Six Digital Marketing Mistakes and How to Fix Them

Aeri Shan
8 min readApr 12, 2021

How many companies do you know have really nailed their marketing such that it provides a finely-tuned repeatable revenue model? Where they can put in X dollars on well-defined channels like search engine marketing and reliably predict Y leads and/or Z dollars in net new revenue? This, unfortunately, is the exception and not the rule.

Even if you’ve done really well with some parts of your marketing function, I’m willing to bet some of the issues below will hit home. And I think it’s partly because in marketing anything that ends up unaccounted for or has ill-defined ROI gets chucked into the bucket of “building awareness” and deemed an acceptable way to build growth. I get it, it’s easier and often incentivized by the CEO or board. But I think this is wasteful, inefficient and completely unnecessary. Often it’s not even complicated to get past this, it just takes some legwork. I’ve broken down some of the main problem areas I’ve seen and discuss some high-level first-order approaches to fixing them. Recognize some of these issues and want some perspective? Get in touch.

1. Having a Set-and-Forget Mentality

This could happen because you’ve under-invested in people, but mostly it’s when you’ve overly compartmentalized your marketing too early or you’ve hired an agency to do your SEM/SEO or other paid work. The incentives align around the wrong metrics and people end up getting rewarded for results that don’t matter: acquisition numbers, how much they spent or how many MQLs are getting shoved into the pipe regardless of outcome.

  • This goes to “wrong success metrics” — Hold your spend accountable for win-rate and/or conversions. This seems super obvious but time and again I’ve seen people measure success of paid campaigns in ways that incentivize wasteful spending rather than revenue.
  • Constantly iterate and optimize. Also obvious, but agencies in particular often have a reverse incentive here.
  • Don’t be afraid to cut non-converting spend even if, say in a freemium model, that cuts signups or acquisition of non-paying users. It’s not users you want, it’s conversions.

2. Using the Wrong Success Metrics

Are you measuring the success of your marketing on metrics like Cost-Per-Lead? Or Cost-Per-Click? Number of MQLs regardless of win rate? Why would you do that? That’s like saying you have a great car because it starts every time… but does it get you to your destination safely and efficiently? Yet too often organizations are focused on vanity metrics, and the underlying reason may be that they are focused on internals and not on the customer. It’s not that metrics like CPC are unimportant for that discrete function, it’s that too often they get used as success metrics for marketing or the organization as a whole.

  • “Awareness” is not a measure of success… in fact you really can’t measure it at all. Don’t spend money on things you can’t do dollar attribution for.
  • Tie all success metrics to revenue. For example, CAC is relative to deal size and yet too often marketing success is viewed in terms of driving CAC down. Not that you shouldn’t, but there is almost certainly a sweet spot where lowering CAC may bring in lower overall Lifetime Value. In other words, costs are always relative to revenue and to growth rate.
  • In B2B, velocity, win-rate and deal size are measures of both marketing and sales success and efficiency. I’ve worked in worlds where marketing & sales are a single unit and I tend to view them as a cohesive whole. Yet too often we compartmentalize to the point where the functions are antagonistic. Measuring marketing success with sales-oriented metrics can help align teams and incentives — at the end of the day you have the same goals.

3. Having a Poorly-Defined Narrative

What do you stand for? What is your strategic narrative? You need to show potential customers that you can relate to them. In B2D marketing a lot of this is speaking developer language and being realistic and forthright about the issues they face. In B2C and arguably everywhere, it’s about understanding aspirations and relating to customers in terms of how they see themselves. This is often about prompting action by challenging a prospect to act on aspirational change. As an example, when I used to sell bicycles I would often speak to things like how this particular bike was an investment in your health and well-being… how a quality bike would make it easier and more fulfilling to get exercise. Or maybe the person just wanted to look good or have the assurance they were buying the best. The discussion was about a relevant change and action toward an aspiration (e.g. being fit). Talking about specific features was almost never a good approach.

Most customers don’t create spreadsheets with pain points / features / needs / objections and logically and systematically go looking for solutions. Yet look at how a lot of marketing is presented as highly logical delineation of these things. This goes to the next point, “incomplete journeys”: You are only addressing 1–2 segments and failing to build a relationship with your customer. What about the people who aren’t yet at the stage of understanding their problems? What about speaking to bigger picture differentiators in cases where competition is tight and products look very similar?

