Marketing 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So whatever you’ve learned may well be outdated already.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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