Marketing Mistakes is a recurring series from Campaign Monitor about the biggest email or digital marketing goofs made by various thought leaders across the industry.
As these leaders share some hard-won wisdom from early in their careers, the rest of us have the opportunity to learn from their mistakes without the accompanying costly consequences.
In this series, we’ll cover the mistakes people have made, how they fixed them, and what they learned in order to make us all better digital marketers.
Marketing mistakes with Chris Sietsema
Chris Sietsema is a digital marketing consultant and the founder of Teach to Fish Digital. Before founding his own marketing consulting firm, he served as head of operations for two other marketing firms. He prides himself on his knowledge across all areas of digital marketing and teaching businesses how to make metric-decision choices.
Chris is knowledgeable in most areas of digital marketing, and yet even he wound up making a costly error earlier in his career. Forgetting one of the core tenants of digital marketing meant he had to spend twice as much time on one client’s project in order to deliver the quality service he prides himself on. Ultimately, he learned a powerful lesson about what makes a marketing campaign effective.
Let’s dive in.
Chris’ biggest marketing mistake
Several years ago, Chris was hired by a client in higher education to design and craft an automated email nurture series. The primary objective of the series was to encourage prospective students to learn more about available programs, submit an application, and eventually enroll.
Early in the project, the client provided Chris with some information related to the typical path that prospective students take to enroll, as well as the steps the client would prefer the prospects take. Chris was tasked with planning out the series and defining critical elements, such as message, primary call to action, secondary elements, and delivery cadence for each email in the series.
Seems simple enough, right?
The mistake: Putting the customer’s needs second
During the process of designing the communication flow within the series and shortly before presenting the recommended approach to the client marketing team, Chris says he started to realize two troublesome elements about the nurture series:
First, he noticed the communication stream was very linear and rigid, providing one message after the next with a disregard for incremental relevance. The series didn’t take into account the actions of the email recipient like specific click activity (or lack of activity) that would indicate the most appropriate message the prospect should receive next in the sequence.
Secondly, Chris realized the content provided within the series was very one-sided. “All the materials really focused on the sender and not the recipient,” he told us. The content in the email series included details about available programs, accolades, and acclaim earned by the institution and reflective testimonials from previous students. However, the series failed to deliver truly helpful assets that would aid the prospective students in their decision-making and earn their trust in the process.
Takeaway: One of the reasons email marketing is so successful is because it opens the door for dialogue, allowing conversation between a company and its customers. If you view email marketing as a monologue, you’ll miss opportunities to build trust with your prospects.
Putting yourself first
Basically, the problems with the email drip campaign—and the heart of Chris’ mistake—boiled down to this: Chris and his client dedicated a considerable amount of time and effort to delivering a series of messages to an audience without giving much thought or concern to what that audience truly needed and expected.
“We operated under the assumption that the email sender is the one in control, when really the email recipient is always at the reins.”
Takeaway: When it comes to marketing and especially email marketing, it’s easy to lose sight of your subscribers’ needs and instead focus solely on what you need and what you want your subscriber to do for you. But remember: Your customers and prospects don’t care what you need, but rather they want to know what you can do for them.
Lack of vision, lack of results
While Chris says you could attempt to excuse the mistake due to limited time and minimal data, the true culprits were a lack of vision, empathy, and assertiveness. Both Chris and the client missed an opportunity to gather important information about audience intentions, current levels of understanding among email recipients, and the prospective student’s journey.
Takeaway: Data matters, but don’t collect data for data’s sake. Instead, collect the data that provides insight into your audience’s intentions, needs, and desires. The right data makes all the difference.
The cost: Admitting mistakes and starting from scratch
Furthermore, Chris took a decisive stance to recalibrate the approach at a point when the project should have been coming to a close.
To put it bluntly, Chris ended up with a fair amount of egg on his face. He was hired by a venerated client to provide a world-class automated communications program only to realize that the entire effort needed more clarity, more time, and more budget.
Asking a client for more anything—but especially more money—can be tricky, but no one said founding your own business would be easy. Learning how to admit to your mistakes and accept them gracefully means clients will appreciate your honesty and enjoy working with you, even when things go wrong.
“For service providers, this is a lesson learned about managing the project as opposed to being managed by the project.”
Takeaway: Sitting down and admitting to your mistakes is never easy, but it is necessary if you want to redeem your relationship with your client and ultimately provide the best service you can.