Establishing the broader narrative of why a customer should align themselves with your company and your brand is the foundational work that propels growth and creates new demand.

4. Not Creating Complete Journeys

There’s not a lot of point in spending money to start a customer on a journey if you are not providing the tools to complete it. Too many folks think that randomly spending on awareness will somehow magically pay off but this is not how it works. Or they create closed loops for ads that provide no opportunities for nurturing or segmentation. Customers are fickle — they are not going to invest time in finding answers unless they already have faith in your product or company.

  • Segment: Clearly define your personas and the segmentation within those personas. Really try to understand their mentality and the process they go through.
  • Find the promised land: What do they want? It’s not just about pain points and problem solving. Find the aspirations.
  • Map the Buyer’s Journey: Understand their journey and create user flows on your website to match the idealized conception of that nurturing journey. It may be relatively short or you may (B2B) have to expend effort nurturing over some period of time. Invest in the tooling, skills and data infrastructure to do this properly and it will act as force-multiplier for your entire marketing budget. Understand where each segment is slowing down or falling off in that journey: Ask them, analyze session data, whatever you have to do to understand the paths that are meaningful and successful for them.

5. Not Appropriately Investing in Keywords

For SEM, Cost-per-click and Cost-per-lead doesn’t matter. There, I said it. I recently got hammered in a presentation about this and my answer was pretty simple: It’s about ROI. Don’t equate CPC with CAC: the relationship could easily be inverse and there are often too many variables to use one as a predictor of the other.

  • High value keywords are sometime high value for a reason. Going back to metrics, it’s useful to measure keyword value not on CPC but some formulation of cost-per-converting lead. That doesn’t mean your SEM strategy shouldn’t spread your bets over lots of less competitive (and therefore cheaper) keywords, but, once again, it’s about what converts.
  • Conversely, many companies spend a lot on top of funnel keywords that don’t pay off. If you are not constructing complete journeys that nurture these early-stage prospects, you are likely throwing a lot of money away.
  • There is a limit to how wide the funnel can be. At a certain point you are going to burn through your addressable market and the ROI on your ad spend is going to tank. It’s a trade off and depends on where you are at in awareness, but almost always you are far better off optimizing conversion for the funnel you have before trying to widen the funnel.
  • Track the whole journey. If you don’t know how ad spend relates to net new revenue you can’t assess the ROI of keywords or ad channels. I’ve seen companies blow millions on ad spend without having invested in even the most basic attribution. Don’t do that. You don’t necessarily need a complicated solution like Salesforce Marketing Cloud here — it can be as simple as setting up Google Analytics or dumping session data into a database and running SQL queries.

6. Not Reducing Friction

To me this is the biggest issue of all but it’s a complicated subject because there are so many different ways friction comes into play and it’s can be quite different across B2B/C/D.

Think of friction as a compounding cost. If you don’t clean the hull of your sailboat every barnacle compounds to cut your speed. The same is true of the customer’s journey all the way from awareness to acquisition and expansion. Little frictions and annoyances compound to create a huge drag on conversion rates and growth.

  • Reduce bounce rates: There are only so many potential customers in B2B/D. A bounce — someone that gives up on trying to learn about or use your product — is often lost forever, unnecessarily diminishing the potential size of your customer base. Finding ways to reduce bounce rates gives you second and third chances at engagement and nurturing.
  • Don’t gate non-motivated prospects. Companies seem to think that asking for contact information (e.g. to download a white paper) is a universal answer to more leads, but 90% of the time you have not sufficiently segmented your audience or personalized the experience to effectively gate and if you look at the data you’ll find your bounce rate is terrible. If you cannot reliably segment your audience, you are probably better off not gating at all.
  • Invest in design and UX. I cut my teeth on usability issues so this one always stands out to me. This runs the gamut from page loading speed to basic usability like form interaction to how much a prospect has to scroll to find answers to is your site & page structure logical and easy to follow. It’s very worth using heat-mapping or similar tools to understand how well your website is working for people and where the problems are. A good interaction designer is usually a solid investment.
  • Invest in content: Don’t ever give your prospects cause to question your authority or integrity. Investing in content that has good style and aligns with your positioning and messaging. I’ve harped on this before because it’s true: a product marketing perspective to tie all the bits and pieces of your narrative together, will save you tons of money in the end.

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Aeri Shan

Story-teller. Data-wrangler. Product visionary. Empath. Non-binary human.