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5 Horrific Marketing Mistakes You Don't Want to Make

Posted by Jairo Gomez on Oct 29, 2014 2:57:00 PM

Marketing Mistakes

When done correctly, marketing is extremely beneficial to both companies and customers. When things don’t go according to plan… well, it’s not a pretty sight.

Marketing blunders are rare, but they happen. And when they do happen, they’re followed by waves of damage control and a potentially lengthy period of rebuilding customer trust. While most marketing blunders are quite humorous (as long as they don’t involve your company), they can be sobering reminders about the things you should avoid doing.

Here are five of the more notable ways in which a company can shoot itself in the foot through its marketing.

describe the image1. Speaking the Wrong Language

Every Marketing 101 class covers the famous case of the Chevy Nova, but it’s a timeless story that bears repeating. Chevrolet’s Nova automobile sold very well in the United States, and the decision was made to begin selling it in Spanish-speaking countries as well.

That’s when the trouble began. The phrase “no va” in Spanish translates to “doesn’t go.” Obviously, that’s not the message you want to send when you’re marketing a high-priced product — especially a car.

Thanks to the Internet, we now know that the story of the Nova’s failure in Spanish-speaking countries is actually an urban legend. In fact, the Nova sold fairly well outside of the United States. However, the legend of the Nova is the ultimate cautionary tale for doing the appropriate research before launching a product.

What Can You Learn?

Just because Nova didn’t actually flop in Latin America doesn’t mean that Chevrolet did the right thing. Cultural research is just as important as market research when planning a foreign launch of a product. Even moving into a new region within the same country or state requires careful research and planning. Failure to do this may have disastrous results.

wrong email2. When Automation Goes Wrong

In today’s digital culture, automated marketing emails are beyond helpful in terms of saving time and money. Unfortunately, the ease and convenience of automated marketing can occasionally backfire in a big way.

Some email snafus are relatively harmless and are easily explained. However, other email blunders have been far worse. For example, The New York Times intended to email 300 customers who had canceled their subscriptions, offering a better rate to get them to come back. However, that email ended up going out to 8 million people, who were either convinced that their email had been hacked or peeved that they were paying far more for the same product.

What Can You Learn?

It’s never good enough to simply assume that an email is going to get to its desired destination. It’s crucial to have a system in place to catch glaring errors before they embarrass the company and get someone fired.

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3. Too Much Information

Advances in technology have resulted in unprecedented access to customer information. Today’s marketing enables personalization that was unthinkable even a decade ago. However, even this comes with a price.

Companies have gotten so good at learning the tendencies of their customers that they sometimes cross the line. Consider the case of Target, which is able to tell if customers are pregnant based solely on their purchasing patterns. The company uses this information for advertising purposes, sending coupons for baby-related merchandise to those who pass its internal tests. Unfortunately, it sent one of these mailers to a teenager who hadn’t yet told her parents that she was pregnant. When that mailer reached her parents, she had some explaining to do.

What Can You Learn?

Knowledge isn’t always power. It’s great to have the ability to gain insights into consumer behavior, but sometimes those insights are best left undisclosed. In this example, Target may have scared away many potential customers who didn’t want their purchases being tracked and analyzed.

wrong twitter

4. Antisocial Media

Social media makes the world go 'round these days, and it’s a major marketing tool for businesses, when it’s done right. When social media fails, it can be a huge nightmare for the company.

Even if a company makes thousands of successful social media posts, it takes only one bad post to do major damage. That’s what happened when Kenneth Cole referenced a hot-button political issue on Twitter, making light of unrest in Egypt by attempting to link it to his company’s latest catalog.

Of course, Cole apologized afterward. But the damage was done, and the tweet in question lives on in the form of screenshots to this day. Nor did he apparently learn from his lesson, as he tweeted a similarly tasteless message linking “boots on the ground” to his footwear collection two years later, bringing even further negative attention to his company.

What Can You Learn?

Always check your social media tweets and make sure they’re fit for public consumption. If there’s a chance anyone can get offended, don’t post it. Oh, and stay out of politics on social media. It’s not worth it.

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5. Forgetting Who You Are

Every company has an identity. Consequently, all companies have a public image to uphold. When a company does something to damage its public reputation, whether it’s intentional or not, the ramifications can be quite serious.

Think of all of the times you’ve seen a company make a change, only to backpedal almost immediately. Coke’s New Coke formula is one of the most famous blunders of all time. Netflix’s decision to spin off its DVD-by-mail service into a separate organization nearly killed the company. The Gap created a new logo, only to revert to the original two days later. These decisions weren’t made solely with marketing in mind, but at the end of the day, any image-based move has its roots in marketing.

What do these instances have in common? These companies strayed too far from what made them popular. And they forgot that, although something might sound good on paper, the ultimate judgment comes from customers who vote with their wallets.

What Can You Learn?

You should always understand what your company means to your customers. You don’t want to overthink it and end up in “paralysis by analysis” mode, but it’s important to remember that your customers have more of a say in your company than you do.

No marketer will ever hit a home run every time. Everyone makes mistakes. But it’s just as important to learn from the mistakes made by others. All of these blunders could have been avoided with a little more attention to detail and consideration of what customers want. Keep these principles in mind, understand your company’s values, and you’ll significantly reduce your chances of ending up as an example in the next article that talks about horrific marketing mistakes.

Do you know about any other gruesome marketing mistakes? Share them with us in the comments below!

 

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