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The Two Reasons Most Marketing Campaigns Fail

Most marketing campaigns fail. We all know this. And we can always find reasons why they fail. There are however two crucial parts to any campaign which will always decide on failure of success: how well you understand your audience and how good your end product or service really is.

The two reasons most marketing campaigns fail

In the end marketing campaigns are about getting results. Different types of results. Sometimes we are ‘just’ looking for views, likes or readers, at other times we are looking for the ‘real’ result: sales.

No matter what metric we look at though, we see that most marketing campaigns fail. They fail because they don’t get the right results. There are many theories on why marketing campaigns fail. Wrong focus, too much sales focus, mistakes from people, budgets, the copy, timing, you name it. We can blame whatever and who ever we want. All of these are indeed reasons for failure. But all of these you can somehow ‘rescue’ by doing other things better.

In the end however, I think two things are key when it comes to the success or failure of a marketing campaign that are key: the understanding of who you are targeting and that what you are trying to sell. Get one of these wrong and the campaign will fail, no matter what.

Understanding who you are targeting

Marketing campaigns are often started from the perspective of ‘what do we want to sell’. That is great, and a huge part of the campaign. The next step however is a crucial one. Here most businesses look at their product / service and think ‘how are we better than the competitor?’ and ‘how will we convince our target audience of that?’ From that point on it means that the product has focus. It usually means that more messages are further away from the connection with the target audience.

Businesses may start to think they understand their target audience, but they really don’t, because the focus during the marketing campaign continues to be product first. As I’ve said many times in my talks and to clients however: 99% of your audience doesn’t give a damn about your product. Nothing. Zero. Nada.

Your audience, clients and potential clients have a problem they want solved, if you are the one who can solve that problem for them, brilliant. If you are not, you are useless. They key (as this picture below that I use in presentations often) is to find that area where you and your audience have common ground. That’s when you start being useful. And that’s when a marketing campaign starts to pay off.


To get there, you need to start to understand your audience first. Most marketing campaigns however start on the product side, which is an almost certain guarantee for failure, because once started there, they can’t get away from it. If you don’t understand what your audience wants, all you are doing is shouting like a local market trader. Is that what you want to be?


More articles around getting a better grip on your audience:

Quality of what we are trying to ‘sell’

Many people I speak who are not in marketing believe that marketers are just there to ‘fool’ them. To make people feel they want to buy something, even though they really don’t need it.

I don’t think that is marketing. I think that is sales. And granted, marketing campaigns sometimes do play a role in that. However, whenever you are trying to sell something and even more important, whenever you want to market something, that what you are trying to market is what defines most of the success or failure.

I believe that when something isn’t what you tell it to be, if you create wrong expectations or if the product or service you want to sell isn’t good enough, any marketing you do around it has a huge potential of backfiring.

If you’re product isn’t good enough, people will see it. If the research you did is flaky, it will be recognized like that. Even if at first sight you look good, do it once too often and it will rub off on your brand.

There are many examples of brands that can’t get rid of a bad reputation because they screwed up before. Domino’s Pizza had to make a lot of effort after two of its employees screwed up, JP Morgan will always have the image of the ‘criminal finance guys’ and in sports Suarez will always be a ‘diver’ and ‘biter’, even if he never falls over again.

What I’m trying to say: a screw up sticks with you.


More articles around PR problems for businesses


The Marketing Campaign that failed on both: New Coke

An example of a marketing campaign which did both things wrong is the New Coke campaign in 1985. Yes, before there even was a proper ‘Internet’. The New Coke campaign saw Coca Cola introduce that it was changing the formula for the drink. It introduced the ‘New Coke’ brand.

This marketing campaign failed completely. For many reasons, but as we can also read in Coca Cola’s own explanation, a couple of things went really wrong. First of all, Coca Cola hadn’t bothered looking at their ‘audience’. They didn’t expect people to be upset. In other words, they didn’t really understand the audience. On top of that, there was the problem of the product: people just didn’t like it. They didn’t like the taste of it. In other words: the product failed.


Image source: http://www.coca-colacompany.com/history/the-real-story-of-new-coke

For any marketing campaign it is therefor crucial to get two things right: understand whom you are targeting and, strangely very much underestimated, get your product or service to work. Trying to campaign something half-baked will only make people spit it out.

Tell me. How are your campaigns when it comes to these two elements? Honestly?

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Bas van den Beld is an award winning Digital Marketing consultant, trainer and speaker. He is the founder of State of Digital and helps companies develop solid marketing strategies.