Staples | 8 Reasons So Many Marketing Plans Fail

8 Reasons So Many Marketing Plans Fail

If "successful marketing" or "marketing ROI" are oxymorons to you, you're not alone. For most small businesses — and for large ones for that matter — marketing campaigns produce disappointing results. While the reasons for missed expectations are many, there are some fundamental mistakes that can be easily avoided. Following is a brief overview of eight primary reasons marketing plans fail.

Pleasing the wrong people

Too often marketing programs are designed to please managers, CEOs, or other supervisors rather than customers. Unfortunately, company heads often do not accurately represent the target audience, and thus marketing campaigns do not generate the same enthusiasm and responses among customers.

"Company–oriented" communications, or what I call "ego ads", tend to focus on a brand's mission and product superiority and not on what matters most to consumers and prospects. As a result, they have little impact on consumers' decision–making processes and purchases.


The trite strategy of "trying to be everything to everyone" fails in most areas of life, and it most definitely fails in marketing. Successful businesses understand that customers have acute differences in shopping preferences and incorporate these differences into their marketing messages, promotions, and product lines. By appealing to a specific niche rather than a general audience, you will be able to execute targeted, more efficient marketing programs, and increase your chances of long–term profitability.

Niche marketing combined with relevant marketing activities is far more likely to succeed than the "one size fits all" approach, especially for small businesses trying to carve out a competitive market position against larger brands.


A common mistake among small businesses is trying to do too much, especially given their current resources. When this happens, marketing plans become dissertations on what someone else with greater resources and deeper pockets can do. For a marketing plan to succeed, it must be executed, and for a plan to be executed, it must be realistic. If your marketing team consists of you and/or a handful of supporting cast members, you might be better off setting two to three goals and giving yourself plenty of time to accomplish them.

These goals might be as simple as:

  1. Creating customer profiles and a simple database program for recording transactions.
  2. Adapting your Web site to better collect customer data.
  3. Executing three or more targeted communications programs.

For a marketing plan to succeed, it must be executed, and for a plan to be executed, it must be realistic.

Out of sight, out of mind

The minute a marketing plan is filed away is the minute it is set up to fail. Even managers with the greatest intentions for marketing get side tracked. To avoid losing focus, keep your marketing plan visible in an actionable way. This can be done by:

  • Posting goals, action items, and timelines on a bulletin board.
  • Establishing action items for each month and making these visible to your colleagues and peers. Knowing that others are expecting you to fulfill these items often helps ensure that you do.
  • Sharing your action items and timelines with other departments whose involvement can help keep you on task.


Marketing plans struggle to be actionable if based on ill–defined, vague goals such as becoming the "best of breed" or "most desired" in their industry. How does one define these intangible goals in measurable terms? How will you know when you've achieved these goals — and will accomplishing them generate more revenue and new leads? Broad, general goals are often rooted in claims that any business can make, true or not.

Here are some examples of measurable goals that most any business can achieve, regardless of budget:

  • Increasing Web site leads by 10 percent
  • Acquire at least one new customer per quarter
  • Increase revenue per customer by 20 percent

No ownership

Marketing does not stop when the ads are placed or the letters mailed. Lifetime marketing programs, those designed to capture customers' lifetime loyalty, continue far beyond a campaign's execution and involve far more than the marketing department. Sales, customer service, operations, administration, and office support staff must embrace marketing goals and practices and take ownership for their success by working to secure unparalleled customer satisfaction. Before finalizing marketing goals or executing campaigns, get consensus.


"Budget–oriented" refers to marketing plans that are driven by budgets rather than goals. People often say "I spend money on radio and newspaper ads. I don't have the budget to do anything else." This is often followed by "This is how I've always done things" and "I can't tell you what works best." Marketers with this mindset work so hard at getting the best deal that they often forego getting the best results. When this is the priority, poor media choices are often made and budgets wasted. Before allocating your funds, develop a customer–oriented plan to help you spend your money wisely and put it where you are likely to get the most returns.


If you can't track the results of your programs, you won't know if you have failed or succeeded in accomplishing your goals. To identify the value of your expenditures, stick to this simple rule: If you cannot measure it, do not do it. To identify the value of your expenditures toward capturing customers' lifetime value, follow this rule: If you cannot measure it down to the individual level, do not do it. Enough said.

To avoid these and other marketing mistakes, stick to the following process. You'll spend your resources wisely and realize measurable, positive returns.

  • Get to know your customers — their needs and purchasing influences.
  • Set goals according to validated customer needs and your business' resources.
  • Develop action items that address these needs as individually as possible.
  • Share your plan with others in your companies.
  • Carefully choose delivery methods that proven exposure, credibility and response rates among your audiences.

About the Author: Jeanette McMurtry is the author of Big Business Marketing for Small Business Budgets (McGraw–Hill 2003) and consults both large and small businesses on how to affordably capture customers' lifetime value. For more information about McMurtry or the book, visit or email

[an error occurred while processing this directive]

Clearance Center


See It Now
Deals! Get them now
Join us on: