Marketing and sales initiatives are a company's lifeblood.

July 17, 2014

5 Min Read
Marketing and sales ideas that get you into trouble

Marketing and sales initiatives are a company’s lifeblood. Yet, the top leadership in many companies harbors serious doubts about the effectiveness of such initiatives. The confidence level among some executives is so low that they’re not sure it would make much difference if they stopped most of it.

Even so, marketing and sales efforts can build brands. “I was fascinated by the idea of developing brand value through your ability to create an image and sell that image to the public,” said the late Frank M. Woods, founder of the famed Clos du Bois winery in California’s Sonoma County.

The range of opinion on marketing and sales is amazing — from doubtful to indispensible, from true believers to diehard skeptics. Why such opposing views? The problem surfaces when marketing and sales initiatives fail to meet expectations and that occurs simply because they’re based on ideas that don’t work. Here are examples:

1. Listening to the wrong people. Listening to others has merit, unless it’s taking advice from the wrong people. It happens all too frequently in business, particularly in marketing and sales.

Abandoning knowledge and judgment, those in marketing often bend to the ‘wishes’ of the president, sales manager or other “higher ups’, even though they know the results will be disastrous. Then there are the salespeople, who constantly make it clear that their wishes should prevail because they’re on the frontlines and know what’s needed.

More often than not, it’s uninformed opinions and quirky ideas that prevail, rather than solid research. And you can be sure that “Customers Come First” is the official company message.

2. Serving the wrong customer. “The next big thing is here,” the ads for the Samsung S5 smartphone proclaim. Then, The Motley Fool blog dashes the dream: “One of the big problems with the recent Samsung Galaxy S5 launch is that, from day 1, it was already being made obsolete by the rumors of the imminent launches of more premium variants.” It’s just one more notable example of sending the wrong message by attempting to sell the ‘sizzle’ instead of the ‘steak’ to attract buyers.

Compare this with Apples ads for its iPhone 5s, which has been out for nearly a year or two years if you include the iPhone 5: “You’re more powerful than you think…you have the power to create shape and share your life. It’s right here in your hand. Or bag. Or pocket. It’s your iPhone 5s.”

For Samsung, it’s the product that drives marketing — always “The next big thing”, while Apple’s marketing mission is empowering the customer.

3. Distracted by ‘great ideas’ that go bust. “The Shack,” was the name dreamed up for Radio Shack that would transform the company. And it did. It helped make it what it is today, an empty shell struggling to survive. Giving a new name to a supercilious attempt to revive a languishing brand without thought, effort and planning is a prescription for failure.

Then there’s JC Penny. Ron Johnson, built a success story with Apple’s retail stores and then landed at JC Penny, saying, “It will be a period of true innovation…” as he instantly replaced some 60-plus sales events and coupons with better known merchandise and ‘reasonable’ prices.

JC Penny bargain-hunting customers left in droves, sales dropping 25% in 12 months. A short time later the company dropped Johnson, replacing him with marketers who understood the JC Penny customers. It’s another example of how ego-driven marketing ends in tragedy.

4. Basing decisions on what makes us look good. Some argue that email marketing is passé and using it dates you. It’s also why David Carr caused a stir when he wrote in his New York Times blog, “Bloomberg, Fast Company, The New York Times, Politico and many other news organizations find that they can grab attention and readers in the inbox.” That’s right, by using email.

Email works because there’s just too much ‘stuff’ coming at us, so we gravitate to orderly messages that have value for us. More are finding it in the inbox.

French winemaker Katie Jones did, reports Dianna Dilworth in Email Marketing Daily. Her vineyard was vandalized, along with her vat of white wine and was on the verge of closing down. Then, the UK-based online wine retailer Naked Wines launched an email campaign, urging its customers to help. And it did. It raised £ 200,000 in ‘forward’ wine sales in a couple of hours. The story also found its way to more emails that helped the vineyard stay in business. Then Naked Wines followed up with emails urging customers to rate the wine and then expanding the email marketing to promote other south of France wine makers that included an email competition to win a trip to the vineyard.

Before writing off what others may view as ‘old fashioned’, it’s a good idea to recognize what works best for customers.

5. Trying to put it over on customers. While businesses like to believe that their customers trust them, there’s no greater self-delusion. It’s so easy for customers to conclude that businesses don’t deserve their trust. For example:

  • Restaurants that offer “specials” but tell customers, “We’ve just run out of the red snapper”

  • Companies that change rewards programs to benefit themselves

  • Announcements of a “Huge Sale” but hidden “exceptions” (often just about everything) in small print

  • Disguise salespeople as “customer service representatives”

  • Email marketing campaigns that make it difficult or impossible to ‘unsubscribe’, or ignore ‘unsubscribe’ request 

Chobani, the Greek yogurt people, found that customer trust can be quite fragile. When they put ‘messages’ on the lids, one caused real trouble: “Nature got us 100 calories, not scientists.” The company was accused of being anti-science and misleading (there’s a lot of science in yogurt manufacturing). Obviously, Chobani must have missed the “Don’t try to put it over on customers” memo.

Since bad marketing and sales ideas far outnumber the good ones many times over, less than desirable results should be expected, something that will continue until more of us start asking, “Shouldn’t we think about that before we go forward?”

John Graham of GrahamComm is a marketing and sales strategist-consultant and business writer. He publishes a free monthly eBulletin, “No Nonsense Marketing & Sales.” Contact him at [email protected], 617-774-9759 or

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