst you focus on the more sales-ori­ented stuff.

Beyond that, paid ads and boosted social media posts can be powerful ways to grow your audience and website traffic. Social media plat­forms know a lot about their users, so they can target spe­cific audi­ences for you incredibly well. That tar­geting makes digital mar­keting many times more cost-effective than tra­di­tional broadcast media.

Myth 5: Likes and followers are vital social media metrics

Suc­cessful busi­nesses are driven by stats — or rather, by inter­preting the right stats properly. So small busi­nesses often obsess over the most obvious social media stats — likes and fol­lowers.

However, mar­keting myths are often fuelled by those who turn them into sales pitches. Some social media firms sell likes and fol­lowers, so those stats aren’t reliable measures of your social media presence.

What is, then? Engagement.

Social media plat­forms and search engines measure how many people engage with your social media posts and your website. They measure how long they stay, and what actions they take. Then they use that to decide how widely to promote you. Why? Because their vis­itors want to see popular, useful stuff. If you aren’t providing that, they’ll give the space to someone who will.

Again, it’s like the shop window. Setting up shop in a street with good footfall is smart, but doesn’t help if no-one engages with you by coming in. Nor does it help if you pay random people to enter. They aren’t your cus­tomers and may not even speak your lan­guage, so you’re just wasting money

Engagement is what matters, and that needs tar­geted mar­keting. Like glimpses of your shop window on a busy street, social media posts need to appeal to your target market.

Myth 6: Only Millennials use social media

Ah, the ever-popular “some­thing I want to ignore is a fad for the young­sters” fallacy. People say this about digital mar­keting, too — yet we’ve been doing both these things for almost a quarter of a century. The first recog­nisable social media site, “Six Degrees”, appeared in 1997. These “fads” have out­lived most busi­nesses that called them that.

Mil­len­nials (born 1980 to 1994) were the first gen­er­ation to grow up with com­puters every­where. Likewise, Gen­er­ation Z are true “digital natives”, having never known a world without the internet. So sure, they use social media heavily — and the oldest are now in their late 30s. Ignore that market at your peril.

Do Gen­er­ation X (born 1965 to 1979) and Baby Boomers (born before 1965) use social media, though? Abso­lutely.

This 2018 report reveals that Gen­er­ation X averages almost 2 hours a day on social media (espe­cially on smart­phones), and that 11% of them are senior decision-makers at work. Forbes notes that ‘Boomers use social media only slightly less, and that 35% use LinkedIn to build their pro­fes­sional identity.

Myth 7: Link building doesn’t work any more

Some mar­keting myths start up just because someone finds the truth incon­venient, or wants to grab attention by being con­trary. In fact, back­links from quality sites are still a key way for search engines to assess your site’s quality — and that’s not likely to change any time soon.

The changes that prompted this myth started in 2003, with Google’s “Cas­sandra” update. Over time, links from poor quality sites have become less useful, and can even damage your SEO. Google also detects and pen­alises attempts to fix rankings by buying links instead of earning them.

These changes under­mined luc­rative link-selling schemes run by “black hat” SEO firms. Over time, their com­plaints have become one of the common mar­keting myths.

Quality content builds quality links

Getting links from quality sites is a lot harder. So the number and quality of sites that link to yours is a far more reliable indicator of your site’s quality than the total number of back­links it gets. Even a few quality links can out­weigh thou­sands of weak ones. That’s why my “SEO Plus” digital mar­keting plans focus on building quality links through a mix of content mar­keting methods.

Sim­ilarly, cov­erage on well-known news sites (e.g. through syn­dicated press releases) will also boost your digital presence. Fewer news sites now provide “follow” links (which dir­ectly boost your SEO), but most still link in ways that deliver vis­itors to your site. That boosts your SEO indir­ectly and encourages those vis­itors to link to you.

So, the kind of bulk link building that cheap SEO “gurus” used to love (and cowboys still cling to) no longer works. However, quality links are still one of the best ways to grow your digital presence and market your brand.

Are these myths the Seven Deadly Sins of Marketing?

Pretty much. They’re cer­tainly business-dam­aging beliefs, and yet very popular, because they play on what many small busi­nesses want to believe. That sort of “con­firm­ation bias” is very seductive. It takes a con­scious effort not to fall for it. That effort pays off, though — so dismiss these dan­gerous mar­keting myths, before they ruin your business.

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