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November 2021

Marketing isn’t the problem. You (probably) are…

When we have a chin wag with a client for the first time and discuss their approach to marketing, they usually slot into one of the following four mindsets:


  1. “We’ve not done marketing in any way before. Help us!”
  2. “We tried, but marketing doesn’t really work”.
  3. “We need to shake up/re-think our marketing activity.”
  4. “We just need some of those creative ideas and that awesome brain power of yours”.

    Now, it may surprise you to hear that a disproportionately large chunk of clients fall into bucket number 2. Those that have tried ‘it’ but marketing has failed for them.

So, to help these disproportionate types out we’ve written this blog to challenge this view and call them out. If number 2 sounds like something you’ve said before then please consider yourself challenged and/or called out.

We’re not blaming you (entirely)

Now, we’re not completely blaming you if you’re a number 2er.

After all, you can only speak to your own knowledge and experience. But when we hear the phrase “marketing doesn’t really work” it makes us cry inside (and a bit outside too).


Because it’s a load of hog wash.

Marketing clearly does work. There are quite literally thousands (if not millions) of businesses who have made marketing work. You will have brought products or used services as a direct result of marketing activity.

So, saying “marketing doesn’t work” is some weapons-grade nonsense.

What tends to “not work” instead is a certain type of thinking about what marketing is, does or can be. And a few common themes emerge when we start to unpick why clients feel marketing doesn’t work for them.


Unpicking why “marketing doesn’t work”.

There are 3 that crop up time and time again:

The first is that they never did actual marketing.  Random activities cobbled together in a slap-dash manner that were just expected to run without any coherent supporting strategy isn’t really marketing. It’s just doing some “stuff” and seeing what happens.

The second is that they didn’t ever really know what they wanted to achieve with marketing. No baselines were set. No metrics or measures of success were agreed. No one really knew what “good” looked like for marketing.

And the third is that there was a “square peg, round hole” approach to who was tackling marketing. Which lead to confusion and the misalignment of marketing to a wider business strategy.


So, in this blog, we’ll be asking some crucial questions around these three areas to challenge your thinking, in the hope that if any of this sounds like you and your business you’ll want to try again and get marketing right. (If you haven’t been so badly burned by previous experience, that is).

So here we go…


What “marketing” have you really tried?

When we get a client “on the couch” (coz we love a good ol’ counselling sesh)  and start to unpick what marketing they’ve tried that ‘doesn’t work’, we hear similar things:

“Oh, we went to a few trade shows, got loads of leads but they didn’t turn into anything and just went cold…’ (NEWS FLASH: You didn’t get leads. You got contact details or “zombie leads” as we call them. They look alive, but they’re very much dead).


“We hired a freelance content writer, but we didn’t generate any inbound leads from the blogs they wrote so they clearly didn’t know what they were doing” (NB. False)


“We worked with a telemarketing agency to do some cold outreach of this data list we bought, but we just didn’t get the follow up we expected.’


“We got approached on LinkedIn by this agency to do some AI based growth-hacking and social selling for us but nothing happened off the back of it” (NB. Shocking!)

What conversations like these tell us is that any ‘marketing’ activity has been randomly executed, in an ad-hoc way, to chase short term gain without the support of a commercially-focused marketing strategy linked to wider business objectives.

Now, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with using any of these marketing activities as part of a coherent, strategic plan. (Well maybe not the snake oil of “Growth Hacking and Social Selling”).

But as standalone activities that are expected to deliver everything you want from marketing, is it any surprise that you’ve felt disappointed and that money and time has been wasted when they haven’t worked?

Marketing isn’t one thing done once. It’s lots of things happening all the time, consistently.


How did you measure if it ‘worked’?

Whatever ‘it’ was marketing-wise that you tried if you didn’t think it worked then you obviously didn’t get the desired results.

But, what results in terms of numbers, metrics and measures – not just nice feelings – were you actually hoping to achieve?


Before you start any project, whether that be a sales initiative, or a product development sprint, you’ll always be led by the end goal and the outcomes that you’re aiming to achieve.

But, for some reason, so many people just don’t think to measure marketing in the same way.

Or, if they do measure it, they focus on vanity metrics (which we talk about in another blog here), that don’t really bring any tangible commercial value to the business.

Now, we’re not saying that just because you set goals, you’ll achieve them, but if you don’t have any stakes in the ground, how will you ever really know if your project was a failure or a success?

If you’ve tried lead generation activity, but got a ‘disappointing’ number of leads were you focusing on a quantity output, rather than quality output? (Again, something which we talk about in another blog here).

If you tried content generation, whether that be blogging, or social media posting what expected results was this content tied to over what period of time? If you didn’t receive a flurry of inbound enquiries and that led you to think it had failed, it’s probably because you’re not using the right measures of success e.g. long-term continued brand awareness.

In fact, the activities you’ve tried, may have actually been successful as part of a wider comprehensive strategy, but if you’ve not measured their business impact in the right way, then how would you ever really have known if they worked?


Who did you try marketing with?

If you’ve told us the marketing you tried didn’t work, who you tried it with may have impacted how it worked for you. It’s that “square peg, round hole” approach we mentioned before.

The square peg challenges we see clients face are strikingly similar:

  • You “had a go” yourself and it flopped. It always strikes us as bizarre that people will just “have a go” at marketing and see what happens. If you didn’t really know what you were doing would you just “have a go” at your finances, IT or HR? Probably not, so why marketing?
  • You hired a marketer (and probably an inexperienced, junior marketer) and just told them to “do marketing”. But then you got frustrated because they asked too many questions and you didn’t see any results straight away.
  • You worked with a freelancer or two on ad-hoc projects but due to conflicting priorities and a lack of time (on your side) you didn’t really get what you wanted with any consistency.
  • You worked with an agency on the cheap but they didn’t really seem to ‘get’ your business and they took what felt like a generic, cookie-cutter approach without focusing on metrics & measures.


Now, when you write it out in the cold light of day, it’s fairly obvious why those options didn’t work. “Good enough” is rarely good enough. Especially when it comes to marketing.

If you’ve not got the right people with the right approach, skills and experience on your side and you’re not giving them any real direction or feedback what did you think was going to happen?


The Big Question

So, taking into consideration everything you’ve just read do you really think its marketing that doesn’t work? Or could your current thinking about, and approach to marketing be the issue?

If you’re still in the “marketing doesn’t work” camp, then that’s cool. We’re not here to try and convince those who can’t be.

But if what you’ve read above rings true and you’re willing to give it another try then just make sure you’ve got the following three things nailed first:

  • A coherent strategy for marketing
  • A clear view on what “good” looks like for marketing
  • The right people running things for you

With those sorted you’ll be in a much better place to get marketing doing the business for your business.

Of course, if you need a hand with any of this you know who to talk to.