10 Marketing Lessons I Learned the Hard Way–So You Don’t Have To

10 Marketing Lessons I Learned the Hard WayI’ve spent a career working across many different businesses, in the consumer and b2b domains. I’ve been on some of the best brands globally–Jell-O Gelatin, American Express and IBM. For anyone who spends a significant time in an area, you know you build up both muscle and scar tissue in doing so. As you plan your own marketing efforts, even if you’re just starting with a Facebook page, the following is a list of my top 10 marketing lessons, learned the hard way. Here’s to your success.

Superior value: Ensure that what you’re offering is better in all ways than what the competition is providing. Customers have a myriad of instantaneous tools available to do comparison shopping. Help them choose you by giving them something compelling–a great product, a great service experience, a great return policy, your own unique “formula” to solve their problem.

Start small: It’s best to test small promotions at first and use very limited time offers.  If you run a promotion and no one responds, you’ve spent money for no return and may also be left with excess inventory. But the opposite can be just as bad. “Sold out” is not always a good problem to have because you lose the value of the opportunity and also could give competitors an opening to fill the gap. Learn what the response rates are for your particular business. Use this knowledge to plan the next one.

Incent channels: If you’re relying on channels to market and sell your product, make sure that they have the right training and a good incentive to sell your stuff. Remember, unless you have an exclusive arrangement with a partner, they’ll have choices on what to push. So do some intelligence work on what your competition is offering them and, at the very least, match that incentive.

Train sellers: If you’re investing in marketing, it means you want customers to buy. You want to capture them by having knowledgeable and friendly staff to service them at each stage of the customer’s purchasing journey. Take the time to educate everyone on your goals and prepare them with the right information and attitude to welcome AND service all potential new buyers.

Clear marketing materials: Spend the time to carefully read every word on your ad or Web page to ensure it’s clear for the average potential customer to understand. Share your materials with at least five friends to get their reaction. If they don’t get it, you’ve got a problem. Most people only spend seconds surfing your site or reading an ad. If specific terms and conditions accompany your offer, make sure they’re clear so you’re not left with costly customer service issues.

No false claims: If you can’t honestly back up a claim you’re making about your product, don’t go there. It can cost you a lot of money in terms of refunds and potential lawsuits. Most importantly, losing the trust and damaging your reputation with customers, financial backers, and employees can affect your future livelihood forever.

Practice legal hygiene: Whether it is registering your trademark, denoting patents, delineating terms and conditions, stating refund policies, etc, spend the time and money to get this fundamental element right. 

Assume the competition will copy you: They say that imitation is the best form of flattery, but not if it happens against you. Try to find a way to make it difficult for your competition to copy your value and/or promotion easily. It can cost you additional big bucks in terms of having to respond in kind—resulting in a lot less margin for you.

You are wildly successful beyond your dreams: The reality is if you promote your goods on the Internet, you’re global. So be prepared to manage an unexpected influx of orders from around the world. If you can only sell/ship in the United States at first, say so prominently.

It’s not what you did but how you responded: There are tons of unforeseen and unfortunate things that can happen in the life of a business.  We see examples of this situation daily; even among top-tier companies that should know better (think the BP oil spill). It’s always about how you respond that is remembered. Just as you have an emergency plan at home, think about having one for your business. At minimum, have the tools and backup information in place to communicate to your most precious assets–your customers and your employees. In addition, find a local course on media training. It can help you respond more effectively if you have to speak in public about an issue facing your business.

Miriam Vializ-Briggs is a marketing consultant with 25+ years of marketing strategy and execution experience, garnered as an executive at IBM, American Express and Kraft General Foods. She has created solutions and marketing strategies in a number of industries including banking, biotech, packaged goods, energy, healthcare, industrial, insurance, restaurants, retail, and travel & entertainment.

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