What’s The One Marketing Mistake You Can’t Afford To Make?

By Brett Fox at www.brettjfox.com

marketing meetingYou are starting a company, and you have a great idea. You build a great engineering team to execute the idea. All you need to do now is sell the product.

“It’ll be easy,” you say to yourself.

It won't be, and it never is.

Everyone underestimates just how difficult it is to get their product into their customers' hands. It’s tough.

Think about it. No one knows you exist, and no one cares about your existence.

You are irrelevant, and you will be irrelevant for a long time. First, a story from my past:

“We’re ‘just marketing’” Nana said to me when I first met her. Nana was part of the team of the division I was brought in to fix.

I was in listening mode. I wanted to hear from everyone reporting to me what they thought was wrong with the division.

I knew many of the team would try and manipulate me, and they would try to get me to react to various “we have to do this now or we’ll be doomed” requests. That was fine with me because I just wanted a baseline.

The “we’re ‘just marketing’” refrain was repeated again and again by most of the marketing staff.

It was quickly clear the marketing team was beaten down and defeated.

“This is a lot different then the way things were at my previous employer,” I thought to myself. Marketing was king at my previous company.

My previous company (Maxim Integrated Products) had world-class design talent - maybe the best designers in the industry (Analog ICs). The company defined and built fantastic products.

However, Maxim's founder and CEO, Jack Gifford, had a secret weapon. Gifford had an inherent understanding (probably better than anyone I have ever met or worked with) of the power of marketing. Maxim's advertising was innovative and consistent during Gifford's tenure as CEO.

The result was a company that had gross margins of close to 70%, grew revenue at well over 30% year over year, and was one of the 10 best performing stocks on the NASDAQ during the 1990's.

Engineers (especially IC designers) were revered at Maxim, but so were the marketing people (called Business Mangers).  The Business Managers drove the strategic direction of Maxim, and they were well compensated and highly regarded.

Back to my story…

I was brought in by the CEO (his name is withheld to protect the guilty) with a mandate to “bring us up to your level”. The CEO was a salesman through and through.  This CEO believed the sales organization should be the driving force for the company.

Sales drove product planning.  Sales controlled pricing.  And sales dominated marketing.  The marketing organization was weak and underpaid.

However, I also knew that I was in a special situation before because many companies didn’t understand or appreciate what marketing could do for them. And I had a mandate from the CEO, so I would be able to fix this, right?


The CEO’s promise of support turned out to be a hollow one. I did fix many of the problems the division had, and I did fix many of the marketing issues the division had, but it was very, very painful (For more read https://www.brettjfox.com/what-are-the-biggest-enemies-of-success/).

I viewed my time working at this company as a great learning experience of what not to do when I started my own company.

Successful companies need great marketing. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that successful companies can’t succeed in today’s world without great marketing.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Here come the all the MBAs with their suits.”

No way!

Today’s marketing is a lot different than the marketing of the past.

Today’s successful marketer is more likely to be an engineer than an MBA, and here’s why: today’s successful marketers combine math with creativity, left-brain with right-brain thinking. They are quantitative and qualitative.

In other words:

Today’s successful marketers don’t hide behind smoke and mirrors, instead they set measurable and quantifiable goals for every marketing campaign they run.

scales marketing

There’s no excuse in today’s world for developing any marketing program and not being able to measure the results. The reality is there never was an excuse.

Who’s Claude Hopkins and why do we care?

I was at a CEO dinner put on by one of our investors. The keynote speaker was someone from Facebook.

He was funny and insightful. One quote stuck with me, “We’re not doing anything different than Claude Hopkins did years ago.” He recommended reading Hopkins book, “Scientific Advertising”, so I bought the book.

Hopkins wrote Scientific Advertising in 1923. The book is about power of psychology and measurement – really the fundamentals of today’s modern advertising.

Here it is, almost 100 years later, and Hopkins work is still relevant.

So, what’s the one marketing mistake people make over and over again?

People give up too soon on marketing.

Even disciplined engineers give up too soon.

I’ve seen this one play out over and over again. Instead of trusting the process, people flail away randomly trying concepts, or people just give up.

There is a better way…

Follow the SALMTAR approach.

SALMTAR stands for Spend A Little, Measure, Then Adjust & Repeat. You do this until you get it right.

This is the approach that Claude Hopkins followed 100 years ago and today’s best marketers follow today. The key is being super-methodical.

Remember doing science experiments when you were in school? Remember how the teacher told you to only change one variable at a time?   Remember how the teacher told you to measure everything?

Well, today’s marketing is no different. The key is having a disciplined approach. That’s why Claude Hopkins titled his book, Scientific Advertising.

Will marketing alone carry the day?

Marketing is really critical to the success of your company, but marketing alone (just like having a great product alone) is not enough.

Sustained success requires great everything:

  • A great engineering organization, and…
  • A great sales organization, and…
  • A great marketing organziation, and…
  • A great manufacturing organization, and…
  • A great finance organization, and…
  • A great culture

That's the common theme I see with the great companies and the great teams that I've been fortunate enough to work with.  And, as always, it starts at top.  You need a great leader who gets the importance of all the disciplines required to build a great company.

Like what you read?  Click here for other great advice for Startup CEOs.

Pictures: Depositphotos