Chris says the experience was humbling, but thankfully, the client understood that the sender-centered approach wasn’t likely to yield terrific results. Ultimately, when it comes to marketing campaigns, the results matter most, and Chris and his client had no choice but to go back to the drawing board and recalibrate if they wanted the email marketing campaign to perform well. Or perform at all.
“Still, the entire process took twice as long as originally expected, which limited my ability to take on additional work.”
And not being able to take on additional work can limit your revenue: Not only are you not bringing in new clients or chasing down leads, but one project absorbs more of your time and resources than it should. It costs money while not allowing you to make money.
Takeaway: When time is money for both you and your client, you need to get jobs done on time to make the most of your bottom line.
The lesson: Understand your audience
Your audience comes first
Because of this mistake, Chris learned plenty of valuable lessons about what it takes to truly deliver compelling and relevant marketing messages and especially email marketing. Chief among these lessons was that the ability to understand an audience should always precede the privilege to communicate with them.
And it is a privilege to talk with your audience. Your audience consists of humans who, as you probably know, are busy. When someone takes the time to stop what they’re doing and listen to you, honor that privilege by speaking directly to the value your company, your brand, and the products or services can offer your customers.
Speaking to your audience as humans first is the right thing to do, yes, and it’s also the only way to craft an effective digital marketing campaign, regardless of its platform. If you don’t understand your audience, you won’t be able to understand their pain points or communicate the value of your brand.
Today, Chris no longer takes on a strategic email assignment without receiving or conducting the necessary research about audience intentions, experiences, and insights first.
“It is impossible to provide relevant messages to an audience without an acute appreciation for their point of view.”
Takeaway: Remember that communicating with your audience is a privilege and you’ll be on firm footing from the start. The people you market to need you far less than your company needs them.
You’re the expert
In his role as a consultant, Chris also learned about the importance of remaining assertive and diligent in order to accomplish the key objective in any project or engagement, even if that process runs counter to the client’s assumptions and initial directives.
Every client brings their own ideas and expectations to a project, and that can be great. But it can also lead to putting energy and resources into ideas that ultimately won’t work. Clients hire you because of your expertise. You know things that your clients don’t, so don’t be afraid to stand up for your own ideas and knowledge.
Takeaway: Be assertive and considerate. When you have to tell a client you aren’t moving forward with their idea, or that you believe another idea will accomplish their goal faster, be sure you clearly communicate your reasoning and your support.
The solution: Recalibrating with the audience at the center
A holistic approach
In order to get the project back on track, Chris and the client marketing team pivoted from a focus on the anticipated student enrollment process to the actual applicant experience. Instead of looking at the steps the client wanted the student to take, they looked at what potential students actually did, considering the entire process and all the people involved.
Takeaway: Looking at an entire process and gathering real-life data might reveal some pain points and opportunities you hadn’t seen before.
Real-life data, not assumptions
Chris and his team started by conducting interviews with current students about their decision-making journey. They even spoke with admissions counselors and real-life prospects to dig deeper into the application process. Chris also reviewed marketing analytics data that clarified assumptions and shed light on their interview process from the beginning.
“The result was a highly engaging automated sequence that considered the potential paths a prospective student might take with a ‘choose your own adventure’ approach to conveying relevance.”
Takeaway: Don’t make assumptions about your audience and expect to see impressive results from your digital marketing campaign. Instead, prepare to do a deep dive into real-life data however you can, whether that’s through interviews or analytics.
Unfortunately, you’ll never be able to avoid mistakes entirely. As Chris says, “Mistakes find their way into every profession. When we approach a new project or job with the mindset that we only want to avoid mistakes, I think we miss an opportunity to liberate our greatest qualities.”
“Stressful errors now can translate to priceless experiences later.”
Every little blunder provides a means to get much better down the line. Instead of shying away from your mistakes and shaming yourself or others, own your mishaps publicly, and don’t forget to remain supportive of others who fail in their attempts to accomplish something amazing.
Takeaway: Remember that mistakes are inevitable, and view them as opportunities to learn, whether it was you or someone else at fault.
At its heart, marketing is about people: From your clients, to the potential customers you’re trying to attract, people make what we do possible. Losing sight of the human element will only hurt your digital marketing efforts. Chris and his client learned this firsthand when they created an email marketing campaign that didn’t have customers at its heart.
And this human element applies to you, too. Everyone makes mistakes, so don’t put so much pressure on yourself to avoid them entirely. Instead, own your mistakes and choose to learn from them. Accepting your own fallibility will also help you be more gracious to the people around you when they make mistakes.
When people remain at the heart of your work, you’ll be more successful, and you’ll probably enjoy what you do even more. And there’s nothing better than that.
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