Is your marketing team (and more) broken?
5 Reasons Your Marketing Is A White Hot Mess
5 Reasons Your Marketing Is A White Hot Mess

“Whaa? Are you talkin’ to me?” Yeah, I’m talking to you. Whether you’re part of a small marketing team or just a regular ol’ small biz (where everyone wears a marketing hat), I’m talking to you. Specifically, you team managers or small business owners who, along with an assistant and intern, do it all.

Or maybe I should say, do it all wrong.

White. Hot. Mess. Your marketing programs may be in poor shape for some of these reasons (why stop at 5?):

  1. Misplaced value
  2. Vague or inconsistent priorities
  3. Not beginning with the end in mind
  4. Confusing control with direction (as in, you’re a freak)
  5. Following the [market] leader instead of finding your blue ocean
  6. Forgetting your audience
  7. Selling fuzzy stuff
  8. Letting success be your cloying, comfy blanket
  9. Measuring by the numbers alone
  10. Never connecting the dots to see the big picture that surfaces
  11. Persisting to build things nobody wants

There could a boatload of other reasons why your marketing program results are scattershot (or inadvertently controversial) and you’re your widgets aren’t flying out the door. Some of the reasons above just seem tomarketing teams white hot mess repeatedly trip up companies big and small. Maybe while you’re giving these 11 pulsating missteps careful thought you’ll discover other important, even systemic, areas within your company in need of a fix. The first step to improvement is awareness, right?

Surprise! There’s more

It may be surprising to find that central to the hot, gooey mess aren’t “marketing” type problems at all. At the core may be management and leadership issues, or problems with roots in communication or organizational dynamics. Heavy stuff, probably less easily fixed than a banner ad or email campaign gone awry.

Yeah, I can’t help you with that stuff (although I have a client that can ~ call me). <ducks>

The point is, we can never stop asking ourselves some critical questions. And we need to scratch beneath the surface of our marketing problems in order to reveal the hidden, and often ugly, truth underneath. (hint: beneath the sad response rate was a message that was muddy and lacked inspiration)

Those messes on the surface? The failed Facebook contest intended to gain a bajillion new fans? Well, some types of failures are really manifestations of bigger things.

When we fail to recognize that our creative interests or knack for Excel pivot tables or burning desire to get the message out to as many people as possible, when we let our minds narrow with the constraints of our past experiences (“hey, it got us #1 in Google for one of our key terms, lets just do that again!”), we leave a lot on the table.

We get myopic. We just see here and over there, and allow automatic parallel parking can take over. Moreover, we can begin to discount the merit of other strategies or tactics surfaced by interested team members (if we even hear them at all). As we increasingly focus on the things we believe to be right, we can close off and tune out.

This is your chance to begin repairing the white hot mess that surrounds and bounds your marketing team.

  • What are you really working toward? Think about all the findings and friends (allies, brand advocates, strategic partners, etc.) you can collect along the journey to reach your destination  (biz objective) when you take measured, introspective steps.
  • Does the objective make sense? Is it, and the goals you’ve established, right for your business? Or simply someone else’s version of “right” that you never questioned?
  • Are you seeking good hires, but never really allowing them to take ownership and fully commit emotionally to their work?
  • Have you set them up for success, with realistic expectations and clear objectives, and the authority to enlist support systems and tap necessary resources?
  • Are you actively creating a culture that tolerates informed failure, giving employees the liberty and accountability necessary to drive change?
  • Are you measuring without mistaking correlation for cause?
  • Insert other slightly discomfiting questions here.

Now shoo, get out of here. Go clean up your mess (but not before leaving a comment about one of your biggest non-marketing lessons learned).

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About the Author

Heather Rast
Heather is Principal of a boutique Cedar Rapids digital marketing company. She develops brand positioning strategy and marketing communications plans to distinguish small businesses from the competition and attract their ideal customers. Her content planning, writing, and online community-building work helps larger businesses better serve their audiences with useful information that solves problems as it builds affinity for the brand.
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  • Great points! There really should be a periodic examination for people establishing their own business. It not only helps identify a looming problem, it also helps in creating a solution to a problem.

