I'm going to take you through some of the mistakes I most commonly see in marketing, media buying and tracking results. I've got 10+ years of marketing in sports and tourism under my belt and have learned some key lessons along the way. I've cleaned email lists to being a point of a strength in an organization, doubled web traffic in an established brand, quadrupled social media followers and negotiated advertising rates down to fit $88,000 in media buy into a $40,000 budget.
Note: Don't advertise in Times Square as seen above. I would get called at least once a year by someone selling the space at a deeply discounted price. It was still like $15,000. Don't fall in love with the idea of marketing somewhere, but do it because it makes sense and you will get a return-on-investment. Now onto the mistakes and lessons...
Only Investing in Branding Out of the Shoot
You want to get your name out there? Cool! The problem is that it takes years to build a reliable brand that people trust. You should worry more about conversions and being a cost-effective problem solver out of the shoot. Yes, it's nice to have pretty ads and be everywhere, but many small businesses can't afford that. Work on developing a small core of customers that you go above and beyond for. What is nice about this is that they will talk you up to friends, family and neighbors and it is also money in your register.
Not Being Clear About Your Brand and Its Ability to Be a Problem Solver
Tying into my first point you need to think about your marketing messages in a way that focuses more on how do you solve someone's problem in a more effective way than your competition. People buy things because they're trying to solve a problem or finish an errand in their life. Think through the last 10 items you paid for. I bet the moments before you bought them you thought about a problem and how it could be solved. For example, I finished up at the gym last night and wanted a quick, easy and healthy meal for a good cost. The quick, easy and good cost are low hanging fruit in a college town, but the healthy can be a bit challenging. I have a soft spot for locally owned places, so I hit up Yallah Taco for a chicken bowl in salad form.
Having No Data Before You Spend Marketing Dollars
You don't need a pile of money to develop insight into who your customer is. If you're a traditional business you can build a quantitative profile from your Google Analytics on your site, your receipts and your social media analytics. Odds are pretty good that they will align and each will give you a few more pieces of the puzzle. Your goal should be to go after the customer you already have and those most like them, not going after the customer you dream of having.
Having No Mechanism in Place for Tracking Your Success
This is super common, especially when businesses are just starting out. They will launch a website, but forget to put on Google Tag Manager, analytics tracking or tie their social media platforms to their website. They are so eager to get an ad in the market that they forget to have a clear trackable Call-to-Action (CTA) in every message they put out there. Once your money is spent you should know exactly what marketing messages and outlets created the best results for you. Double down on the best outlets and pull your money out of the bottom 25% of those that don't.
Investing in Poor Outlets
I'm going to go into some of my least favorite options for marketing that I've gained from 10+ years of marketing experience.
There is too much to worry about here and only a very small percentage of people get this right. Frankly, I think most people buy billboards so they can see their message personally and beat their chest that it is out there. The problem is you're dealing with drivers that are cruising at 65 MPH watching the road and at best you have 2-3 seconds of exposure. This is assuming the lighting on the billboard is correct and you aren't rotating with nine other advertisers. Oh and there aren't leaves on the trees blocking views.
Sports Marketing That Isn't Creative
Sports marketing with teams/leagues is expensive. I'm talking like 2x-3x what you would spend in the open market for comparable ads. Sports marketing sales teams sweeten deals by throwing in free food, a private event or some tickets to make you feel special. They'll make claims like "Oh, our fans collect the programs and hand them around to 10-12 family members." There might be one fan where this is true, but certainly isn't the normal experience. Like most businesses their goal is to make as much money and build value-added without spending any dollars out of their pockets.
Listen, I've worked a good portion of my career in sports and there are people that sell sports marketing opportunities correctly and those that don't. Most people fit into the second group and do what other places do, which made sense 15-20 years ago. Those that do it well look to add to the fan experience while making the sponsor feel like the key to making that happen. Think you're invited to the coolest party, but they just need another case of beer to take it to awesome.
The best way to get the most out of your sports marketing investment is to never tell the rep how much you're willing to spend, but just that it is over their minimum investment. They'll always call and say "I was thinking of you when this opportunity came up", because they know you have money and you're really like call seven after the other six turned him down. Make them go fishing over and over.
