Marketers Share Their Biggest Mistakes and How They Fixed Them

Every day, a marketer makes a mistake and learns a lesson. Of course, it’s easy (and less embarrassing) to bury that mistake than openly discuss it. But we at DMN want to explore and destigmatize the marketing mistake. So we asked some of the companies we cover to give us an example of their mistakes, how they fixed them (if they were indeed fixable), and how they learned from them. To kick things off, it’s only fair that I share my worst mistake. We hope to make this a living document, so there are instructions for how you can share yours at the bottom. Some entries were edited for clarity and brands and tools removed (both positive and negative mentions) so the story could be told freely.

Please read and share with someone who will learn from it.

Keith O’Brien
Editorial Director, DMN

Type: New Business Presentation

Mistake: I was in charge of a deck for a new business pitch, and I used the potential client’s competitor’s logo on instead of the correct one. No one noticed until the client noticed during the pitch. I was added late to the project and was responsible for finalizing the deck. I never really processed who the client was and heard/thought it was the competitor, which has a very similar name.

Solution: We apologized profusely and just kept going on with the pitch.

Lesson: Clients can be forgiving. We won the pitch! Also, it’s crucial to have someone not involved with the project review any materials – they will not be seduced by group-think and can look at it with fresh eyes.

Joe Hyland
Chief Marketing Officer, ON24

Type: Audience

Mistake: It’s a common mistake for any marketer to misunderstand who their audience is. I know in my career there’s been plenty of times when I thought I knew my audience and customers, but didn’t truly understand them (what they want, when, and why) — and this can make marketing sound pretty tone deaf. 

Solution: I’ve learned to constantly question my assumptions about my audience. I constantly ask my team to think about the people we are marketing to. Who are they? What pain points do they have and how can I add value while being relevant? What do they want to see from me, when, and where? What’s their daily routine like? Your target audience and customers are constantly evolving, so it’s vital for us to evolve our messaging and content, too. 

Lesson: There are so many things we should be constantly evaluating as marketers — metrics, A/B testing, new platforms, etc. — but it’s vital to not forget that you are marketing to humans, not job titles. Before you can market to them effectively, you have to truly understand them, their motivations, and their mindset.

Teresa Ustanik
Principal, BullsEye Strategy Group

Type: Implementation;Operational (or interpersonal)

Mistake: My most inconsiderate mistake was failing to push a cannibalization issue within a client’s business model to a higher level or point of visibility.

Solution: Creatively, I pushed to substantiate several case studies in which the scenario of slumping business was tied to allowing too much play with a brand and the companies clients who essentially were trying to use their product as their own. I revealed the takeover indiscreetly as a marketing blunt within each sector of their markets so it appeared to be their opportunity, not failure.

Lesson: Always trust your gut instinct, because marketing and business are part of a passionate language and universal in connection.

Melody Gambino
Director of Marketing, Grapeshot

Type: E-mail

One of the most common mistakes I see is email etiquette violations. This should seem like an obvious area, yet on a daily basis I see others (and myself) use acronyms, abbreviate people’s names, or use shorthand/slang, which causes the person on the other end confusion and frustration. 

 I am conscientious of being thorough in my questions and instruction in emails. I limit the amount of emails I will respond to on my devices instead of at the computer, where you are apt to cut corners and respond in a speedy way that can confuse or irritate someone else.

Lesson: Inevitably, you will rub someone the wrong way, which limits your ability to be efficient. Instead of focusing on your work, you now spend time backtracking, explaining, and apologizing. Wouldn’t it be easier to just say it right the first time?

Buckley Slender-White
Head of Marketing, Automatic Labs

Type: Strategy

Mistake: In a previous marketing role, I was working for a non-profit organization which had donors all over the globe. During the World Cup, I had the idea to create a competition in which donors in different countries would compete to raise the most money – a “World Cup” based on donations. It seemed like a fun way to engage less active donors, drive more donations, and keep most committed donors motivated. However, the campaign was a total failure. I had completely misunderstood the psychology behind why people were giving the money – they were donating to the non-profit because they were trying to help people, and the idea of competing was discordant with that.

Solution: I relaunched the campaign as a collaborative effort, removing the competitive element by encouraging donors from every country in the world to donate and tracking their collective progress. There was also a social component this time around, with donors rallying their international friends to increase the number of countries donating.

Lesson: My experience taught me that you have to truly have to understand the motivations of the people you are marketing to in order for a campaign to be successful.

Michele Aymold
Director of Marketing, G2 Crowd

Type: Strategy

Mistake: My biggest marketing mistake has been waiting for customers to raise their hands to become advocates of my products.

Solution: I fixed this by creating a customer-marketing program to continuously nurture customers, as well as actively engage with customers on the platforms they use – from social media and review sites, to in-person meetings whenever our event team is nearby.

