Most marketing fails before it starts — here’s how to fix it

The pitfalls to avoid and the higher roads to take for marketing success.



Most marketing fails, and often before it even starts.


Marketing is pivotal to the success of every business. If your marketing fails, the business will follow suit. Ensuring the success of your marketing must be the absolute highest priority of any business. Far too often, however, it’s disregarded and completely overlooked.


When marketing fails


Given that marketing organizations have notoriously limited resources, both restrictive budgets and small teams, there is no room for failure. Marketing is a mission-critical function. Forget fluffy KPIs, witty taglines and artistic imagery. Delivering revenue and results is all that matters. 


Not surprisingly, there are a handful of consistent reasons why most marketing is doomed for failure even before it starts. Understanding these root causes will help you become a better marketer, prevent fighting a losing battle, and guarantee the success of your marketing.


Top 5 reasons marketing fails before it starts


Here are some of the top reasons marketing fails from the beginning. You most likely will recognize one or more of these from your past experience or present situation.


Unrealistic expectations


Despite a lack of budget, time, skills, or experience, most marketers overestimate the success of any campaign and believe that it will generate record-breaking results, even if it’s something they’ve never done before.


Forecasting and projecting are both areas where marketers notoriously struggle, either in ignoring to consider them or creating them with no basis in reality, account of past performance, or consideration of potential risks.


Unrealistic expectations don’t exist solely within the four walls of the marketing organization, however. Management and other functions, like sales, often have assumptions about the effectiveness of marketing. Understanding these expectations — and setting realistic ones — is key to success in marketing.


Lack of focus


The biggest reason that marketing efforts fail is a lack of focus. Most marketing teams are either far too ambitious or fail to push back when being pulled in many directions. Trying to do too much, especially with too few resources, is a recipe for disaster. Jerry Weinberg refers to this as the “Law of Raspberry Jam”: the more you spread it, the thinner it gets.


Doing less creates more results. It’s imperative that every marketing initiative has full support to maximize its impact and chance of success. I’ve written before about the need for ruthless prioritization in marketing and there are so many benefits accrued from a narrow focus. Not only is it easier to get results, it’s also easier to measure and manage.


Weak support


Marketing can’t succeed without the requisite support. Great marketing requires a skilled team, sufficient budget, and a realistic timeframe, among other needs. 


Many marketing teams are underfunded and lack budget to execute on the demands placed before them. Other marketing teams are stretched too thin given the limited headcount.


Regardless of the reasons — and there are a multitude — marketing can’t operate in isolation. 


Focused on the 2%


Results often don’t happen immediately, a fact that makes marketing hard to quantify. Typical conversion rates for most marketing fall around 2%, which means that 98% of prospects won’t convert right away. That’s fine as long as you’re expecting this and can nurture those prospects accordingly. However, despite this universal truth, most marketers fail to plan or develop the nurturing required to realize the true results of their efforts and investments.


Additionally, measuring only the immediate impact fails to account for the true impact that marketing generates. Success in marketing isn’t just about instant gratification, it’s also about long-term growth.


Excessive or nonexistent planning


There are two camps marketing teams fall into when it comes to planning: excessive planning and nonexistent planning. The former maps out too many details and restricts the ability to iterate and optimize in flight, an essential ingredient of successful marketing. The latter is more common, where teams simply figure it out as they go and bet on serendipity and hope for success.


Neither approach is a tenet of successful marketing. Planning must be done and plans should outline the what, but not the how, in order to provide room for optimizing, adjusting and iterating, to maximize the chances of success.


5 rules for successful marketing


Now that you know some of the main reasons why marketing fails before it starts, let’s address these issues head on. Here are five principles to ensure your marketing succeeds every time.


Define success


It’s been said that if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there. If you want to be successful it helps to first define what success looks like. 


How will we be better off at the completion of this campaign or initiative? 


How will the organization be closer to achieving their goals as a result?


Work backwards from your answer to identify the critical elements and ignore everything else. The more clearly you can define success the easier it will be to separate the essential from the nonessential.


Do less


The key to more results is doing less. Focus is one of the most powerful elements of marketing, and the more focused you can be the easier it will be to execute, manage and measure your impact. 


Focus requires prioritization, which is a challenge for most marketing organizations. I’ve written about the need for marketing teams to prioritize ruthlessly which in today’s increasingly complex landscape is more important than ever before.


Focus and prioritization are fundamental at the strategic level. On the tactical level, testing and validating are the most efficient and effective ways to maximize results with the minimum resources. Testing is a marketer’s most powerful tool, and it enables you to get more results by doing less.


Reuse & recycle


There’s no need to reinvent the wheel and yet marketers love to do just that. Stop creating the new, and reuse — or repurpose — existing content, assets, plans and more. Too often we chase innovation for the sake of something new when repeating what worked in the past is easier and more certain. New is the enemy of good.


One of the biggest mistakes in marketing is achieving great success and then moving onto something new and different instead of repeating what has already been proven to work.


Before launching any marketing initiative, take an inventory of what existing materials and assets you have that can be reused or repurposed to save time, money, and effort. 


Align & synergize


Success in marketing is a team effort that requires alignment, synchronization and synergy. You must help your team get on the same page to understand the mission and row in the same direction. Imagine chaperoning a tour group and having stragglers who keep getting stuck behind, get lost and confused, or go down their own path. It’s your job to keep everyone on the team charging full-speed ahead towards the destination in lockstep. Keeping everyone aligned and moving together requires a clear mission, shared goals, and continuous accountability.


The same is true organizationally, outside of your team. Marketing must communicate and collaborate with sales and senior leadership to express the needs, direction, and gain support. The success of the marketing function is directly correlated with how connected and aligned it is within the organization.


Have a process


Marketing is neither an art or a science; it’s a process. Treating marketing as an event that happens and then is over is the wrong way to think about marketing. The process of marketing never ends and therefore we must design and execute marketing with this in mind. 


Every marketing initiative must consider what happens both during and after: optimization and nurturing. Any effort that doesn’t allow for both of these will always produce a subpar result.


The key to marketing success


Marketing is filled with challenges, some of which cause it to fail before it even starts. Fortunately, these causes are known and preventable. If we want marketing to deliver revenue and results then it’s imperative that each of these causes be taken seriously. Raise these issues internally and create conversation to acknowledge and address them. Accepting the status quo is not an option. 


Likewise, remember and apply these principles to significantly increase the likelihood of success for your marketing initiatives. These principles are timeless and universally applicable no matter the type of marketing activities involved. Even embracing just one of these principles can have a positive impact on your team, your effectiveness, and the success of your marketing.



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About The Author










Tim Parkin is a consultant, advisor, and coach to marketing executives globally. He specializes in helping marketing teams optimize performance, accelerate growth, and maximize their results. By applying more than 20 years of experience merging behavioral psychology and technology, Tim has unlocked rapid and dramatic growth for global brands and award-winning agencies alike. He is a speaker, author, and thought leader who has been featured in AdAge, AdWeek, Inc, TechCrunch, Forbes, and many other major industry publications. Tim is also a member of the American Marketing Association, Society for the Advancement of Consulting, and an inductee to the Million Dollar Consulting Hall of Fame.

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