I recently hit a wall in one of my businesses, recognizing that I was making some critical marketing mistakes. But until that moment, I hadn't realized that I myself was an offender. Credit the power of networks: I had the perfect contact in mine to help me fix the error of my ways and stop making the (common) mistakes I was making.
Enter Margo Aaron, founder of That Seems Important, a site that explores the intersection of marketing, psychology and entrepreneurship (because she herself is an expert in each of these arenas).
“I’ve always been curious about what makes people tick, what motivates behavior, and why we do the things we do," Aaron told me. After she completed graduate school at Columbia and went into marketing, she became what she calls a "defacto translator" between academia and the real world. "I started my consulting practice shortly thereafter and continued to ‘translate’ psychological research into marketing and eventually business,” Aaron said.
She added that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to marketing. "It doesn’t matter what the ‘industry norm’ is," she said. "It matters that your approach connects with your target market. That’s it.
"The only thing that really matters is your customer: Who is she? Where is she? What does she want? The answer to those questions is your marketing strategy.” Here are the the mistakes that you, as did I, might be making and Aaron's advice on how to avoid them:
1. Spending too much on paid ads
"Most entrepreneurs who rush to paid ads are doing so because they want to automate their funnel and scale out of the gate. A better approach is to build a relationship with your customers first. Once you get to know them, you’ll know where, how and when to reach them with a paid ad,” Aaron says.
Paid ads of course have value. They make sense when, “Your cost per acquisition [CPA] is less than your customer lifetime value [CLV],” says Aaron. If it costs you more to get a customer than he or she is worth, your business loses money. If you don’t yet know what a customer is worth, it’s hard to know if you’re wasting money. “Paid ads are also useful when you understand which metrics are useful to you [impressions versus sales, for example], or when you know what benefit to lead with and what call-to-action to employ,” Aaron explains.
2. Jumping into affiliate marketing too quickly
The goal is to develop a relationship with your affiliate and his or her audience before you start selling them something, Aaron says. This can be a lot of work, but it’s valuable. “To start going after affiliates when you’ve never sold anything before is like a meeting someone at a conference who immediately asks you for money for charity," she says. "It’s a great cause, but you just met this person. He hasn’t earned your trust yet.” The affiliate approach seems easier because you can piggyback off someone else’s existing relationship with his or her audience. But you don’t want your first impression to be transactional. You want it to be relationship first. Especially if you’re building a brand.
3. Broadcasting updates on social media
Like the methods described before, social media is an important, if not critical, tool in most businesses marketing plans. However, if your first approach is to write something like: "Hey guys, just launched a new website and you should check it out!," you run the risk of being annoying rather than valuable to your audience, Aaron says. “That’s what we call ‘broadcasting’ -- it’s when you scream at people instead of talking with or to them,” she explains.
Broadcasting your message is no longer effective. “People don’t appreciate being yelled at; they want to be spoken to like a human, Aaron continues. "They want a relationship with you (or your brand). Social platforms are designed to be social. When you broadcast a message, you prevent yourself from being able to connect with your audience. Marketing today hinges on the relationship you have with your audience -- through connection."
What's more, if you haven’t done the hard work of building a relationship with your audience, no one will see your broadcasted messages anyway (certainly not on Facebook or Instagram these days). “The algorithms make it so you must have a relationship [evidenced by proxy metrics] before they share your content with your followers,” Aaron says.
And, here, a lot of entrepreneurs believe that they have to be on every social media platform; they overwhelm themselves trying to keep up. You only need to be where your customers are. If your customers don’t use Facebook, don’t build a Facebook presence, Aaron says.
4. Hiring 'experts' to do things for you that you don’t fully understand yourself
“There is something about marketing that makes smart people feel stupid," Aaron says. "I get it because it’s how I feel when I talk to a lawyer: like they’re speaking another language. Trouble is, if you don’t understand what you’re paying for, you’re going to get duped.”
Don’t be afraid to ask questions until you get an answer that makes sense to you, she says. If you’re confused, you may be dealing with someone who is also confused and won’t get you the results you’re looking for. Experts should be able to explain the fundamentals to you in an easily digestible way.
5. Reaching out to friends and family
If you sell organic yoga mats specifically for new moms, unless all your friends and family are new moms who do yoga and care about organic labeling, they’re not your market. Don't reach out to them as if they were, Aaron advises.
6. Doing nothing while you're 'getting all your ducks in a row'
“We love doing nothing. Doing nothing feels safe," Aaron says. "[But] it’s not really 'nothing.' It’s waiting, preparing, getting all our ducks in a row. You’re doing a lot of work while you’re doing nothing." There will always be many legitimate reasons for you not to act, she says. Delaying for its own sake is really about fear of what others will think, and about the desire for perfectionism.
There’s a famous saying by Reid Hoffman, "If you're not a little embarrassed when you launch your product, then you've waited too long."
So, do what Hoffman -- and Aaron -- advise. Start doing something. After all, you’re never going to feel ready.