Top 20 Ways CEOs Wreck Their Marketing

June 27, 2023

Over the past 25 years, I have had a front-row seat to some of the biggest marketing mistakes that business owners and managers have made. Sometimes, it’s well-intentioned. Sometimes, it’s ill-informed. Sometimes, it’s downright meddlesome. Check out this list to see if you catch yourself saying any of these phrases.

1. Well, I like… or I don’t like…
It may not be about what the owner likes if the owner doesn’t match the buyer profile. Basing marketing decisions on personal preference and not really understanding the audience profiles, preferences and behavioral traits is a common mistake.

2. I just heard/saw/read… or What about Tik Tok?
We see some business owners change on a dime every time they read a new book or hear a new podcast. We often see this come down as an order backed by very little experience and lacking judgment. We definitely encourage all questions and challenges from the owner, but I would recommend you at least have a discussion to make sure that the decisions make sense in the context of the marketing plan!

3. We have worked with Judy (radio sales rep) a long time.
Sometimes long-term relationships with sales and media reps can lead to a lapse in judgment and complacency on the marketing front. It makes sense to measure success against third-party benchmarks and regularly re-evaluate your strategy.

4. What about a billboard? or We really need a billboard.
Some people really want to see their logo (or face) giant on a billboard or in outdoor advertising. Owners should challenge themselves to evaluate the marketing goal they are trying to achieve and only run billboards as part of a multi-pronged campaign with clear tracking available through other channels or point of sale.

5. Everyone is a potential customer, or We don’t want to turn away business, or I don’t want to lose out on… 
Marketing to a specific group is the equivalent of using the right lure to catch a specific kind of fish. It can make all the difference. It doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to catch any other fish that decide to bite. Fear of positioning and clearly speaking to specific audiences can lead to a lack of connection with any audience.

6. I “know” who our customer is, I “think” what they really want is, or I “believe” we are about 60% x and 40% y.
We see a lot of off-the-cuff responses to really critical questions. Many small businesses fail to use concrete data to make important decisions. Sometimes the questions haven’t ever been asked. The data is often challenging to pull or requires manual clean up or re-coding. The analysis may give you a one-time snapshot, but ideally it will be the beginning of a new infrastructure to help better manage your business moving forward.

7. Lisa (Marketing Director) can’t take us to the next level… 
We see shocking expectations from owners about what their solo in-house marketing person should be capable of. A single person should not be expected to design, write, plan, budget, analyze, promote and lead your organization to success, especially if you aren’t providing: ongoing education/training opportunities, time to participate in industry trade organizations/peer groups and the option to enlist additional experts/resources.

8. David (Marketing Coordinator/Manager) thinks we need to be focusing on Twitter followers.
Sometimes, we see owners taking the advice of the internal marketing person even when that team member lacks the experience to be developing the strategy. Owners may not hear the advice and recommendations of other experts because they don’t want to upset the internal team. It’s important to make sure that you are always evaluating the mediums you select based on the target audience profiles.

9. We are really a sales-driven organization, and advertising hasn’t ever really worked for us.
For some businesses who have had success with direct sales, there is often a misunderstanding about how marketing activities can provide awareness and generate warm leads, data and credibility to convert leads faster, sales support to shorten the sales cycle, aid retention, etc.

10. We don’t really have a plan… or We don’t really have a marketing budget… 
It’s surprising how many businesses are lacking a marketing plan and don’t even have a line item for a marketing budget. It’s real hard to improve your marketing program when you don’t have it documented or have a way to compare year-over-year performance.

11. Well last year we spent about 220K… 
The majority of established businesses are simply running off of last year’s budget as a framework for the marketing decision-making instead of basing the marketing plan on a strategy that is expected to generate results.

12. We have always… 
Many business owners cling to antiquated marketing methods because that’s how the business was originally built, or something that worked in the past even if it is no longer working. Meanwhile, competitors and startups are capturing market share with modernized methods and tactics.

13. I know my friend Johnny (business owner) got great results from… 
We hear a lot of owners who think that a program a fellow business owner bragged about is 100% accurate and will work for them as well. They cling to the idea of a silver bullet despite the businesses, audiences and positioning being entirely different.

14. They always think the owner is always the best spokesperson… 
There are some owners who make the perfect spokesperson for the business. There are others who do not resonate with the audience, don’t realize it and don’t seek useful feedback. Owner-spokespeople should use impartial methods to solicit feedback from the target audience to ensure they are resonating.

15. I know, but… or What you have to understand is… 
Sometimes business owners don’t heed the advice of experts or internal team members. These CEOs are usually struggling, unable to clearly process the information from the expert, struggling to trust, and not willing to listen with an open mind. If you find yourself using these phrases with experts, take a deep breath and practice listening.

16. We are known for our quality, or We have the best customer service in the industry.
Our follow-up question is always, “why?” or “how so?” A lack of differentiation is a typical problem among small companies. It takes work to fully understand the competitive landscape and to authentically position your company to appeal to specific audience(s), but it will lead to more effective marketing and sales.

17. I saw the XYZ company is doing…
Some small businesses focus too much on the competition, playing follow the leader or reacting to their advertising. Instead, they should be developing their own unique positioning and memorable branding.

18. We don’t really have any competitors… 
Sure you don’t… Even the status quo and complacency are competitors to be addressed.

19. We can’t change the logo…
Failure to do a regular brand audit to ensure that the branding/positioning is appealing to the target customer and unique among the competition will catch up with you eventually.

20. We hear all the time… 
Using anecdotal information to make critical business decisions instead of surveying your audience to make sure that you are using a data-driven approach. Yes, the squeaky wheel on social media needs a response, but it would be a mistake to adjust your entire business to appease them.

Are you guilty of any of these?
If any of these phrases sound familiar, I would encourage you to take a 10,000-foot view to try to identify where the behavior is coming from. It is most likely a mindset that is rooted in a past experience or belief that may or may not be accurate or informed.

When in doubt, solicit advice from a business advisor that you can trust to deliver impartial and even ruthless feedback. Your business (and your marketing team in particular) will thank you.