Only one main reason?
Yep, pretty much.
Over the last decade, I’ve worked with businesses of varying sizes on their marketing efforts.
Regardless of how old or how big the business is, I’ve found there’s one common factor that causes most marketing efforts to fail.
Even marketing campaigns I planned and implemented.
Is it because I’m a bad marketer? No.
Is it because I don’t understand their market? No.
Is it because I have a case of imposter syndrome? Erm, maybe.
Okay fine, I do.
But while these are reasons that can cause marketing plans to fail, the number one reason that marketing efforts do end up failing is due to the lack of communication.
Let me give you a story of one such example where nothing worked.
A company I worked for wanted to develop a digital platform that catered to the industry they operated in. While they knew the nuts and bolts of their industry, they weren’t confident with their technology skillset.
Fortunately, they managed to fill that gap by hiring an ace IT person. They also hired a marketing manager to start building strategies to sell the service the platform would offer.
Seven months into development, they fired the marketing manager.
They weren’t satisfied with her work. They released the platform in beta but there were zero sign-ups.
A few of the staff in the company who weren’t involved with the project starting raising some points during company-wide meetings. Why wasn’t there a pre-launch strategy, and why, as part of the internal team, were they not allowed to test it before beta launch?
After all, they formed the same demographic as the intended end-users of the platform.
Sign number one.
Soon, they hired another marketing manager to take over the role.
His task was to quickly find ways to get sign-ups. He chose the email marketing route and decided to purchase an industry email list (relax, this was pre-GDPR) and mass promote.
It worked. In about three months, he got about 300 sign-ups.
But there was a discrepancy that he noticed — there was a lot of traffic going into the site, but hardly any conversions. The sign-ups were all free so why weren’t people taking it up? Plus, free sign-ups meant zero cost to the end consumer which = zero profit to the company.
He communicated this to management and the tech team.
What did they do? Nothing.
In the end, he was let go, too. Not great results, they said.
Sign number two.
By this time, they were scrambling to find someone to fill the role but had barely any resources left to hire someone.
With the second marketer gone and their budget almost exhausted, they approached me to take on the role.
I was already working for this company but in another department.
Earlier, when the new project was announced, I’d created a simple PowerPoint deck with a step-by-step pre-launch/launch/post-launch strategy. I shared it with the first marketer. She was impressed but nothing was implemented.
So when I was transferred to this project, I started from scratch. I requested analytics from previous marketing campaigns, dug out as much information as I could, created a social media presence — I covered as much ground as possible.
About 4 months later, we had 1,200 subscribers. I had more than tripled the number of sign-ups. Free sign-ups because no premium subscription was put in place but hey, at least something was working.
To me, this was not bad for a day’s work. All efforts were organic — we didn’t run any paid campaigns.
And I did this with bare minimum analytics. It felt like I was just shooting in the dark every time I walked into the office and started my work, but I was still proud that I had achieved these numbers.
But there was a nagging feeling in my mind. With the knowledge I have about marketing, I knew that we were going to hit a block with organic marketing tactics soon. I was running out of ideas to collect emails (hello, GDPR), and there was only so much “free” engagement I could do on Facebook without seeming like spam (their account got blocked a few times).
I called for a meeting.
The TLDR; of it is this — they weren’t happy with the numbers. Again. Users were signing up but not actually using the site — something I didn’t realise because I had no access to the analytics. It was only brought up when a director why he was so unhappy about the numbers.
Sign number three.
Crap, I thought.
But, wait, I timidly voiced out. My job is to drive traffic to the website. If people are not signing up, then the problem might be:
- Wrong target audience — which was highly unlikely because I was only speaking with people from their very specific industry, or
- The website itself wasn’t doing a great job.
I repeatedly made suggestions to improve the website.
Most of them were implemented, although it took too long sometimes. All the while, they kept asking me to prove the marketing best practices that I was using — and I couldn’t because once again, I had no analytics to show that my strategies were or weren’t working.
So I did what I could. I asked for a budget to bring in a marketing agency. Two, in fact. One that would help us with auditing the website and SEO efforts, and one who would help with lead generation.
The results? Pretty decent. To me, at least.
The people in charge weren’t happy again. I was the only one who understood the results were decent for the budget and effort we had put in and seeing that the platform itself wasn’t converting.
Sign number four.
I started feeling dejected, questioning my every move.
