February 08, 2021
Case Study

Marketers Beware: 8 all-too-tempting marketing dangers to avoid


The Sirens from Greek mythology enticed sailors to their doom with irresistibly beautiful singing.

But don’t think we marketers are immune. Our Sirens are just a little different.

Buzzy influencers. Get-rich-quick shortcuts. Tech tools that harness customer data. Will they lead you to a new blue ocean of opportunity or wreck your company along the rocky shoals?

To help you learn from your peers’ mistakes, we bring you tips about PR, influencer marketing, SEO, experimenting, tragedies, background noise, and unnecessary barriers.

by Daniel Burstein, Senior Director, Content & Marketing, MarketingSherpa and MECLABS Institute

Marketers Beware: 8 all-too-tempting marketing dangers to avoid

This article was originally published in the MarketingSherpa email newsletter.

Danger #1: Marketing background noise

Look reader, I know your offer is amazing. I’m on your side. And you know your offer is amazing, because you worked on it so hard.

So it’s all too tempting to assume that the customer is so interested in your offer they will loyally consume and follow every marketing message you put out there.

But unless your marketing messages cut through the busyness of their lives like a hot knife through butter, it will just be more background noise to the customer.

To learn how to overcome this danger, watch Flint McGlaughlin, Managing Director, MECLABS Institute provide conversion optimization suggestions for an audience-submitted landing page in The Danger of Marketing Background Noise: How to communicate your offer with maximum clarity (MECLABS is the parent organization of MarketingSherpa).

McGlaughlin advised viewers that “the key to getting performance out of this page is…put yourself in the shoes of the person coming to the page and see if you can truly say, ‘I understand.’”

Danger #2: Blindly trusting data

New York magazine recently ran the article Yet Another Person Listens to GPS App and Drives Car Into Lake.

Makes you laugh, doesn’t it? I know I would never be so foolish to blindly follow a navigation app’s directions into a major body of water. At least, I hope not.

But are you doing the marketing equivalent? Do you place as much blind trust in your tools and platforms to spit out accurate data and recommendations as the driver who let Waze steer him into Lake Champlain?

My colleague Danitza Dragovic, Optimization Director, MECLABS Institute recently shared a good example she came across while engaged in conversion marketing services.

After MECLABS client Expat Explore Travel ran a split test on its website, the overall result in its testing tool showed that the control had won. However, when the Expat team dug a bit deeper into the reports, they could see the data actually favored the treatment (also known as the variation). The Expat team brought this up with the MECLABS team who conducted further analysis and compared the results to Expat’s other analytics tool to prove that the treatment had in fact won the test.

“Having that secondary point of truth helps us identify if something is going wrong,” Dragovic said.

Dragovic contacted the testing tool to make it aware of the error. They blamed it on a rare bug that they are now working to fix.

She said mistakes like this are rare but human error is much more common – from an incorrect platform setup to a development error on your website. And having that second point of truth is helpful in these situations as well. “You’re able to look at a lot of data around topics you might not have set up by hand in the platform — page load time, for example. That can help us pinpoint if there is some sort of technology issue,” she said.

And if that error isn’t caught, it could lead you to make very confident but very bad decisions…like driving into a lake.

“Our travel company has been doing AB testing on our website for a few years now and one thing is very important to us and that’s the accuracy of the results. What we’ve learned is testing platforms need to be used in conjunction with analytics tools as well recording tools if necessary in order to establish a winner. By using these different tools you aren’t relying on just one tool to ensure the accuracy of the results,” said Bronwyn Gale, Senior UX Designer, Expat Explore Travel.

In addition to a quantitative backup, Dragovic agrees that recording tools and other quantitative tools is beneficial as well. “Heatmapping, clickmapping, surveys, polls, etc. Not as reliable but helps tell the more comprehensive story versus only relying on data for test interpretation and ideation.”

Because in addition to making decisions based on blatantly wrong data, running a test and not being able to accurately interpret results is another danger. For one, time and resources went into developing that test. In addition, many companies don’t have enough traffic to run multiple tests at the same time, so they put off other tests and invested a few weeks of testing capacity in one specific experiment. So if that experiment is unable to yield actionable takeaways, there is an opportunity cost.

When I asked Dragovic what advice she would give marketers, she laughed and said, “Track everything!”

She went on to say, “It’s important to have a good set of infrastructure set up in your analytics platform so you always have it as a base of evaluation.”

Danger #3: Unnecessary barriers that turn off would-be customers

“Too many brands build sites full of unnecessary barriers that turn off would-be customers from buying and ruin long-term customer relationships. It's tempting, with so much technology – tracking data, CRM tools, loyalty and reward program systems – to glean as much information as possible from your customers during the email signup and/or checkout process.

The reality is you can do a lot with less information at the start by making it easier for them to sign up for your newsletter or buy a product. Then, through targeted and segmented email marketing, dig into the data you can get from your customer’s behavior and create personalized content that’s just for them.

Take the time to go through your funnel as a customer. See what it’s like from their perspective versus what you think it looks like as you’re creating your marketing plan. At each step of the funnel, see if you have a clear picture of what each email offers, how the content helps answer basic questions or clear up confusion about your products or services. Click on your calls to action and go through the signup process.

More often than not, you’ll find little roadblocks that you might think help you get more info or insights from your customers but are small enough bumps in the road that they move on from you entirely.

