14 Proven Ways To Waste Your Marketing Dollars


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A CPA firm spends $11,200 on a Web site that attracts only a handful of visitors. An insurance agency invests $80,000 in an advertising campaign and no one sees the ads. An alternative health clinic sends out 8,000 direct mail fliers and gets 26 responses. A manufacturer spends $28,000 on an attractive brochure that no one uses.

Each of these is an example of wasted marketing dollars. The CPA firm's Web site was technically superior, but there was no plan to attract visitors. The insurance ads lacked a clear message, so no one stopped to read them. The health clinic's mailer focused on the clinic, not the prospective patient. And the $28,000 brochure was 100% self-serving.

These are not isolated marketing mistakes. They happen every day and they waste valuable marketing dollars. To help evaluate your agency's marketing program, here are 14 proven techniques for wasting marketing energy and dollars:

1. Always shoot from the hip. This may be the most common marketing plan in business today. Many otherwise sophisticated companies believe that they're marketing their products or services effectively by doing a mailing now, a couple of ads in the fall, and a brochure somewhere in between. From time-to-time, the price sheet may be revised. Someone comes up with a great idea, and that's the marketing strategy for this quarter.

Even though it sounds ridiculous, this is what passes for marketing in far too many businesses. It all adds up to no plan, no understanding, no organization, no purpose-and no results.

2. Do your marketing only when more sales are needed. Companies of all sizes are guilty of spending their marketing dollars at one particular point: when sales lag. That's the time someone finds enough money to sign up for a trade show or get out a promotional flier. Of course, they don't know what's going to happen when they arrive at the show or what should be in the flier, and they don't understand why they should. 'What difference does it make, anyway?,' they say. 'It gets our name out there. That's all that counts.' Is it? Even when it makes a negative impact on customers?

Once the crisis passes, marketing is back on the shelf-until the next time. Every company experiences slow periods. One reason to market consistently is to make certain business is coming to you at all times.

3. Make your secretary the marketing director. Many managers feel that everything is in good hands because the sales manager's secretary is the marketing director. The secretary orders pamphlets and letterhead. When the company needed a brochure, he or she mentions a friend-actually he's a cook, but he really likes to do art work. Anyway, he does the whole job for fifty bucks.

It's unfair to give anyone a title and responsibility when they lack the right experience and training. Unfortunately, these are the people who fill countless marketing slots. And then management complains because the marketing is ineffective!

4. Duplicate exactly what your competition is doing. When it comes to stealing marketing ideas, some businesses rival the CIA. They know exactly what the competition is doing almost before it happens. They consider aggressive marketing to be cutting the bad guys off at the pass. 'We know how to beat them to the punch,' they say.

Why would anyone want a competitor to drive a company's marketing strategy? Again, it happens every day. One company offers a rebate and everyone falls into line.

5. Expect huge results from a tiny budget. There's a certain marketing mindset: Send out a mailing, and someone will conclude that there should be at least a 25% response! On what basis? How good was the list? How do we know it was sent to the right readership? Was the offer strong or weak? Was it tested?

If $25,000 is spent on a marketing campaign, why does management expect $2 million in sales? But that's the thinking. When there's no miracle, someone says, 'See, marketing doesn't work. Just get sales to work a little harder. That's all we need.'

6. Don't waste time and money on research. Walk into the storerooms of almost any company (including some in the Fortune 1,000), and what will you find? Cartons and cartons of expensive brochures, self-mailers, flyers, and a dozen other marketing materials gathering dust.

'We know what we need,' says the company's macho marketing mogul. 'We have the best product at the right price. All we need to do is tell them about it.' That's right-who needs research on prospective customers, how they think, their buying patterns, and their problems? Instead, dollars are spent on classy brochures, direct mail, and a Web site. Everything looks great except the results.

7. Don't waste money on expensive design and artwork. Twisted thinking is the cornerstone of ineffective marketing. Businesses mount substantial advertising campaigns but refuse to allocate the dollars necessary to produce quality ads. Somehow or other, they think that it doesn't really matter what's in the ad or what it looks like. The same is true of logos. 'Go see Joe in drafting, he can do a great logo for us-and it won't cost us a dime.' Quality artwork costs money and it's worth every dime you pay for it. In fact, in the long run, you'll save money because you'll get the result you want.

