Are you making obvious marketing mistakes?

Illustration: My wife’s list of questions marketers should answer – a template for the marketing mistakes I was making. 

A short time ago, I was describing the progress of a new product with my wife. I was animated and excited. But her response? Perplexed and mildly annoyed. When I asked why, she replied she couldn’t believe I was launching without doing the most obvious, basic diligence  – scanning the market to see who else was launching a product like mine, what advantages the competitors had, and what they were priced at.


How could I miss this? It’s what I do for my clients every day. This is one of the marketing mistakes I teach my uni students to avoid.

Apart from giving me the slap on the head I needed, this incident made me do a little self-analysis: how could I overlook such an obvious thing?

Marketing mistakes 101

I believe the answer lies in the enthusiasm that’s core to an entrepreneur’s DNA. I got so caught up in the passion of my project that I put blinders on. There simply was no way to fail. Facts be damned.

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Ironically, at about the same time, one of my very smart, savvy clients slipped on the same banana peel. They believed their unique selling proposition lay in same-day delivery. But a quick online scan revealed that their main competitor had the same selling proposition. Whoops.

My point? This happens all the time.

I thought it might be illuminating to pause and reflect on a few of the most obvious gaffes I’ve encountered over the years. Perhaps seeing them once again (they’re obvious, and you’ve seen them before!) will be just what it takes to steer you away from obvious marketing mistakes.

Or, at the very least, this exercise will help me take the blinders off the next time I get too wrapped up in a personal project.

Pitching a business idea? Here’s how to catch your audience’s attention – and hold it. 

One: Does anybody need this?

If you used to be a Skype user, and left the service frustrated by the disastrous ‘updates’ to the product, you’ve witnessed this misstep up close and personal.

In this story announcing the update, the author described Skype remodelling itself to mimic Snapchat and WhatsApp. His verdict was guarded and apprehensive – It remains to be seen how well the new features are received by business customers….

Fast forward a few months. This thread on Reddit makes it clear what users thought. Double thumbs down.

Seems loyal Skype customers didn’t want another Snapchat and WhatsApp. They wanted Skype. As one user wrote:

“…they forgot that people use Skype for a different reason from using Snapchat. If they keep on doing such stupid things, they will not get even one user share from Snapchat, and they will lose their old users forever. Users were perfectly happy with Skype being a telecommunications tool. This was a ridiculous update because it was an attempt to make Skype into SnapChat or WhatsApp…”

If Microsoft / Skype can get this wrong, anyone can get this wrong. Be warned.

Two: What exactly do you do best?

Just because your product does many things well, doesn’t mean you should tell everyone it does many things well.

TiVo did many things well. It was a PVR that, unlike a VCR, didn’t require tape. It could search out shows you wanted to record based on cues like actors or interests. And of course, it could skip commercials. The list goes on and on.

Unfortunately, TiVo never really made it clear to people (who, let’s face it, weren’t even that hungry for a new solution) what the one revolutionary, mind-blowing TiVo advantage was.

Instead, they presented a garbled mess of advantages. Creating a laundry list of messages that confused every potential customer.

Contrast that with the launch of the iPod. A simple commercial that told us you could access a thousand songs with your thumb on a device in your pocket. Done.

Three: Product? Service? Price?

I was chatting with a friend who had created a new online service that brokered investment relationships. The investor didn’t have to pay. The company seeking investment didn’t have to pay. There was no advertising. In short, the business model was to grow without earning a nickel until the company could be acquired.

What are the odds you’re going to get tired of not making a nickel long before you get to the acquisition stage?

This illustrates just one thorn in a very thorny issue. Are you selling a service? Or a product? And in either case, for how much?

With the explosion of SaaS, the lines between products and services are getting blurrier. And prices are all over the map.

The only surefire solution I’ve found is to test.

  • Test beta versions as products, and as services.
  • Test one-off sales, and subscriptions.
  • Test with single price / feature options, and multiple price / feature options.

Happily, the magic of data gives us the ability to fine tune our offering by testing. But that only works if you actually do it. Neglecting to test is, well, an obvious mistake far too many of us make.

Speaking of data, here’s how to have fun with brand research.

What marketing mistakes have I missed?

I’m just scratching the surface here. If you have stories about your own obvious marketing mistakes, I’d like to hear them – drop me a line at If I get enough responses, I’ll publish them in a follow up story. Lord knows, we could all use the reminders.

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This article was first published in 2018. It was updated in 2022 just for you!

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