Marketing Mistakes: How to Avoid the Ego Trap in Digital Marketing

Michael Brenner on Mar 24, 2011 in Marketing Strategy

In the old days of traditional marketing, you conducted some research, consulted with your colleagues and agency partners and in the end, decisions were often made on gut feeling. I mean there were what 3 TV stations, a local newspaper or 2 and some trade pubs.  How hard could it be?

The promise of digital marketing was going to change all that. Because it brings a ton of metrics we can use to make better media buying decisions, right?  We can test offers and creative and then optimize our campaigns as we go. I mean that’s how it works in your organization, right?

If you don’t do that, you risk making a couple of ego-driven B2B marketing mistakes that can mean life or death to your campaigns…

Don’t Label Your Audience

When I see marketing content that adds an unnecessary or inappropriate qualifier to try and get a specific segment of people to read, register, or interact with the piece of content.

For example, if I say this blog is only for B2B marketers, will that focus the target audience of the blog? Will I get more B2B marketers to read? Chances are that it’s the topic, not my qualifier, that draws readers in. And B2B marketing is my topic, not necessarily my audience. Many of you are coming from across a wide range of industries, company types and roles. Our communities and ecosystems are much too diverse to label.

One way to test this is to perform A/B tests using email subject lines, blog posts, banner creative or offers on your website. I have done all of these. Each time, the winner has been the more generic title (all else being equal).

And yet when I try to explain this to people they look at me like I’m crazy! This is a result of the kind of “inside-out” thinking I talked about in my post “The Biggest Mistake Marketers Make.” We lose every time we marketers make it all about us or our solution or our product or our organization and not about the customer.

Want an example? Let’s say I conduct research of my audience that concludes that B2B marketers and communications professionals are really interested in “social media” or “sales and marketing alignment.” Then I write a really great article about one of those topics. If I title the paper with the topic such as “Top 10 Ways To Succeed In Social Media” but leave out my target audience qualifier “for B2B marketers,” I will get more B2B marketers to read it.

That’s right! If I try to label my audience then fewer of them and much fewer people in general will read it, share it, or care about it.

The main reason is that most people like to decide to do what they want to do for their own reasons. They do not like to be labeled even when the label is not offensive in any way. To put it another way, people will determine the relevance of content for themselves. They do this more often based on their interest in the topic and will reject any attempt to be put into a box.

So where do most people make this mistake? When they are marketing a solution to a specific industry, function, or size of business.

It is human nature to think that if you qualify your content, advertising, or marketing campaigns, that more people from that target group will respond. But they won’t. So please, stop making the mistake of thinking your target audience will conform to your view of the world.

My advice: Understand what your target audience is looking for. And create a compelling message or piece of content. Then deliver it in the right context in the places your audience is hanging out. You will see a higher response in general and get more responses in your target.

To avoid this mistake, we need to execute strategic content marketing programs by:

  • Defining our market segment based on buyer behaviors
  • Establishing buyer personas
  • Mapping content to buyer stages

Want an example? Following the best practices of search engine marketing and SEO shows you exactly what words a customer uses when looking to solve a problem. It also tells us what content they engage with when they find an answer.

Don’t Think You Know Where They Are

The next biggest mistake marketers make is in media selection. If you look across the marketing landscape today, too many of the media decisions are still based on the ego-driven “I know better syndrome.” We define our objectives, we brief the agency, if we’re lucky the agency scours the media landscape and brings their expertise to driving an amazing media plan. And when they present it, we say “Nahhhhh!”  I think we should be in these other publications because I think that’s where our audience hangs out. (Moan! Sigh.Yawn.)

This report from Comscore shows us that in digital advertising, more than half of the effectiveness is based on the quality of the ad creative, around a third of effectiveness is based on the offer. Only 13% of ad effectiveness is based on the media.

The bottom line: focus on great creative and compelling offers and let the agency do their job in picking the right media.

Alternatively, Chris Kane from iMedia reports that when we do approve our media plans, we should utilize a real-time-bidding approach. In the chart below, Chris shows that this approach to media buying can yield 52% greater reach at 59% of the cost of traditional media site selection.

I hope I’ve given you enough evidence to fight off the digital marketing ego traps. But also, I think all this is good reason to pause and consider:

  • Is today’s digital marketing landscape requiring a new marketing skill set?
  • Can traditional marketers stay in the game or are the “search geeks” really taking over marketing?

Michael Brenner
Michael Brenner
Michael Brenner is a globally-recognized keynote speaker, author of The Content Formula and the CEO of Marketing Insider Group. He has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael shares his passion on leadership and marketing strategies that deliver customer value and business impact. He is recognized by the Huffington Post as a Top Business Keynote Speaker and a top CMO influencer by Forbes. Please follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook and Subscribe here for regular updates.
Showing 8 comments
  • Denise

    Michael – Good post! The Comscore factoid about 50% of the effectiveness is based on ad creative and only 13% on media selecton is very interesting. It is exactly the opposite of old school direct marketing where more than 60% was due to media selection, and offer and then creative trailed off.

    We are truly in a new marketing landscape. I recently heard Antonio Lucio, CMO of Visa. say that today Visa puts together their media plans first and then develops the creative!

    Yep, digital, social and mobile media are turning old marketing “truisms” on their head.

    • Michael Brenner

      Thanks Denise. I was blown away by that fact as well. For me it’s all proof that the customer is increasingly defining when and how they interact with content and will reward a positive experience wherever they are.

  • kenny

    agreed. engage folks on their terms and on their turf.

  • Michael Brenner

    That’s right Kenny, it all comes back to a customer-driven mindset.

  • Eric Wittlake

    Michael, I like the link you are making here between ego and media selection. The first mistake you listed a couple weeks ago is also related. Too many marketers don’t serve the audience because they can only think about their own needs. Serving your own ego and serving your audience are at opposite ends of the spectrum.

    Coming at B2B marketing with a background in media, I have to expand on the ComScore data. Their data uses GRPs as the measure of a media plan. Media matters a lot, but the GRP measure used isn’t a measure of the quality of a media plan. In many instances, a smaller and more targeted buy will deliver better results than a broad general market campaign, with a fraction of the GRPs.

    — @wittlake

    • Michael Brenner

      Hi Eric, i do appreciate your supportive comments but also thought about those concerns when adding that comscore chart. I agree that media IS important and that the GRP measure is not the way to measure the quality of the media plan directly.

      I decided to include the chart to emphasize the point regarding egos and trusting in your agency partners (and ultimately customers) to decide on what media approach is best. As long as the brief is well-defined, the media will be adequately targeted.

  • Stefan Mayo

    Good points made here. With so much online data available, marketers can do less guess work and better targeting.

    Also, with dynamic creative marketers can reach people and customize the ad to the proper level of their purchase cycle.

    The next step is to move farther away from the CTR metrics and focus more on attribution and influence type reporting.

    Stefan Mayo

    • Michael Brenner

      Hi Stefan, I am always amazed a how little all that great data is used. Far too many marketing programs are considered successful just for having launched.

      I agree we can do so much more and can be much more successful if we get smarter about the techniques we employ and use the latest techniques and available data to make better marketing decisions.

      Finally, I think attribution modeling and moving away from the “last click credit” issue is hard work and so while there is tremendous resistance, we need to get there if we want a full view of the customer marketing landscape.