Lesson: A happy customer is your best “seller” and an unhappy customer is a great opportunity to improve your product and services. Marketers tend to focus on generating leads at the top of the funnel, but by spending some time reading, listening to, and interacting with current customers you’ll learn better ways to communicate with prospects and share the value others have seen with your product.

AdaPia d’Errico 
Chief Marketing Officer, Patch of Land

Type: Simple screw up;Client-Facing;Software Implementation

Mistake: Patch of Land is a real estate marketplace that attracts borrowers who need funding for real estate projects with investors who wish to diversify their capital into short term debt, essentially lending to these borrowers. In the marketing department we collect prospects and qualify leads for both sides of the marketplace and we use a tool to send key information to our various software and systems. Once a prospect is qualified as a lead, this information gets sent to the relevant loan sales or investor relations teams. When we implemented process to send marketing qualified leads to the borrower sales team we inadvertently were sending investor leads instead of borrower leads. 

Solution: Luckily we quickly realized that our sales team was calling investors and not borrowers and we were able to make the switch easily. The investor team reached out to those contacts that had been inadvertently called by the loan sales team.

Lesson: While software makes it easy to transmit information from one system to another, it is good practice to have one or even two people check on any data, data feeds or leads to ensure that the appropriate information is being sent to the right parties

Guillaume Cabane
VP of Growth, Segment

Type: Email

Mistake: I believe in marketing there’s no single right message but instead that messages should be more personalized, and delivered to highly targeted segments of people. That approach works really well most of the time. But a couple years ago emailed the same user five times in a week because he appeared in different data sets of people I wanted to communicate with. Understandably, he was bothered by my flooding his inbox, and confused at the “similar but different” messages he had received.

 Since this was an email that had already been sent, I couldn’t fix this particular instance. However, I learned that some services make it easy to exclude people who have recently received other communications.

Lesson: As a growth marketer, almost everything I do is an experiment. This lesson taught me that my individual experiments can have, unexpected, cross-over effects. It’s helpful to zoom out occasionally and see if there’s an opportunity to simplify.

Berkley Bowen
CEO and Founder, Cue Connect

Type: Strategy

Mistake: In previous roles, I made the mistake of creating technologies and processes that required users to change their behaviors in order for tools to be effective. It seemed like if a product was innovative and impactful enough, users would be willing to break from tradition and create new behaviors. It became clear quickly that fighting an uphill battle is not always the best approach. Changing consumer behavior is progressive, not an overnight occurrence. Then I had a big AHA moment. 

Solution: I made sure that our technology acted as an extension of those existing human behaviors. Specifically, I recognized that shoppers have a natural habit of organizing and storing items that pique their interest in their shopping cart, via email or even on hand-written notes. None of those channels, however, are capable of quickly providing retailer’s with the ability to track those important insights. Similarly, the it’s not an effective tool for the shopper to quickly and easily find the things they wish for. 

Lesson: Change is incremental and the day I realized the tools needed to change and not the customer, my life and the business of retailers changed too. It reminds me of the Aesop fable “The Tortoise and the Hare”: slow and steady wins the race. By asking consumers to change behavior over night we would get nowhere whereas providing tools that lead to new behavior would make all the difference. Modifying existing behaviors incrementally and over time, while also understanding customers, using empathy and personalization to speak to them, would win the race. 

Kevin Bobowski 
Chief Marketing Officer, Act-On Software

Type: Marketing strategy

Mistake: Like many marketers, I used to place more weight on demand gen than on any other marketing function, as it best demonstrated marketing’s contribution to the bottom line. We invested in demand gen at the expense of other vital areas: customer marketing and brand marketing specifically. But of course, this was a playbook that fit our company’s growth phase well; we nailed demand generation and our company grew. Indeed, for many early-stage companies, building up the right demand generation engine is crucial to future growth and success.

Our mistake is that we didn’t diversify soon enough. We kept driving demand at the expense of building brand awareness and customer marketing. Marketing is like an investment portfolio. An investment portfolio changes as you grow. Your marketing playbook should grow and evolve as your company does.

It also didn’t help that our company’s main product, a marketing automation platform, directly serviced and enabled demand gen efforts more broadly.

Solution: Pretty simple. We invested more in brand and customer marketing.  It required us to exercise different marketing muscles. And it was fun. We still ran a lean, mean demand-generation engine, but we had to focus on the other tenets of the business. 

Lesson: A good brand actually strengthens demand generation. Prospects know you and remember you. Happy customers are great advocates and drive demand demand better than any paid advertising program. We made investments in other area of the business outside demand that had better returns for us, so we were able to do more with less. Companies evolve and grow and we out-grew our old marketing playbook. Now we know that our playbook needs to evolve with the biz.

