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Four common reasons why marketing strategies fail

Me-Too marketing

You are looking at what should be the starting point for every marketing strategy. The customer.

You decide to play it safe by adopting a "Me-Too" marketing strategy, based on the belief that the key to success is to be just like your most successful competitors. But think about this for a minute. Why would a customer buy your product or service if it is just like what they already have? Consumers need an incentive to switch, especially if they have used a particular brand for years. That satisfying experience translates into something very valuable: brand loyalty. You can overcome brand loyalty. But it is going to take a lot of time and money – commodities in short supply for the typical small business or new business, which helps explains why so many fail.

Instead of going with a "me-too" marketing plan, create a "not-me" marketing strategy. This means you are going to do something the competition is not doing for the consumer. You will be the first – and only – company to make this offering. That makes you one of one, not one of many, which is the inevitable result of a me-too strategy.

What if we don't change at all... and something magical just happens.

Marketing that leaves you in the soft middle

You decide that the "middle" is the safest place in any competition. This means you will not be as expensive as your top priced competitor and not as low priced as your cheapest competitor. Or you may decide that you will be a little bit bigger than your smallest competitor and a little smaller than your biggest competitor.

This is a huge mistake because it leaves you in the "soft middle", where it is very difficult to beat any competitor. For example, you will not be fast enough to keep up with smaller and more nimble competitors and not big enough to counter the weight and marketing muscle of bigger competitors.

Think about the one thing that you do better than anyone else. Or invent something that makes your product different than anything offered by the competition. Either way, you are no longer stuck in the middle with competitors coming at you from every direction. You are one of one with no direct competitors.

Mini Marketing

You decide to compete by being a little different than the competition. For example, you might try being a little bit smaller than your nearest competitor. Or you might decide to compete by being just a little less expensive. Any of these Mini Marketing moves are doomed to fail because they will not be noticed by the buyer or, worse still, they will not be enough to gain trial by someone who is using a competing offering. (See my blog on Super Market war ends badly for Mini Marketer)

Take a cold, hard look at your promotional materials (web page, sales sheet, brochure) and ask this question: are they similar to what the competition is promoting? Are they, in fact, so similar that your promotional materials could become the competition's promotional materials by simply changing the logo? It is more common than you think.

The fix is simple enough. Dump your old messaging and replace it with messages that focus on what makes your product/service more appealing than what the competition is offering. Put another way, think about the product/service benefits that you "own". That is what should be front and center on any web page, brochure or sales brochure. Strip away everything else. It has no value and could actually hurt you by communicating you are really not much different than your competitors.

Marketing to ghosts

Many businesses fail because they are marketing to "ghosts", not real consumers. A ghost is any customer who once prized your product and service, but is now an ex-customer because of market forces, not any failing in your product or service. Worse still, the ghost consumer has been replaced by a new consumer with much different buying preferences. The typical result is a slow, agonizing sales decline that results, sadly, in the closure of the business, followed very closely by the startup of a new market savvy business.

In our local market, there is a high-end grocer (The Village Grocer) that is doing a masterful job of adapting to the changing demographic, which was almost 100% non-ethnic 25 years ago, but is now about 60% ethnic. Most important, they understood the importance of recognizing and respecting the culture and buying preferences of the new ethnic consumers. There were no fake, one-time initiatives. Instead, there were meaningful changes that impacted the entire shopping experience. Here are just three examples:

• Adding ethnic staff members, a highly effective way to make ethnic consumers feel welcome

• Creating a web page in Chinese promoting sale items, the digital equivalent of having ethnic staff

• Showing respect by hosting a traditional Chinese Medicine seminar

Meanwhile, numerous other businesses near The Village Grocer continue to act as if nothing has changed in the last quarter century. Most, if not all, will not last.