I often wondered if I was a good marketer. While I was getting flak in the office for not delivering numbers, outside my freelance clients were begging me to take on more work so I could help them. I was clearly conflicted.
So I waved the white flag and resigned.
The project is still live but is no longer taken care of.
After I left, they decided not to do any marketing, focusing on onsite SEO only. About a year later, the tech team left and nobody works on the platform anymore.
One of the most important things that wasn’t communicated was expectations. The directors didn’t say what they wanted out of the project — no subscriber goals, no KPIs, no monetary goals. They just wanted proof of concept, which they did get once subscribers started rolling in, but nobody took that and ran with it.
The entire team starting dragging their feet to work because it constantly felt like nothing they were doing would please the people sitting on top.
Value your resources
While we were hustling so hard to get proof of concept from the outside world, nobody pointed out that the internal team fit the user demographic of the platform. There was no communication about the website platform to them before I took over. Everyone was working in silos. When the entire company was involved, it was more for a generic update and if feedback was provided, it often fell on deaf ears. Those who were giving their opinions out of kindness soon stopped communicating their thoughts, too.
The problem to me was simple — the people on top never actually entrusted the project in the hands of the team. Marketing best practices were demeaned, technology was ridiculed — and everyone started feeling small after months of not being able to prove themselves because we were working in circles.
Micro-managing isn’t productive
Just typing this out is agitating me. After a few months of realising I had hit a dent with organic marketing, the managers and directors started asking me to send in weekly reports of the work I was doing. The list wasn’t that long, really. But what they failed to notice is that marketing isn’t just about uploading a social media post and then sitting and waiting for it to work. There’s more to do than that.
Instead, my time was spent in meetings to report progress, take down minutes, and then preparing weekly reports for someone to see (I’m still not sure who actually checked the reports). In the end, I felt increasingly gutted looking at the list of work every week and not being able to provide tangible results from it — it was driving me crazy.
Data is collected for a reason
Use it! I always request my freelance clients to provide me with some data to show that the writing or marketing I do for them is working. Even the slightest increase in traffic is a number we can work with.
But in this project, we weren’t communicating the numbers regularly. Plus, what mattered to me, didn’t matter to another person, and vice versa. Analytics was not given due importance — and this is coming from someone who dislikes numbers and wishes she could just write without worrying about data. The reality is, even basic data would’ve been helpful. Knowing when to follow up with subscribers, or what add-value they were looking for would’ve been helpful. But we didn’t know if any of these efforts were working because analytics was hardly a topic to be discussed in meetings.
Whatever I’ve written above can be easily read as a rant. I was not happy with the project, I felt small, I felt dejected, and I felt not good enough.
Keeping all my emotions about the project aside, could I have done better? Yes.
Could I have taken responsibility and say “look, guys, I know my stuff, I got this!”? Yep!
So why didn’t I do it?
Because nobody was listening. And because I wasn’t confident enough that my work was well, working, because I just didn’t know!
We didn’t communicate how we really felt, and what anyone really wanted out of the project. The team had only three people and we were all working in silos. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one frustrated. I was just the first to own up to that feeling and walk away.
Which is also another point to drive, isn’t it? When we don’t feel right about something, why don’t we say it?
Why are we afraid that our CEO, boss, chief, what-have-you, will fire us? I had come to the point that I let all my grievances out to my boss. He knew what was going on in my mind. And yet, I constantly felt like I was the only one taking the effort to make a change.
And I bet you, the other team members felt the same way individually.
Yet, again, nobody communicated this.
It’s not with just this project either. I’ve worked on many remote projects since I quit and started my business. The lack of communication doesn’t ascertain that the efforts I’m putting in are working for them.
I ask or request access to their analytics but I’m ghosted. So I just keep rehashing best practices and cross my fingers (and toes!) that it works for them.
In the end, I tire myself out with the guessing game and end up closing the project and moving on. It’s not a nice feeling, this, but it has to be done.
So before you want to embark on that next marketing project, sit your team down and establish your expectations. This is especially important if you work in a big team, but equally vital if you’re a solopreneur outsourcing marketing efforts to a virtual assistant.
Decide what’s the best way to communicate.
Don’t work in silos, but recognise that some of your partners or team members may be quieter or introverted — less vocal. Find ways to get them to express their opinions and ideas.
And most importantly, communicate what’s happening with analytics, results, and tweak your goals if you need to. With everyone aligned to the same goal, and with the will to learn, adapt and grow, plus a dash of patience and perseverance, your marketing effort will succeed.