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Avoiding Marketing Blunders – Ensure Your Marketing is Healthy with a Marketing Audit.

Every year, small to large organizations spend millions of dollars on marketing and public relations. In spite of all the dollars spent on marketing, even major companies often make marketing blunders.

These organizations are well-intentioned and provide good products or services. However, when the marketing health of an organization is not in ultimate shape, marketing missteps easily can occur.

When marketing fails, it is often difficult for organizations to judge themselves objectively. Natural biases and internal politics frequently interfere with honest self- evaluation.

The best way to stay “marketing healthy” is to put your organization through a marketing audit. The goal of a marketing audit is to assess the effectiveness of your organization’s marketing functions and processes. A marketing audit should provide you with recommendations for improved marketing health, allowing you to minimize marketing blunders and maximize your organization’s marketing health — strategies, goals and initiatives.

Some marketing missteps, particularly naming blunders, can provide a good laugh, while other marketing and strategic blunders can be very serious and quickly deteriorate your organization’s marketing health. In short, in today’s competitive global economy, marketing mistakes can cost an organization time, dollars and diluted customer perceptions.

Naming Blunders

Imagine selling a car in Mexico with a name meaning “No Go” — as Chevrolet did with its Nova car. And remember when Electrolux came up with the campaign slogan “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux”? When Clairol introduced “Mist Stick,” a curling iron, into Germany, it later discovered that “Mist” is slang for manure. Coors used its “Turn it loose” slogan in the Spanish market, which unfortunately translated into “Suffer from diarrhea”.

Even the big soft drink companies have found themselves victim to many blunders when entering the China market. Pepsi’s “Come alive with the Pepsi Generation” campaign translated into “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave” in Chinese. And Coca-Cola chose a phonetic name in Chinese that meant “Bite the wax tadpole”. After finally researching over 40,000 characters, they found another phonetic equivalent to Coca-Cola which translated into “Happiness in the mouth”.

Some of my favorite naming blunders are with German companies that exported their products to the U.S. and kept the original name of the product, including chocolate called ZIT, toilet paper named Krapp and anti-freeze named PIS. Need I say more?

Marketing Blunders

  • Remember when KFC actually claimed that fried chicken is part of a healthy diet, only to be forced to pull the ads after just two weeks due to the flood of complaints to the FTC?
  • Even marketing extraordinaire Target pulled the Salvation Army bell ringers just before the Christmas shopping season, a huge blunder given the bell ringers’ century-old popular tradition. Competitor Wal-Mart took full advantage of this blunder by announcing plans to match customer donations at its stores.
  • Apple mistimed its price cut on the iPhone and seriously annoyed early adopters of the product.
  • In our post-9/11 era, there was a serious scare in Boston when Cartoon Network failed to notify authorities that it would be placing odd electronic devices on bridges.
  • Amazingly, some car companies can’t figure out that suicide just isn’t a funny way to promote a car. GM ran a Superbowl ad that showed a robot getting laid off from its job at a GM plant and killing itself. And a VW ad showed a man coaxed back from jumping off a ledge by news that VW has cars priced at less than $17,000.
  • Papa John’s Pizza had to issue an apology to Cleveland and the Cavaliers for making T-Shirts with LeBron James’ number and the word ‘cry baby’ under it.

Industry Strategic Marketing Blunders

Many industry strategic marketing blunders have a major negative impact on the organizations committing them. We all should have learned from the railroads that seemed to think they just were in the railroad business, not transportation. As a result, they did not evolve.

Unfortunately, unhealthy strategic marketing blunders are still prevalent in many industries.

  • Department stores think in terms of departments instead of about customer needs.
  • Airlines think in terms of passengers as sheep even though their ads tell us otherwise.

Many organizations had and still have no clue as to what is coming up behind them, especially when the market in which they’re leading can be redefined — Word Perfect and Lotus never noticed how Microsoft was positioning itself to wipe them out.

Two industries need special mention, as, for the most part, the evolution of healthy effective marketing is still fairly new and not fully integrated within their organizations. As competitive pressure for these industries mounts, so will their need for healthy and effective marketing.

  1. The technology industry at times seems to struggle with a lack of core marketing skills and quality metrics; unfortunately, the combination of the two leads to expensive marketing blunders that otherwise could be avoided.
    Even Microsoft, which spends hundreds of millions in executing a terrific launch of their products, often has failed to do any kind of sustained marketing effort after a launch. There is no doubt that a product launch is important as it sets the tone and helps drive early adaptors to stores. However, sustaining that marketing effort is just as important, as it helps manage the customer perception and sustain demand for the majority buyers.
  2. The healthcare industry at times seems to have no specific direction, focus or target strategy. Marketing and PR departments that do a wonderful job creatively are filled with boxes of slick publications that never get read, as they had no strategic purpose and no plan for distribution.
    Healthcare industry marketing spend seems targeted towards the latest canned newsletters, brochures, kiosks and new ad venues — all without being part of a targeted strategic marketing plan. Many healthcare organizations spend millions of dollars on marketing with no real market share improvements.

Hidden Marketing Blunders

The most serious marketing blunders that I have seen are those that occur internally within an organization, hidden from the public. These include:

  1. The Better Mousetrap Fallacy
    Although products/services are an important part of the overall marketing mix, there can be a problem if the love affair is with your products/services and not with your customer. Organizations easily become victims of the better mousetrap fallacy, believing that a better mousetrap is enough to lead people to their door.
  2. Integration/Coordination
    Many of the blunders mentioned in this article occur because organizations have not integrated all components of their Big M marketing into the organization as a whole. Internal to your organization, healthy marketing occurs when all parts of the marketing plan are consistent and mutually supportive of the objectives and strategies that your organization has set forth. All aspects of your marketing strategy need to work together, integrated and coordinated, to provide the healthiest direction for your marketing spend.
  3. Fear of Creative Destruction
    Although it’s a difficult thing to do, organizations must ensure in a dynamic market that they come up with the better idea, technology, product or service — even if it threatens the base business. If they don’t do this, their competitors will. Without falling into the better mousetrap fallacy, healthy marketing organizations ensure that their marketers are responsible for identifying significant changes; in essence, they take an outside-in view of their business. Organizations with unhealthy marketing fail to see change as opportunity.
  4. Marketing Perception
    In order for marketing to be truly effective, it must help in the process of managing customer perception. Too many organizations are focused on their own ideas and not on the perception of who they are in the marketplace.

A comprehensive marketing audit can uncover these costly hidden marketing blunders and lead an organization back to effective marketing practices.

Organizations today simply can’t afford not to know the health of their marketing. The best way to get healthy is to periodically put your marketing through a head to toe MRI scan — an independent and objective marketing audit.

If anything, a marketing audit will give your organization a baseline score on marketing effectiveness so you can make any needed adjustments. A comprehensive, independent and objective marketing audit can be the first proactive step in avoiding costly marketing blunders.

Allen Banoub is Chief Marketing Surgeon with Marketingmri, Inc.


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