If you're going to go down this route make sure that every little piece of the deal should be a home-run if executed correctly. I had a lot of success with ticket giveaways through social media that built up my email marketing lists. Sponsor a memorable segment on the video board (i.e. official hype video), a very visible addition to the game experience that might not be possible without your investment and of course take advantage of tickets and food expenditures to woo potential clients. You'll get some pushback from sales reps telling you that this costs them money. That might be true, but it won't be nearly as much as the check you're writing.
TV Ads That Can't Be Paused To Take Down Your CTA
I'm not sure why investing in TV for homes that can't pause your message is still a thing. There are some people that can go back and watch your message again with cable, but it isn't the majority of people. It takes time to find a pen and paper to write down a CTA. This is why you should focus more of your effort into the YouTube and streaming side of things. Before you invest you should be 100% sure on the genre and audiences of the shows you will be running during. You don't want to be a meat salesman running ads during a show about vegetarians, just because you got a good rate. Clickable ads from say YouTube make tracking the easiest and allows you to refine your efforts.
Much like the TV ads, no one pulls their car over to write down the CTA from a radio ad. If you're going to spend money on radio ads it would be wiser to do so with a custom web address only used for radio ads. There is a long-standing debate on how many people actually still listen to the radio when things like iTunes, Spotify and podcasts are gaining more of the monopoly on our ears.
Print Newspaper Ads
You can do well in newspapers, but it is here one day and gone the next. When you're talking to the sales rep make sure you ask them what their circulation is and how many papers go unsold or undelivered. It isn't unreasonable to ask for a discount off the sales rate comparable to the papers not seen. For example: they have a claimed circulation of 100,000 and 5,000 come back unsold from news stands. Ask for a 5% discount at the minimum. In this day-in-age, you can probably do a lot better than that as most companies are digital heavy.
Something that news sales reps I've dealt with don't do that they should is comparing the ability to easily see and take advantage of the CTA without needing to pull over or pause an ad. When working with sales reps they often represent a family of newspapers or magazines. They'll often try to up-sell you to several days and outlets. I wouldn't enter an agreement with a newspaper unless I was confident of my data I gathered from a few steps above.
Investments in Poorly Maintained Email Lists
Email lists are valuable, if used correctly and well maintained. The lists should be earned and built honestly as well.
Here are the four questions you should ask someone selling an email marketing campaign:
1. What are your total number of subscribers and how were they added?
You don't EVER want bought lists. That goes for your email efforts or paying for advertising through an outlet. It isn't unusual to be approached by a shady character willing to sell you 50,000 names and emails for a few hundred dollars. The problem with this is they send this message to about 2,000 potential buyers and maybe get 60 dumb enough to buy into it. These poor people get bombarded with 60 emails they didn't opt into and it gives your company's reputation a bad bruise. You can legally only send to this list once and it isn't worth it to do so. Work with a company that is the right context for your audience and did it the hard way of building a loyal list slowly.
2. What is your list's open and click rate for a typical email?
You should be paying for the number of people that open an email, not their subscriber list total. If they have an incredible low click rate (think 2% or under) it is probably because their email presentation is poor and no one takes the time to read them.
3. How often do you clean your list and how do you go about it?
Traditionally, I've unsubscribed anyone that hasn't opened any of my last 10 campaigns. This keeps my open rates high, click rates high and keeps me in people's inboxes. A good email marketing relationship should be a two-way street of you providing good content and them rewarding you with engagement.
4. How many other advertisers go into this email?
You don't want the email to be too watered down with messages from sponsors. You want the email to be of value and not interruption to users.
Banner Ads That Aren't Re-Marketing or Fit That Site's Context
The only time people should see a banner ad from your brand is if they're been to your website before or your brand goes hand-and-hand perfectly with the website they're seeing it on. Don't fall in love with buying 5 million ad impressions, because it sounds awesome. That is for the big boys that already have widespread name recognition.
An example I have is I worked with a blogger that was a perfect fit with my brand and my click-through and conversion rate was as good as anything I invested in. Within a couple of years this blogger switched over to a Google AdSense style of banner ads to save time. Now their visitors were seeing ads for Tide, Quilted Northern and my brand which diluted my message and took away from the credibility of their site.
