3 Reasons Why Businesses Fail at Marketing

When it comes to marketing a business the frequent complaint from small biz owners is that marketing rarely works or just isn’t worth the expense. For those business owners I offer the reasons below as to why that may seem to be true.

business failure

1.)  You Try to Do It Yourself

Yeah, I know, you’d get marketing help if you could trust it, or afford it. Yes, it’s true that many marketing firms are beyond the financial reach of many small businesses. However, if you truly believe in the benefits of smart marketing there are professional resources that your small business can afford. You just may have to invest the time to find and qualify them. And, the better you’re able to qualify them, the more you’ll be able to trust them.

One business owner who knew the value of investing in marketing expertise was Steve Jobs. Apple incorporated on January 3rd, 1977, and within the year was running ads created by an outside agency. Great, creative marketing has been a driving force behind Apple’s stellar success ever since. As the very wise Anita Campbell, Founder of Small Business Trends, says:

“Business success is all about finding the right outside service providers and using them wisely. You can’t do it all yourself.”

2.)  You Hire Marketing Help, But it’s the Wrong Marketing Help

Unfortunately, most small business owners don’t know what they don’t know, which makes it easy for them to be misled. It’s kind of a Catch 22. Because while they may be smart enough to know they’re not marketing experts, it’s very tough to be smart enough to know who is. Getting referrals helps, but it’s not enough. So, to know how to qualify marketing help here’s part one of a three-part series on it.

3.)  You Don’t Have a Realistic Definition of What Success Is

“Success” can mean a million different things to a million different people. Plus, every situation is different. For example, if you’re offering a coupon or running a sale it’s easier to define success than if you’re rebranding your business with an upgraded logo, tagline or website. Obviously, that doesn’t mean that an upgraded logo, tagline or website is any less important.

My point is that the idea of “success” is something to be discussed upfront. This is where an outside professional perspective will definitively help. Because not only will they know more about marketing than you, but they’ll also have a more objective perspective. And, that objectivity is key. Assuming you’re able to come to an agreement about what a successful effort might look like you’ll then be in a much better position to move forward with confidence and try to achieve it.

It’s unfortunate how often business owners and outside marketing resources move forward without doing this and then end up equally disgruntled.

It truly kills me to see frustrated and jaded business owners struggling because they’ve never figured out how to resolve their marketing issues. Hopefully, this will help.

Failure Photo via Shutterstock


John Follis John Follis heads up Big Idea Video, creator of short format, high concept video that captivates and persuades prospects. According to Forbes, 76% of marketers invest in video and make it their #1 marketing strategy. John Follis honed his talents as Creative Director and Co-founder of Follis/DeVito/Verdi, one of Madison Avenue’s most successful, award winning ad agencies.

61 Reactions
  1. John,

    These are great tips. In particular, I find that the temptation to do everything yourself is very strong among SMB marketers. We’ve developed a 10-point checklist for SMB marketers who want to get a sense of how they’re doing: http://spark.marketo.com/marketing-automation/toolkits/small-business-marketing/ten-point-smb-marketing-checkup.php

    I thought your readers might enjoy it.

    Seth Resler
    Content Manager

  2. John,

    Great post.

    Failing to constantly market is another popular challenge – and it tends to come hand-in-hand with the failure to consistently deliver the right message to the right audience. With the typical buyer getting hit with 10,000 sales/marketing messages per day, the business owner needs to keep in mind that it can take 7-10 attempts to cut through the clutter and get noticed. And that message that your business has been repeating for the past year may be old new for you – but it’s just starting to get some traction with your audience so keep repeating it!

    Best, Pat

  3. Point #3 is so true. The first thing I do with PPC accounts is to ensure that conversion tracking is set up and we have a target goal on cost/conversion. Without that, all optimization efforts could just be getting you to the edge of the cliff at a faster and more efficient rate.

  4. Martin Lindeskog

    John Follis. I enjoyed Anita’s interview with you!

  5. Sebastian Albrecht

    Yes, since you always compete also with bigger players, marketing is definitely something that really needs to be on professional level. It does not necessarily mean that it will be also costly. I have recently read book on social media marketing from Olivier Blanchard – Social Media ROI and he analyses how this – DIY approach really does not work.
    Btw. what I really like on this article is that in the second point you are offering suggestions on how to find the help. Thanks.

  6. Your third point is particularly valid. Too many people have no idea of what to expect and the marketing consultant does nothing to manage expectations. And then there is the problem that eto many people hope that by hiring a consultant, they can continue doing what they’ve always done, but now be much more successful at it. Finally, I would add that too often businesses, large as well as small, have an unrealistic set of asssumptions about what their strengths are in the marketplace. For marketing to be successful, companies need to truly understand where they are before they can get to where they want to be.

