Are you making obvious marketing mistakes?

Illustration: My wife’s list of obvious marketing diligence points.

A short time ago, I was describing the progress of a new product with my wife. I was animated and excited, but her response was 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. It’s what I teach my marketing students at university.

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?

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.

marc stoiber brand strategy

Ironically, at about the same time, one of my very smart, savvy clients slipped on the same obvious 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 is, 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, it will help me take the blinders off the next time I get too wrapped up in a personal project.

One: Does anybody need this?

If you’re a Skype user frustrated by the disastrous update to the product, you’ve witnessed this misstep up close and personal.

In this story announcing the update, the author describes 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. 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 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.

What marketing mistakes have I missed?

I’m just scratching the surface here. If you have stories about your own ‘Captain Obvious’ moments, 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.

Want more stories like this? Check out these stories:


For a great perspective on brand and marketing mistakes you should avoid, download my book Stop Busting Your Brand.

Make sure to sign up for my newsletter below, to get my insights straight to your inbox. 

And don’t forget to share this story!

Add Comment