Working in public relations and advertising for nearly two decades, I’ve witnessed a lot of great marketing moves – and I’ve seen a lot of mistakes. It’s easy to skip ahead through the necessary steps and forget key marketing necessities, but advance planning and thorough consideration can go a long way in making and keeping a positive image. Keep these top 10 common mistakes in mind to spare your business from having to do damage control in the future.

  1. Improper or no research. Before making any marketing moves, do your research. You need to identify your target audience, and then make sure that your message will effectively reach those people. A focus group can be arranged for an affordable fee, and the payoffs of confirming or knowing how to re-adjust are priceless. Otherwise, your money spent may be a waste if messages are unclear or creative is off mark. A focus group is a meeting between consumers who are paid a small fee to participate and offer their opinions on a company’s images, messages and overall approach. Their input can help you adjust your marketing message to be as effective as possible; contact a market research company to help you do this type of research.
  2. No marketing plan. Marketing is not simply throwing together random activities when it’s convenient. It must be planned in advance, with a marketing plan document that can be referred back to and adjusted. Identify your goals, messages and target audiences. Make a list of what actions you plan to take (advertising, community outreach, media relations and more). Detail in your plan the efforts that will be made and a complete schedule of tasks. Planning activities in advance is necessary for a cohesive program. Don’t forget to include milestones to evaluate your progress or success.
  3. Failing to retain customers. It’s so much more expensive and difficult to recruit new customers – why not put extra effort into keeping the ones you already have? Ensure that excellent customer service is a priority of all employees and that customer concerns are addressed promptly. Consider offering coupons or other rewards programs for future visits to customers. Try to keep an ongoing relationship by enrolling them in your newsletter, or “friending” them on social networking sites (offering discounts to friends is a good way to encourage participation). Repeat business is needed to be successful, and overlooking that fact is a huge mistake.
  4. Not saying “thank you.” Thanking customers, business partners and media who cover your business is a simple gesture that makes you memorable. An actual “thank you” should be offered to customers each time you see them, but more than that, a thank you card, email, discount or complimentary product goes a long way in creating lasting relationships with these individuals who have a lot to do with your success.
  5. Focusing on one type of marketing activity. Your marketing mix needs to include a variety of tactics – promotions to increase sales, media relations for maximum exposure, community involvement to create and foster relationships, and more. Limiting your activities to only one or two restricts the amount of payback you’ll receive. Throughout the year, use different public relations activities in different ways for maximum value.
  6. Poor timing. When preparing your marketing plan, make sure that all components take into consideration the season, current events and competitor activities. Strategic planning requires scheduling around these factors and arrangement of activities for the best and most effective time. For example, promotions during Christmastime should incorporate the holidays somehow. And media relations should be planned for a day when a large event is not planned that will monopolize the news. Not all news can be anticipated, but events like elections and the Olympics can. Think about and research anything pre-planned that will be going on that might circumvent your own efforts.
  7. Poor writing. Grammatical, spelling or formatting errors are simply unacceptable in any professional writing. Have your brochures, cover letters, website, ads and any other written materials proofread by multiple people, multiple times. All credibility is lost with the wrong their, there or they’re. If you don’t know the difference, find someone who does!
  8. Boring, “inside the box” thinking. Don’t limit yourself by sticking to traditional marketing tactics. Use social media or create a blog, start your own newsletter and look into partnerships with other businesses. Throw a special event and try to get media coverage, or team up with a local radio station for a fun contest or promotion. Consider your service or product and audience, and ask yourself what the best way to meet your goals is. Think of new opportunities that haven’t been tapped yet – these will pay off.
  9. Not embracing technology. Briefly mentioned above, the online world is where consumer decisions are made. I can tell you that I’ve chosen many service providers from a chiropractor to a tailor simply because they had a website that made it easy for me to find out about their services. Having a useful and attractive website is a must for any type of business and can be created by any graphic designer for a price that’s well worth it. Additionally, Facebook and Twitter are ways to forge a personal relationship with customers and potential customers and keep constant communication with them. You may even start a blog with helpful information about your industry.
  10. Not measuring results. How will you know if your marketing efforts have been successful? Measure them! Before implementing your marketing plan, record your sales, customer satisfaction data, website visits and any other statistics that can be used to measure success. Re-evaluate mid-campaign and again after for a clear indication of how well your marketing efforts worked. This is a detail we make sure to do before, during and after each project taken on, as showing results are imperative. If you don’t measure them, you won’t know what to improve in the future.

A public relations firm can assist you in the planning and/or implementation of all these tasks – planning, writing, training and measurement, if necessary. A trained professional will have valuable insight to help you get the most out of marketing.