  7. Late to the party, but the third tip really resonated with me. I’ve found that all too often businesses are expecting things that are simply unrealistic or are simply too timid to tailor their marketing to a wide enough audience. Striking that balance is key.

  8. This is a great article. Thanks for the reminder about how important quality of the marketing is, along with consistency and repetition is for any marketing program. I think a lot of business owners also don’t realize that hiring someone who does marketing for a living can cost less than DIY, due to volume, connections and networks.

    I’d also like to add that business owners who don’t invest in marketing shouldn’t expect potential customers to invest in their business. Why would someone else invest in your business if you’re not willing to? Marketing = longevity in business. 🙂

  9. Great comments by all. Thanks.
    What’s interesting to me is that the folks reading my stuff, for the most part, seem to be fellow marketers who already get it. Makes me wonder if the helpful advice offered on this site by me and others will ever be seen by those biz owners who aren’t marketers, and who really need to see it.

    Any thoughts? Comments?

  10. Re: John’s comment, I completely agree. Content about marketing frequently seems (to me, at least) to be read almost exclusively by other marketers, creating an echo chamber of sorts where marketers seem to spend more time discussing marketing than actually doing it! Of course it’s necessary to keep up with industry trends as well as market yourself, but it sometimes feels like marketers market more to other marketers than to people in need of marketing (could I possibly insert one more “market” into that sentence?). Maybe because the former are easier to find?

  11. Lucky me! Marketers are my customers!

    Seth Resler
    Content Manager

  12. Mr. Author John, I will comment on your post requesting any feedback about whether there are actual business owners not at all in the being a savvy marketer camp who are reading your article and taking value away from it.

    Yes. I am. I fit the mold you wrote for and your post inquired about.

    thank you. is definitely a help to hear your logi and advice.

  13. Small Business Owner Comment!

    By reading your article I just found out that I can’t do it all myself. Oh no! What am I going to do now? That was my plan! It’s just me and my dog here at The Pug Shoppe. Little Jerry is my best friend and business partner but he naps often and doesn’t have any money.

  14. Thanks for quoting me, John! I just read your article and was surprised to see my name – LOL. Wise, huh? I will remember that the next time I do something I regret later.

    Good article.

    – Anita

  15. I would add:

    #4. Hiring a marketing firm but only to execute your existing ideas rather than following their expertise because it may be unfamiliar to you or outside your comfort zone.

    • Good point. And, in that scenario, a good marketing firm can say “no thanks because we don’t believe that your ideas are the right solution to your problem.”

  16. As a marketing consultant I would agree with the points above. It is so important for a client and consultant to be able to work together. Without proper rapport it is difficult to implement strategies and campaigns.

  17. Great points, John. I’ve found one of the biggest hurdles for business owners to create a successful marketing strategy, DIY or not, is knowing how to talk about their company. The moment you ask them about their goals, unique selling proposition, and the “why” of their business, you’ve stumbled upon the real issue. That’s why your “theraputic” approach is so great. They can’t work on a marketing campaign until they’ve answered the big questions, and your practice helps biz owners find those answers.

  18. Ashley Truscott

    Thanks, this article really hits the nail on the head – these are issues I come up against regularly. I’ve written an article on a similar theme – “why business should use a marketing consultant” (http://news.waterfallmarketing.co.za/2011/10/why-use-a-marketing-consultant/). I think often business thing they need to hire an in-house person but they can’t afford a really good person, so they end up hiring a junior person who is not always up to the job. This is where a consultant can really add value.

  19. My main problem is trying to do everything all myself. When ask someone else to do something and it takes them all day, its frustates me. Knowing if I had the time they had, I would had finish long before them.

    It is nice to see I am not the only one.

  20. Interesting article. I agree with your top 1 reason. Most business owners merely want to save on money,so they tend to do everything themselves. Little do they know that they simply can’t do it.

  21. John,

    I couldn’t agree more with your post, especially point #3. I see this all the time with my SMB clients, and that’s why I always preach the value of clarity with goals and strategic objectives BEFORE launching into new campaigns and marketing investments. And you’re spot – on — that usually requires an outside perspective. We SMBs can get so consumed on the day-to-day workings of the business that we can easily lose sight of the bigger picture of what we’re working towards, both from an overall business perspective and specifically with a marketing campaign.

  22. Great read here, John. Point #1, doing everything yourself, is a trap I fell into when I started my business. I was handling all of my marketing and advertising initiatives while providing services for my customers. This created huge up and down waves of inbound leads and income as my marketing had to take a back seat while I serviced my customers. I learned fairly quickly that I couldn’t do both efficiently and took a major leap to hire someone for my marketing.

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