As the title implies, some—if not all—of the mistakes I’ll be pointing out in this post may strike you as being basic—so basic that your reaction to some may be, “Thanks for the observation, Captain Obvious.”
However, since I’ve run into them repeatedly at different times over the years, it strikes me that they’re worth reviewing once again.
#1 Guessing about Customers
Solid market research is crucial for making marketing decisions, yet I’ve seen a number of companies rely more on guesswork than quantitative evidence. When I worked in book publishing, my firm worked hard to understand the kinds of books the readers were interested in. Our core was health and fitness books and my initiative published books aimed at Spanish-dominant Hispanics. That said, we also looked at other lifestyle topics in our research to make sure we weren’t missing other areas of interest, like personal finance, beauty, general self-help, relationship advice and more. We also tested books from other publishers with our audience to see if they worked so that we could acquire rights if they tested well.
In contrast, other publishers didn’t rely on research to reach Hispanics. As a result, they chose books on topics that we knew from our research that Hispanics weren’t interested in. Sometimes they even compounded the error by publishing wrong-topic books by celebrities most Hispanics never heard of, like translations of Susan Powter’s diet books. How can you market a personality-driven book to an audience that doesn’t know your personality, when the personality cannot do a media tour and has no media platform to reach the audience? Stop the insanity, indeed…
#2 Ignoring Representative Samples
In discussing research with certain colleagues and clients, the idea to do a web survey comes up, since it seems quick and easy. But when we discuss response rates and representative samples, they quickly tune out. Even marketing professionals can have trouble understanding that if you have a customer base of 20,000, you have to randomly select a representative sample to survey. And enough people have to respond to ensure a statistically significant response. So with a survey of 100 people and 4 responses, those 4 won’t be representative of the 100. Seems straightforward, right? Well, I have had people argue to me that 4 people in leadership positions that were surveyed over the phone were in fact representative of a universe of 32,000 customers.
Or that I could send an e-mail survey to a client list of 5,000 and whatever response I got would represent all 5,000.
Avoiding this mistake is easy: hire a good firm to help you find out what you need to know about your customers with a properly designed survey.
#3 Confusing Qualitative and Quantitative
Focus groups are a nice tool. You can get a small group of customers in a room and get their thoughts about your product. But even a randomly selected group of people will still be small—focus groups are usually 10-15 people at the most. Trying to run a focus group with more is counterproductive. And as indicated in mistake #2, 10-15 people don’t usually represent a company’s entire customer base. Instead, focus groups are a great way to get more detailed responses about certain aspects of products and services. That’s why they are usually referred to as qualitative research. Focus groups are also helpful in developing questions you can use in quantitative research like a survey of a representative sample.
#4 Not Caring about Customers
I once got an assignment to copy edit Spanish-language books for a major publishers. The guidelines stated that I use English-language punctuation and usage norms. This meant small things like placing periods inside quotation marks or using em dashes for dramatic pauses (common in English, not done in Spanish). It also meant capitalizing the names of certain groups: “Rusos” (Russians) as opposed to rusos. Problem is, applying English norms to Spanish is incorrect. You wouldn’t do this any more than you would apply Spanish norms to English copy.
Essentially, I was instructed to make sure that the book had as many spelling, grammar and punctuation mistakes as possible. I never knew the justification, but I would have to speculate that the publisher thought the Hispanic audience would be too dumb to pick up on the mistakes. The publisher also didn’t seem to mind that it was portraying its brand to the Hispanic audience as a purveyor of poorly written books. Well, as it turns out, putting out a quality product actually is important and—note my dramatic pause with em dashes—that publisher had to cancel its Spanish-language program due to poor sales.
#5 Launching without Researching the Market
Sometimes brands will launch products without any research into pricing. Instead, they set the prices they think will best allow them hit their margins. I’ve seen this happen—and the unsurprising poor results. In other instances, the lack of research involves customer need. For example, often a product doesn’t need to innovate to sell: plenty of me-too products attest to this. But if a me-too offers considerably fewer advantages than its competitors, no amount of brand storytelling can compensate. And I’ve seen brands launch forward without even seeing how their me-too product stacks up—until years after the launch and poor sales spurred a too-late look at the fundamentals.
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