Why most marketing fails

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By: Neil Edwards on 13th February 2010, 6 minute read

If I had a pound for every time I’d heard someone say: "we tried marketing once and it didn’t work", I could have retired long ago.

Not only does the phrase betray a lack of understanding of what marketing really is, it is often a reliable indicator of how the fateful marketing programme will have been run in the first place.

Despite many advances in knowledge and information sharing, marketing remains one of the least understood of the business disciplines. Shrouded in mystery, and slippery in its accountability, it is a topic that everybody has an opinion on and most people believe they can do better than the marketing department.

Marketing isn’t rocket science, nor does it demand significant creativity or originality (albeit a little imagination helps). Largely it is a matter of process, understanding of the human psyche and persistent effort otherwise known as hard work.

Most marketing programmes operate like this:

Marketing programme process

A marketing campaign will be sent out. The target buyer will respond or not (most often not). Any orders will be followed up (hopefully) and the remainder will be discarded and forgotten.

This formula applies whether we are talking about a direct mail campaign, e-shot, advert, trade show or any other form of marketing.

Is it any wonder that responses are typically way below 1% and that there is no return on investment?

To run a marketing campaign in this way borders on insanity. No regard is given to the buying process and little respect is given to the intelligence and needs of the buyer. In other words, the campaign is not buyer centric.

In earlier posts, I have referred to Jolles model of the buying process and the stages that we all go through when considering a purchase. The stages apply whether it is an impulse buy or a major capital investment all that changes is the speed with which we go through the phases and potentially the number of people that will be involved in the decision.

If we take a step back for a moment, it is clear that the buying process is highly sophisticated. The buyer operates under a whole range of influences:

  • Past experience
  • Peer group comment
  • Social media
  • Google searches
  • Webinars / Seminars / Events
  • Advertising / direct marketing

While advertising and direct marketing still has a role, we as buyers are much more resistant to it. We like to feel that we are researching and finding our own solutions and only want to engage the sales person in the final stages of the buying process, when our mind is pretty much made up.

An intelligent marketing programme therefore needs to take account of the buying process and run like this:

An intelligent marketing programme process

The buyer will be engaged at all stages of the buying process with methods and content that are appropriate to where he or she is in the cycle.

In the consideration phase, which may be conscious or unconscious, we need to be educating and informing to stimulate interest. This could be with White Papers, blog posts and press releases or indeed with advertising and direct mail it is the content that is important, not the medium of delivery (which should be varied).

Once the buyer has decided to act, he or she will then start to work out exactly what they want from their purchase. Case studies, product sheets and seminars can be useful in this phase.

When the criteria are defined, the buyer will then start to look for solutions to meet those needs. Past experience, peer group recommendations and web searches will all come into play.

If our previous engagement programme has been successful, we will be firmly on the consideration list and potentially the only name on it.

The process of converting a prospect into a client can take many months years in some cases. Jolles tells us that we spend 79% of our time in the consideration phase, umming and ahhing over whether we have a need or not. Our marketing contact programmes must therefore be multi-faceted and continuous.

Of course, the process doesn’t stop when our product or service has been selected. We need to keep engaging the client to make sure that our solution has properly met the need and then stay in touch to ensure retention, repeat purchases and up-sell.

When we look at the buying process in this way it is obvious that simple outbound campaigns are destined to fail. Marketing must comprise multi-touch activity that builds dialogue and engages the prospect at all stages in the buying process.

The theory, when converted to practice, produces results. Recent research by Forrester Consulting showed that businesses that market successfully:

Focus on lead generation as a process

  • Profile and segment prospects based on customer behaviour (not just demographics)
  • Design content that builds dialogue
  • Employ some form of lead scoring / prioritisation measure
  • Nurture prospects that are not yet ready to buy
  • Make certain that marketing works collaboratively with sales

The Forrester research further shows that these businesses enjoy a more robust pipeline, better customer insight, improved marketing and sales accountability and ultimately improved marketing ROI.

What more can anybody want?


How managing leads pays off in a stronger, more qualified pipeline - Forrester Consulting November 2009

Adam Needles - Demand Generation Blog 2009-10

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Neil Edwards


Neil Edwards

Neil is a Chartered Marketer and Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing with many years' experience in marketing, brand and communications.

CEO / The Marketing Eye

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