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13 Great Ways to Kill Your Company's Marketing

Good marketing doesn't come naturally. Here are 13 warning signs your marketing plan is off track.

By John R. Graham

Bad things happen to good marketing, to paraphrase the title of a popular book of several years ago. It makes a salient point, one that often flies over the heads of everyone from CEO to salesperson. It’s this: Unlike other company functions—from accounting to human resources—everyone in a company is a self-anointed marketing expert.

This doesn’t deny the value of input. Carefully measured and analyzed, such information can provide valuable insights for refining and shaping a marketing program.

At the same time, too many cooks can—and do—spoil the marketing soup. Or, more to the point, distort, alter, subvert, and even kill what could be productive marketing programs. Unfortunately, it’s not always evident what’s happening until the damage is done.

Here are 13 common ways self-appointed marketing experts damage and even destroy beneficial marketing efforts.

1. Basing decisions on personal opinion. This is the No. 1 killer. Listen carefully. If you hear such words as “I think,” “I feel,” “in my opinion,” “I never listen to,” “direct mail is dead,” “we tried all of that,” or “advertising never works,” when a marketing program or project is discussed, you are talking to a killer.

2. Lack of follow-through. Experience suggests that those who talk the most about marketing tend to know the least, do the least, or both. The more they talk, the less they do. They come to meetings ready to do battle, but when you ask them for specific information, the best they can do is send you a PDF file.

3. Failing to do enough. The talk is bigger than the budget—or the commitment. The meetings are always about developing a comprehensive, proactive, consistent marketing program. Then when it gets close to implementation day, there is a scaling back and eliminating of components. Successful marketing demands a carefully crafted and expertly executed plan that meets its objectives because the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. When elements are cut out, pared back, and otherwise altered, there is a diminishing of the overall impact and the program falls short.

4. Procrastinating. Many companies are filled with decision makers who can’t bring themselves to make decisions. These are the people who have learned to avoid trouble by endlessly delaying what should be done. They are “rational obstructionists” in that they always have what sound like good reasons for not moving forward. In this way, projects and issues either go away on their own or someone else picks them up. These are the people who see themselves as protectors, not procrastinators.

5. Refining it forever. One of the most effective ways to kill a marketing initiative is to discuss it and evaluate it endlessly. Make sure there are always a few copy changes—that should slows things down. Or ask for a couple of days to review it—for the seventh time. Ask to see an alternative graphic. Change one color or another—and then back again. Every marketing project deserves the best possible execution, but “picking at projects” is a very effective way to make sure nothing happens.

6. Getting everyone's opinion before doing anything. This is commonly called the buy-in. While there are times when it’s valuable to have everyone on board before launching a marketing or sales effort, there are those who use it as a well-honed technique for avoiding action. Keeping everyone involved and informed is essential, of course. But buy-in can be code words for “What might happen if I make a mistake?”

The issue is leadership. “Decisiveness is the ability to make difficult decisions swiftly and well, and act on them. Organizations are filled with people who dance around decisions without ever making them,” writes Larry Bossidy, Honeywell International chairman and co-author of Execution.

7. Jumping from one idea to another. Far too many companies are expert in the practice of jumping-bean marketing. They try an ad or two, jump to direct mail, they do nothing, and then get out a newsletter. On and on it goes, no plan, no strategy, just what they heard at the last trade show meeting or saw a competitor do.

8. Lack of vision. Maurice the Pants Man was a well-established and highly successful single unit retail store in central Massachusetts. Finally, the owner wanted to retire and sold the company to several self-assured businessmen who quickly opened a dozen or so more locations as part of a growth plan. The panache of the original store was missing, however, and only the name remained. There was no vision, no life, no feeling; and they went out of business in record time. Without a unique, compelling vision, businesses end before they begin.

9. Short-term results. While the worst business debacle of the last 80 years remains fresh in everyone’s mind, the lesson of focusing on short-term results has yet to sink in. The role of marketing is to create customers who believe that doing business with a particular company is prudent. A marketing plan should help you align with customer requirements so that both buyer and seller walk in step with each other. Interestingly, when this happens, sales and satisfied customers are created. But it happens over the long-term.

10. Risk averse. If you want to watch self-described businesspeople turn to mush, listen to what they say when they are confronted with a comprehensive marketing program. “Yes, I know where you are coming from, but why don’t we try sending out a postal card first and see what response we get. If we make some sales, then we’ll invest more in the program.” They talk like entrepreneurs and act like wimps.

11. Waiting to see. This is a favorite, particularly when sales sag. Instead of acting quickly and decisively to gain the advantage, many companies take a wait-and-see attitude, hoping that things will turn around by themselves. Wait-and-see generally results in a competitor taking the lead by grabbing market share.

12. Turning to marketing only when the bottom falls out. Marketing is often implemented as a desperation move. When it fails to produce emergency results, the fault rests with marketing.

13. Waiting until the last minute. Far too many marketing people suffer from the deadly Last Minute Syndrome. As one marketing director said with glee, “It just goes with the territory, doesn’t it?” Not my territory, it doesn’t. Others swear they are more creative at the eleventh hour. Nonsense. While an adrenaline rush may come from racing around and upsetting everyone involved, it does not go with good marketing.

Killing marketing is a common practice in many businesses. While few would think of walking into a CFO’s office and telling the individual how to do his or her job, marketing seems to be an area where everyone is an expert—or one where personal opinion is sufficient for getting the job done. You miss the mark if you allow this to happen.

John R. Graham is president of Graham Communications, a marketing services and sales consulting firm. He can be contacted through The company’s website is


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