Make a note of everything that feels frustrating or takes up extra time. If it’s bothering you, imagine what your customers are feeling. Find a simpler workaround, or even remove these roadblocks altogether.

Finally, don’t forget to check with both your customers and the people who abandoned your funnel. Ask for honesty – what was the problem during the process that turned them off. You might find some clarity on potential conversion killers that you didn’t even know were problems.”

– Liz Froment, SMB Finance and Insurance Expert, The Blueprint by The Motley Fool

Danger #4: Don't assume marketing and PR are the same

“Marketers shouldn’t assume marketing and PR are the same thing.

A few years ago, a client of mine was contacted by a reporter at a South African newspaper to learn more about a government contract the company had been awarded. The marketing response was to want to the promote the benefits of their products and services. With a bit of research, however, we came to understand that the reporter was investigating government fraud.

If the marketing response had been put into play, the company – and its contract – would have been framed as part of ongoing government corruption. While they’re both a form of communication, marketing and PR simply aren’t the same thing, and the danger to marketers of treating them as such can be severely detrimental.”

– Sam Butler, Founder/Principal, 35thAvenuePartners

Danger #5: Influencers keeping your product and ghosting you

“We worked out deals with some influencers this year to send free product in exchange for a product review on their website or social channels. In a few cases, the influencer just stopped responding and kept our products.

Product deals present a unique challenge, because it’s uncommon to send a contract when the only compensation is product, not cash. Either way, even if you had a contract, it wouldn’t make financial sense to take an influencer to court over a low-three-figure sunk cost.

I would just recommend that brands be diligent about sourcing influencers for product reviews, and ideally work through referrals.”

– Calloway Cook, President, Illuminate Labs

Danger #6: Using deceitful business practices to make quick gains

“In my world (the SEO world), this is called Black Hat and it refers to practices that violate a search engine’s terms of service. This includes paying for backlinks, spam comments on other websites with links to your site, intentionally sending spammy backlinks to a competitor to get them punished by Google, and other sketchy practices intended to increase your own rankings. These tactics may seem tempting to marketers that want results fast, and there are even people on the web who will happily teach you these techniques. But the cost can be quite high.

In terms of SEO, you can receive a manual action that penalizes your site and ruins your rankings. Rest assured that your employer will not find this amusing. Additionally, it can take months and months for your site to recover.

Black Hat SEO isn’t illegal, but some deceitful digital marketing practices can be. Plus, there are plenty of ways to get the job done legitimately. It’s not worth it at the end of the day. And if your employer wants you to do your job like this, it might be time to look for new opportunities.”

– Greg Birch, SEO Specialist, Store Space Self Storage

Danger #7: Sticking with the status quo

“I think that the biggest danger many young and professional marketers face is the fear of experimenting. I've been working both on the agency and client-side, and I can safely say that lots of businesses are missing out on decent opportunities because they fall into a trap of sticking to their comfort zone.

My biggest philosophy as a marketer is to ‘Never assume – always test everything’ and this is something that should be used by every marketing professional. Here is a great example of how my philosophy found its use case in our latest campaign.

We launched Nibble in September and the main objective of my 2020 marketing plan was to drive awareness of the brand and find potential prospects to fill the top of a funnel. We provide B2B animation services – so by definition, we should strictly stick to B2B marketing tools such as LinkedIn or Social Selling, which are widely recommended by the leading B2B marketing though-leaders.

And I totally agree with this – these tools are important. But they are also expensive to utilize, especially if your budget is limited. So I’ve decided to get a little bit creative and we’ve organized a competition celebrating Nibble’s launch (with the main prize being a bespoke animation for a business) that we targeted at marketing leaders within SMEs (small and medium enterprises).

We’ve tested various paid channels to give our campaign a push, and I was astonished to find out that Instagram Stories generated 80% more competition entries than LinkedIn for half of the cost. Those entries haven’t been any lower quality than the ones we’ve generated through LinkedIn – on contrary, we’ve been lucky enough to attract 100% legitimate businesses that fall within our ideal target customer criteria.

G-d knows how much more money we would have pumped into the LinkedIn campaign if we were to stick to B2B marketing best practices!

And yes, you can fail when experimenting, and this is OK, too. There is no one-fits-all approach when it comes to marketing, and to be successful, marketers ought to find a perfect formula that works for them.”

– Sandra Kaminska-Paciorek, Marketing & PR Manager, Nibble

Danger #8: “We know times are tough…[insert filler]…that’s why we think you should buy our product”

“One of the biggest dangers marketers need to always be mindful of is being insensitive to tragedies, social turmoil, and similar events. You’ll see some make the news from time to time where a company is receiving a lot of backlash for their insensitivity to various events.

Lately, I’ve seen a lot of brands receive backlash due to poorly thought-out messaging during the pandemic and the lockdown we find ourselves in. For example, we see many brands that almost follow a script of, ‘we know times are tough…[insert filler]…that’s why we think you should buy our product’ even though there is no real benefit to the consumer or those affected by the pandemic.

I think it’s tacky and poorly executed messaging. There are of course many companies stepping up to the plate and donating portions of sales to those in need and so forth, which is a much better approach.”

– Jacob Dayan, Co-founder & CEO, Community Tax

Related resources

The Danger of Using Grammatically Incomplete Headlines

Free excerpt of The Marketer as Philosopher book – See Reflection 38 “On Customer Theory and the Danger of ‘Design-by-Committee’”

The Prospect’s Perception Gap: How to bridge the dangerous gap between the results we want and the results we have

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