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Five marketing gaffes to avoid in 2012

Monday, 9 January 2012 | By Oliver Milman

The world of social media may have provided businesses with great new marketing channels, but it has also increased the opportunities for costly stuff-ups.


Last year saw a number of marketing blunders, often by brands that haven’t quite grasped how to use the new tools available to them.


“The mistake many brands make is that they desperately want to be liked,” says Michael Halligan, founder of Engage Marketing.


“They see that a rival has got 100,000 Twitter followers and they want the same. They jump into social media on a flimsy excuse of growing their numbers. You need a better way of doing it than that.”


According to Halligan, a solid marketing strategy needs to underpin everything your start-up does, to ensure it doesn’t veer wildly off course and make a critical mistake.


“Stick to the key fundamentals – get your brand right and make it enticing to consumers,” he says. “Think less about the tools on offer and more about the strategy.”


To help you avoid any marketing disasters in 2012, here are the five lessons that every start-up should learn from last year’s stuff-ups. Make sure you avoid all of these mistakes.


1. Acting desperate to be noticed


As a start-up, you will be rubbing shoulders with well-established brands with fearsome marketing budgets.


It’s tempting to use low-cost marketing stunts in order to stand out from the pack. Sometimes, this can work.


But beware. What you see as a cheeky, quirky attempt to generate sales can be viewed by customers as desperate and, worse, devaluing to your fledgling brand’s worth.


Using horribly twee language, such as the Essential Beauty ad that provoked 44 complaints last year by using terms such as “fairy horrest” and “nimpy skickers”, is a good way to tarnish your business before it has even got off the ground properly.


Cross the line into outright “look/listen to me” behaviour can also backfire, as the outrage provoked by Kyle Sandilands in 2011 demonstrates. Stick to your brand values and provide a good product or service – the marketing should take care of itself.


2. Alienating a segment of your customer base


It may seem like Marketing Rule 1.01, but plenty of businesses shoot themselves in the foot by unthinkingly offending potential customers.


In 2011, EnergyWatch, for reasons best known to itself, thought it would be a good idea to play upon the stereotype of an Indian doorknocker to spruik its energy price comparison service.


The ad sparked 75 complaints and was promptly banned. The damage is potentially greater, however, when you consider the rather slim probability of any Australians of Indian ancestry (numbering nearly 150,000 at the last count) using EnergyWatch’s service.


Last year saw various examples of rather thoughtless marketing, including The Tool Shop’s depiction of women as sex objects and the bizarre decision by GoDaddy CEO Bob Parsons to post a video of himself shooting an elephant in Zimbabwe.


The lesson is simple – if you think that your marketing will alienate a decent portion of your potential customers, don’t go through with it.


3. Bungling an offer


To lure new customers to your brand, or win back the disinterested or disenchanted, you should consider a timely, well-targeted offer that can be easily distributed online.


However, don’t let this good marketing opportunity backfire. The wrong offer at the wrong time can prove costly, as Qantas found out last year when it rather bravely asked its customers to tweet their favourite experience with the airline, in return for a prize.


Given that the Twitter competition came in the wake of the high-profile grounding of Qantas’ entire fleet, the reaction from the tweeting public was ruthless, if understandable.


Plenty of considerations need to come into play before you roll out a customer offer – you may either anger them if they’ve received bad customer service or, as plenty of group buying customers complained of last year, strong take-up may result in lack of delivery and, ultimately, frustration.


“You need to go back to old-fashioned marketing strategy,” advises Halligan. “Any offer needs to be passed through the business to test the benefits of it. Go to a few loyal customers to test their reaction too. The more real and authentic it is, the better.”


4. Exploiting your customers’ goodwill


Every other marketing campaign these days seems to demand some sort of consumer interaction – either by uploading content, making naming suggestions or even making your own news headlines


While making customers feel closer to your business is a good idea, it can go horribly wrong if you cynically abuse this tactic and fail to provide proper value to participants.


Moleskine, the notebook brand, found this lesson out the hard way last year when it launched a logo design contest.


Accused of conning users out of free design time, the company was called “Molescheme” on its own Facebook page, alongside links to rival businesses.


“Ultimately, you need to treat your customer like your boss,” says Halligan. “You need to treat them with a level of respect and there are ramifications if you don’t.”


5. Getting the basics wrong



So you’ve worked out your marketing strategy, come up with a campaign that will resonate with your target consumers and you’ve got your ads ready to go.


What else do you need to do? Well, apart from tracking the success of your marketing efforts, it’s a good idea to make sure you don’t make a very basic error, as Myer recently did with its sales signage, wrongly using an apostrophe in the word “gets”.