With re-marketing you are just sending them a reminder to keep top of mind. It is a really affordable option and gives you another touch point to bring people back to your website. The equivalent of these kind of ads is the subtle wave from across a busy street when you see someone that you know walking the other way. They probably won't come and talk to you, but they'll be thinking about you for a minute or two.
Not Replacing the Weakest Link in Your Sales Funnel
There should be clearly defined steps in your buying process. Most people consider it "awareness", "research", "consideration"and finally "purchase".
Awareness should be your audience built by the demographics that you compiled from every data source that you have available to you. The truth is most people won't get beyond awareness. If you have a monster drop-off between awareness and research you might have a problem in your messaging or outlets.
Next comes research. This means they're likely on your website gathering information on your brand. If they aren't satisfied with the information they're presented or the experience they aren't coming back no matter what you do. However, this is when you get people into the re-marketing funnel using banner ads (if your click rate is low, they probably got what they needed or had a bad experience) that hopefully gets them to return to do some more digging and get them to the next step of....
Consideration. You're in the finalists for where they want to spend their money. They're looking at individual items or prices to see if it fits in their budget. In most eCommerce businesses this leads to very specific product re-marketing and why you see that pair of shoes you were looking at on Dick's Sporting Goods show up 10 minutes later on Facebook. This step is pretty easy, because if people are on your product page and not adding it to a cart or they're leaving an abandoned cart or they get frustrated with the payment process you can look to fix that.
Lastly, you have the sale, which gives you a true return-on-investment (ROI) on your advertising spend.
You should know what step causes the greatest damage to a potential conversion and look into fixing it.
Eliminating the Bottom 25% of Your Marketing Investments
A lot of times businesses go on auto-pilot doing the same thing every single year and never audit how their marketing is going. Either they get busy with other tasks or they don't know how to track their marketing efforts into sales. Sometimes the lowest performing marketing outlet might be the nicest man/lady you know and you feel bad pulling your business. Sometimes it is as simple as saying "Hey, it didn't work this way, what other opportunities do you think would work better? Always look to cut your bottom 25% of marketing ads and double down in your top 10-15%, but leave some cash open for new opportunities.
You Should Be Able to Trust Your Sales Rep
Trust comes with time, just like anything. I've always been suspicious of companies that send me a new sales rep every six months. What this tells me is the company either pays poorly, treats its employees poorly or is just badly managed. Basically the Donald Trump White House Administration. When I have to introduce myself to a new sales rep every year, I'm not investing with that company, because it is a red flag. When you see your sales rep coming you should recognize them and be excited to see them.
The sales reps that last the test of time are the ones that do what they say they are going to do, go to bat for you with their organization and check in with you regularly. It isn't about the short-term what money can I get from you now feel, but the I want a lifetime relationship that we can evolve.
Negotiate, Negotiate, Negotiate
I grew up in spending a ton of time in flea markets as both and buyer and seller. By the age of 18 I was an absolute veteran of the wheel-and-deal. To this day I love negotiating, but not everyone is like me and thinks finding the best terms is a confrontation. What I've learned is that both parties need to be relatively honest in their approach and have their interests on the table. Most times the seller is trying to maximize the money they can take from me, where I'm wanting maximum media value and ROI.
An example of something I do is I will email 8-10 sales reps that I have some interest in working with and tell them "Hey, I have $10,000 to invest what is the best package you can put together for me? I've emailed a handful other finalists I think could be a good fit. You have until Friday at noon to email me your proposal." What is often the truth is I really have about $30,000-$50,000 and I'm looking to take the best 3-5 deals of the 8 or 9 I get back. This is an example of how I would regularly get $75,000-$90,000 in media value for the price of $30,000-$50,000. You can do this at a lower scale and frankly it is kind of fun.
About the Author
Andy Rupert is a Penn State (B.A. John Curley Center for Sports Journalism 08') and a Southern Miss (M.S. Sport Management 09'). He has spent his whole career working in sports and tourism digital marketing and metrics.