How to Overcome 4 Common Marketing Failures

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "All Marketers are Liars" by Seth Godin. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Have you always hit all of your marketing goals? What do you do when you fail?

Failure in marketing is inevitable. The main thing is to understand where you went wrong. Seth Godin discusses four common marketing failures and what you can do to turn things around.

Read more to learn how to grow from marketing failures and mistakes.

Overcoming Common Marketing Failures

You’ll no doubt encounter some bumps in the road on your marketing journey. Let’s say you used Godin’s tips, told a good story, and it failed. We’ll discuss some stages where you may have gone wrong. 

Grow From Failure

Godin is open about the importance of failure and why entrepreneurs who fail often are more likely to succeed. In a blog post about how to fail better, he advises that whenever you fail, take ownership of it, and identify exactly where you went wrong. That way, you won’t make the same mistake twice. Also, never blame someone else for your marketing failures.

They Didn’t Pay Attention

It’s difficult to get a consumer’s attention. Even if you have a great product and a great story, your target customers may not notice it among all of the other products vying for their attention.

Let’s say your product is a new brand of deodorant. Customers may not have noticed your new deodorant among all the others available in the deodorant aisle. To make it stand out, you could give your deodorant more eye-catching packaging that’s different from your competitors’.

Get Their Attention Online

Getting a customer’s attention online presents a different set of challenges. In Building a StoryBrand, Donald Miller stresses the importance of an effective website. Here are five tips to overhauling your website:

Be explicit about what you’re offering your customer. This might be satisfying an aspirational identity or fixing a specific problem.

Provide a clear call to action. Often, this comes in the form of a button for adding something to your cart or signing up for emails. Use colors or fonts to make this button distinct, and put it at the top right of your page.

Use images to show customer transformations. This is how you promise your customer that your product will satisfy their needs.

Simplify your explanation of your revenue streams. If your company offers a range of products, create a message about your market as a whole, or sell different products on their own websites.

Cut down your text. One of the biggest mistakes brands make is bombarding consumers with too much information in large blocks of text.

They Weren’t Interested

If someone noticed your product but didn’t try it, Godin suggests that you 1) may not have addressed the right worldview with your story, 2) may not have told your story using the language this worldview expected to hear, or 3) didn’t compel them to change a bias that favors another product. 

Maybe your deodorant caught someone’s eye, but they didn’t buy it. Your deodorant probably didn’t compel them to switch from buying their usual deodorant. In this instance, you’d want to narrow your niche to appeal to a more specific subset of people who wear deodorant, since deodorant appeals to a large proportion of people.

The 10-Person Test

In his chapter in Tools of Titans, Godin advises marketers to start by telling 10 interested people about your new idea or product. They should be people you trust, who trust you, and who would probably love your new product. They could be friends or people who follow your blog. If they like it, they’ll find other people to tell, and your product will spread; if they don’t, you should probably spend some time rethinking your product. 

They Didn’t Like It

If someone didn’t like your product, Godin argues that it probably didn’t address their problem or worldview like you thought it would. This has more to do with the product itself than the marketing. While Godin notes that this isn’t the marketer’s fault, he believes this doesn’t happen often because bad products are rarely manufactured. 

However, if your product isn’t popular, a feature that didn’t work as promised may be to blame. Perhaps you touted your new deodorant’s clear formula as eliminating white marks on clothes. Maybe consumers tried it, but it still left marks on their clothes. The issue is the formula of the deodorant itself. 

Your Purple Cow Still Matters

There’s a popular phrase in marketing: “Nothing kills a bad product faster than good marketing.” Good marketing generates consumer attention, but if the product doesn’t work, that attention will quickly turn to how bad the product is. That means your great marketing story won’t save a product that doesn’t work. 

For more insight on market success, it’s useful to pair Godin’s ideas on marketing stories in All Marketers Are Liars with his ideas on remarkable products in Purple Cow. Even though you should have a good story, it’s important to also have a “Purple Cow” (Godin’s name for a remarkable product). But how do you come up with a “Purple Cow”?

Godin suggests that passion is the key to thinking of remarkable products. If you create something you’re passionate about, there are likely other people who will like it too. If you make something other people are passionate about, you’ll already have a market. If you find yourself marketing a product you’re not passionate about (which is inevitable), try looking at it from the perspective of someone who is passionate about it and understand why they like it so much.  

They Didn’t Tell Anyone

Does everyone who tries your product like it? If someone noticed your product, tried it, and liked it, but didn’t tell anyone, they may not have felt compelled or comfortable talking about your product. Or you may have tapped into a worldview that doesn’t have a cohesive community. 

Let’s say people are noticing and liking your new clear deodorant. But your sales don’t reflect as much growth as you expected. Because you’ve tapped into a worldview without a cohesive community (people who like to wear deodorant that doesn’t stain), your consumers aren’t recommending it to their friends. You could try to market your product to dancers, performers, or models (who need to present a clean image with their clothing), who are a more cohesive community.

Word of Mouth Marketing 

Word-of-mouth marketing or viral marketing, in which members of a community spread the word about an idea or product, became popular around the time of this book’s publication. But how can a marketer control whether consumers spread the word? In Contagious, Jonah Berger offers ideas for fostering word-of-mouth marketing:

Give people “social currency:” Create a remarkable or exclusive product that people can brag about.

Create effective triggers: People will talk about your product as long as they’re thinking about it. You need to stimulate and remind your consumers about your product. Make sure your triggers are relevant, frequent, and actionable.

Generate an emotional response: Give potential customers the basics about your product, and focus the rest of your marketing on making them feel something.

Create public visibility: If you find a way to make it clear publicly that people use your product, the product will be more likely to sell itself.

Provide practical value: People want to share things they find value in. Create value by applying a discount to your product or by providing helpful information once they’ve purchased your product.

Tell a story: As Godin emphasizes in this book, people like to tell stories, so weave a narrative into the information about your product. 
How to Overcome 4 Common Marketing Failures

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  • The difference between lying and telling a great story
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Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, science, and philosophy. A switch to audio books has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a creative nonfiction book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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