By doing this, we were able to rethink our own approach to marketing in an effort to balance out our marketing strategy. We worked to enrich and expand our existing marketing programs, and allocated budget and headcount to support brand, demand, and customer marketing efforts evenly. We approach marketing more holistically today and understand that a company must invest in the brand too, which will drive demand, and when that demand converts into a customer, you must engage with them throughout the lifecycle to ensure their success and ultimately expand them into loyal advocates who will then evangelize your brand and drive additional awareness. It is an ongoing cycle that reaps greater rewards than just investing solely in demand gen marketing. “

Return Path Team

Type: Simple screw up;E-mail

Mistake: An email was sent out to promote a webinar. But the marketing manager forgot to update the subject line after testing, and sent the email went out to our entire subscriber list with the subject line TEST 

Solution: We corrected this by sending up a follow-up email with the subject line “Oops.” The “oops” email performed surprisingly well – and believe it or not, we ended up doubling our registrations for that webinar. 

Lesson: You can take a couple of lessons from this.
1) Be honest with your subscribers. Mistakes happen, and having a sense of humor about it can make up for a lot of errors assuming the original error was relatively harmless.

2) An unexpected subject line can be intriguing enough to prompt more opens and lead to greater conversions.

Nicole  Rodrigues 
CEO and Founder, NRPR Group

Type: Strategy;Implementation

Mistake: As Director of Marketing for the a brand, I worked with the team on the launch of a campaign with our awesome team. Unfortunately, working with a brand that is owned by a very large parent company, my mistake was that I, as the Director of Marketing, put full faith in the “higher” powers that be at the time to run all things we were doing by the parent brand team for approval. Definitely a mistake. Even when my gut told me to check, I didn’t want to step on senior management’s toes, and did not run point on getting full approval on all little details regarding the launch. 

I took charge on planning a great community-wide event for a male vs. female fitness challenge. Sure enough, 48 hours before the event, my boss shared that our custom designed shirts that we ordered to give away at the event, were not approved to be given away. Therefore, if we wanted people to wear them, media could not attend. All of our time, effort, hard work and money toward hosting this event had just gone to “you know what” because our team didn’t double check if what we were doing was OK. I trusted that it was being done, and it wasn’t. We had to call and disinvite media. We could have no media and no extra people at the event. It ended up turning into an internal event, which was still fun and great team building, but we couldn’t bring any awareness to the launch and rebranding. All of our marketing efforts, including the video we made explaining the rebranding, was shut down because it wasn’t approved by the brand.

Solution: We still hosted the event for the crew and instead had specific media do write ups about the event with no photos in order to get the news out. We had to do a huge PR and media campaign around the initiative, as well as put money toward social media to promote our efforts in a way we could control. Thankfully, the team is/was smart and could think on our toes. 

 I learned to not assume things. The best course of action is to always work with your senior level management teams to make sure everything is actually happening according to plan, instead of assuming that things are being done because you don’t want to step on toes. It’s OK to manage up, for the sake of the greater good. Also, I learned that if you’re owned by a bigger entity, it never hurts to ask and always double check CONSTANTLY – by running all ideas and plans by those decision makers, even if you have a feeling they might say know, which we know can happen to some of the best ideas. I didn’t push hard enough to make sure our plan was being double checked, and now I’ve learned to always do my due diligence! ALWAYS!

Deborah Kilpatrick
VP of Marketing, SourceKnowledge

Type: Strategy;Implementation

Mistake: When we were developing our first SaaS platform, we were trying to internally brainstorm the perfect product name. Our sales team had an upcoming conference and were very enthusiastic about a potential sponsorship, so they decided they needed branded merchandise to hand out. Using our temporary product name, someone on the marketing team ordered 1000+ items with the temporary name and logo. They ordered them without the approval of anyone on the product or executive team and ended handing them out to everyone at the conference. We had only realized after the conference that this had been done and we ended up changing the product name and logo. 

Solution: Marketing money was lost on on these materials that had a product name we didn’t use. We still till this day have some of these promotional materials around the office. 

Lesson: What we learned was that you shouldn’t feel pressured to produce collateral just because a conference is coming up. Take your time to finalize a product name and logo that suits the product and your company’s branding. And make sure to always communicate with your team when ordering vast amounts of marketing materials, specially for a big product launch or rebranding.

Steve Nakata
Chief Architect, The Pedowitz Group

 Implementation, Technical Strategy

Mistake: We were advising a client on the development of a custom integration of their internal database with a marketing automation platform (MAP). Starting out, they had an issue with getting authenticated to access the APIs, which was critical in proceeding with their development. We verified that we were able to authenticate and access their MAP APIs with our tools, so we asked them various questions on how they had configured their integration. After several emails (and a few hours) later, I asked a specific technical question; their response made me realize they were using a different authentication method altogether from what we were using, and their MAP had not been configured to support their method.

Solution: We configured their MAP to support their authentication method and provided additional information they needed to complete their setup. They were able to successfully authenticate and access the MAP APIs after over 24 hours had lapsed since they first reported their issue.

Lesson: Always ensure you understand all the relevant details to effectively and efficiently advise a client on an issue for which they look to you to resolve, and don’t assume they’re doing things exactly the same as you are in the process

Want to submit your marketing mistake? Fill out the form here and we’ll add the best ones.

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