  • Very good way of looking at marketing failures; they often are systemic. Many of the problems you listed can be prevented by frequent, honest updating of your business plan. Yeah, I know. marketing plans are bo-r-i-n-g. Except they’re not if you do them right. And doing them right means looking at the big picture, assessing other opportunities, checking out the competition, technology, new markets, values, mission, and what you really are trying to do. Take a look at all that regularly, with input from your staff, and you may not end up in a mess.

  • AlM

    Whether you’re a small business owner who decided to take an entrepreneurial dive and start a new business or the a marketing manager for a fortune 500 company, one of the most important assets to your bottom line is having a solid plan of action for your marketing initiatives. Its absolutely crucial that you have clearly defined goals that will help measure your efforts and subsequent returns on time and investment – neither of which come cheap! I was wandering aimlessly until a colleauge suggested some marketing plan software such as Aprimo (, and i wish i knew this 2 years ago. Well, was less stubborn atleast lol!

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  • Having an end objective for the people that you hire and the projects that they are working on, I believe, is hands down the hottest mess of all for most companies. It’s a lack of that, coupled with constant variations of ways that that objective becomes cloudy or undefined that results in so many lost resources. This is a fantastic article, Heather! I’m going to go right now and check out your other posts.

    • Mallie, let me call out an “Ahmen!” to you! And here I thought I’m the only one who ever accepted (and started) an new job only to learn the owner’s expectations were fluid to the point of floodwater. Needless to say, that’s no way to set up employees for success – not in their role, not in their career plans. Amazingly, few companies ever seem to hold up a mirror and ask, “what’s our hand in this?” when they deem an employee has failed or missed the mark. More likely than not, it’s the leaders’ inability to identify or articulate their true needs or problems that led the employee to interpret or spin their wheels.

      So very, very glad you liked the post, and thank you kindly for the comment!

  • Heather, this is a great article. All too often marketers get tunnel vision after a while and lose sight of the rest of the world around them. If you don’t make a point of stepping back every now and then to refresh your perspective, you’ll easily succumb to any (or all) of the points you describe.

    One example of where this is extremely prevalent is in the world of web design, especially your point about ‘building things nobody wants’. In my experience, far too many web designers subscribe to the ‘what CAN we do?’ approach to design instead of ‘what SHOULD we do?’.

    Remember the heyday of Flash-based sites? Things really got out of hand with ridiculous intros and complicated navigation that simply added no value to the user experience. Thankfully, most sites have since moved away from that method in favor of designs that are clean, simple, and most importantly functional.

    As you point out, if you get too caught up in what’s possible you lose sight of what your customers really want.

    • Jonathan, glad you could add your voice here (maybe with a little needling from me!), and what valuable points you make. It strikes me there may be at least 2 common “mistake” modes for some marketers: 1. repeat, reuse, recycle (which I touch on in the post) and 2. random shiny object try-everything-see-what-sticks. Two extremes, neither approach works well on the whole.

      However where I hope my post succeeded was to push readers to think more deeply about their current situations. The plans they’re working on, the results they’ve seen so far, the learnings and the findings. A step back from that, I hope they consider the means and ways they arrived there – was it the result of methodical planning with cross-functional teams? Were all efforts made to encourage ideas and input from the team, and evaluate them for their long term potential? Or did someone in charge simply mandate “that worked last year. let’s do it again.” without regard to market changes, new consumer trends, etc.

      What also concerns me, although I didn’t dive into it much here, is the tendency by some mid-level marketers to discount the valuable input and ideas others may lend to an organization’s marketing efforts. While young Johnny may not be the guy you want on point sending communications to clients, he may be a treasure trove of info in location-based marketing. We all have something to contribute.


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