The Seven Deadly Sins…Of Marketing

Not too long ago, I Seven Sins2watching a series on PBS about the Seven Deadly Sins (Wrath, Pride, Envy, Greed, Sloth, Lust and Gluttony) and things started churning in my mind.  So I decided to list my “Seven Deadly Sins of Marketing,” given what I continue to see taking place within marketing and marketing departments across all different industries.


In the Dilbert cartoon series, Dilbert says that “marketing is just liquor and guessing.” Funny…but as we know, a bit simplistic. Yet, too many companies assume that there is absolutely no need to substantiate their beliefs about the marketplace, about what their prospects want, about why their customers are buying, about what people think of their brand, about most anything having to do with those whom they want to purchase their products or services.  Generally the thinking is that no one can know the marketplace as well as the company and the market will accept whatever you offer. Guess (pun intended) how that turned out for Kodak, Borders Books, TWA, and certainly some companies in your own industry!  Ask yourself, when was the last time that your company committed the time and resources to do some marketing research…qualitative, quantitative, ethnographic, etc.  And do it right.

Marketing by Committee (Indecisiveness)

I’m not sure why, but when it comes to marketing, everyone seems to have a say. Partners, staff, associates, spouses, and the janitor all want to give their two-cents. How about an accounting committee to help figure out where the credits and debits are posted? Or an office supply committee to pick out the colors of pens you order? Many executives forget that great marketing is not about what they like. Great marketing is about what works.

Committees, by nature, are full of compromises so solutions are usually watered down versions that will wind up doing little or nothing to accomplish your growth goals. Marketing by committee leads to lots of bad ideas and poorly thought out plans. Instead of bold strokes from the marketing brush, you get a sea of beige. And then it doesn’t work. Who would have thunk it! The solution is to decide on objectives and budget, and then write a marketing plan. Once the plan is approved, ONE person gets appointed within the organization to take on the role as “the decider.”  Empower him or her to make all the courageous decisions required to position your company to dominate your category.


When different aspects of your marketing messages don’t reinforce each other, the inconsistencies alienate prospects and current customers. Inconsistent marketing distorts clear expectations, makes potential customers unsure of the characteristics of your products and creates unhappy customers who don’t get what they expect. These inconsistencies affect businesses by reducing both initial sales to consumers as well as repeat sales from dissatisfied customers. Also, be consistent with your marketing plan. Don’t stop running an ad, for instance, just because the first insertion didn’t ring your phone off the hook. Give your campaign time to work, but you also need to know when a change in direction is a good idea. Remember, people are not paying that much attention to you, but when they do, it helps if the message you’re saying now is similar to the message that they heard the last time.


It’s out there right now. Lurking in the shadows of your success. It is the silent business killer that strikes without warning and can bring even the biggest and the brightest companies to their knees. What is this hidden terror? Complacency.  We all know it better as the dreaded “status-quo.” It generally takes the form of “whatever we did last year.” Except, things change. Your competitors are changing things up. Your customer’s needs are changing. The marketplace is changing.  A few things to avoid complacency: Keep looking in your rearview mirror to see what your competitors are doing. Listen to new ideas as the next big idea may not come out of your own mouth. And, strive to always do better even before you are forced to react to a competitor’s challenge.

Lack of Focus

Okay, so after reading articles by “experts” about how you should have a customer engagement program in place (so you can be more “customer-centric”), you’ve put your company on LinkedIn, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Pinterest. Heck, you’re even ready to go when the next big social media platform launches. You’ve got your product literature online, and your Web site has a blog and videos. Not to mention all the offline activities ranging from tradeshow activities to advertising to PR, etc. But why did you believe you needed to be in ALL of these social media locations in the first place, and, just as importantly, who is making sure that all of these activities work together?

It’s ridiculous that I have to say this but the memo has not reached the desk of many marketers, so here goes: “It’s not about what your company wants to say but rather about what the customer wants to hear.” (I feel better having said it.) Look, if you want to market based on your personal preferences without regard for what works best with your prospects, that’s your prerogative.  But I’d suggest that your company’s marketing not be so self-absorbed. Remember, you don’t buy from you, others buy from you and they don’t care about your business and your troubles nearly as much as you do. Most people are tuned into Radio Station W.I.I.F.M. —“What’s In It For Me!” If your marketing message is all about you, then your customers won’t notice what you’re saying.  Please begin to “tune” into your customers, find out what they really want and focus your message on them.


Maybe, just maybe, the deadliest marketing sin of all is not having one over-arching marketing strategy – and insuring its implementation through all your tactics.  Executing marketing tactics without having a well-developed integrated strategy is like leaving your roadmap tools at home and taking off on the drive without considering if you’ve chosen the right road. You wouldn’t haphazardly set off on an important trip in your car so why let it happen with regard to your company’s marketing activities. It’s easy to start with the “how” but if you haven’t identified the “what,” you may find yourself spending a lot of time executing tactics that don’t take you where you want to go and in so doing, you’ll be wasting time, resources and losing out on sales-producing opportunities. What is needed is one single integrated strategy that looks across all delivery platforms whether online or offline, print, broadcast, or mobile. Your customers don’t have an online self and offline self and neither should you. Think holistically about all your marketing initiatives.

Yes, there are more Deadly Sins that I could have talked about, like trying to be a “do-it-yourselfer,” or not measuring your activities, or saving yourself into bankruptcy, but the above are the Seven Marketing Sins I rank topmost.  Now, let us all go out and to the best of our ability, sin no more.


Rolf Gutknecht is vice president, director of account services for LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Rolf on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit  You can also connect with Rolf on LinkedIn.


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