8. Select advertising based on the space cost. 'Look at those rates. We can't afford that kind of advertising,' they say. So the ad goes in a publication that isn't read by the target audience. But because the space is cheap, the ad goes in. When nothing happens, advertising is declared a worthless expense.

It isn't surprising that those who select advertising on the basis of the cost of the space generally have a low opinion of marketing. Remember what Thomas Jefferson said: 'Never buy what you don't need because it's cheap.' And that goes for ineffective advertising space.

9. Never spend more than $499 on a Web site. You may have seen the E-mail offer: 'Free Web site.' Of course, the site is free. Why not? The idea is to hook you on free so you'll sign up for the company to host your site. It's the monthly fee that you're buying.

The Web sites themselves are all the same-'Just fill in the blanks' or 'Send us a copy of your brochure.' There's no strategy, no plan, no objective. And no results.

10. Never run an ad more than once. When you pick up Hot Business News, you discover it's coming out in a few months with a special edition featuring your industry. So you cave in and take out an ad. Of course, it doesn't work. You would have been better off not spending the money. A business-to-business ad must run between three and seven times to achieve results. Good advertising has a cumulative effect. Running an ad once is a waste.

11. Publish a newsletter once a year or once every other year. The new marketing person decides it's time for a company newsletter. Certainly, a newsletter can be one of the most cost-efficient ways to stay in touch with customers and prospects. A lot of energy goes into getting the first edition in the mail. In fact, half the company has come to a halt for more than a month to meet the deadline. The plan calls for a newsletter four times a year. But it never happens. More money has been wasted.

12. Be sure your direct mail looks like junk mail. If it looks like junk, it is junk. Yet companies continually insist on proving this point.

Here's how to break the junk mail habit: When a pile of mail arrives on Monday morning, go through it carefully. Think about what you keep and what you immediately throw away. With this in mind, why do so many firms think they can beat the odds and send out stuff that's destined to wind up in the wastebasket? It's just another way to waste more money.

All this reveals a lack of respect for your product, your company-and your prospect. If you have a good story, dignify it with a high-quality presentation.

13. Refuse to work with the press. The best way to handle the press is to view editors and reporters as the enemy. Their goal is to 'get' you, even if it means misquoting you deliberately. This is a popular business view of the press. As a result, company officials avoid talking to reporters. When these same firms send out news releases, they're filled with fluff, puff, and hyperbole.

Editors are interested in expertise and new ideas. Their readers thrive on cutting-edge issues. Communicating your story through both print and electronic media creates a level of credibility that can't be attained any other way. By failing to use the press, companies waste a valuable opportunity.

14. Never seek professional marketing advice and counsel. For some reason, marketing is often viewed as a do-it-yourself function. Who needs expensive marketing experts? Who needs strategy? Who needs a coherent marketing plan? Who needs quality copywriting for collateral materials? Who needs top-notch creative thinking? Who needs expertise when it comes to a Web presence?

Despite the pervasive 'we can do it ourselves' attitude, the evidence points out that most companies are very poor at marketing. They try to cover it up by hiring more salespeople or changing sales managers. But there's another option. Get yourself marketing counsel-someone who's objective and will tell the truth.


The 14 ways to waste marketing dollars are real-world experiences. They happen every day in too many companies. Marketing is too important to a company's success to be misused. Because marketing can be a company's primary way of getting, keeping, and pleasing customers, money needs to be spent productively.

John R. Graham is president of Graham Communications, a marketing services and sales consulting firm founded in 1976. He's the author of The New Magnet Marketing (Chandler House Press, 1998) and 203 Ways to Be Supremely Successful in the New World of Selling (Macmillan Spectrum, 1996). Graham writes for a variety of publications and speaks on business, marketing, and sales topics for company and association meetings. He's the recipient of an APEX '98 Grand Award in writing. He can be contacted at 40 Oval Road, Quincy, MA 02170, (800) 659-0069, fax (617) 471-1504, E-mail [email protected], Web site www.grahamcomm.com.
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