The Seven Biggest Online Marketing Mistakes

  |  June 9, 2006   |  Comments

Something's wrong. There's a widening chasm between buyers and sellers.

I've been traveling more than my fair share recently to supporting our latest book, "Waiting for Your Cat to Bark?" (due out next week). It shouldn't surprise you to learn that no matter whom I talk to, no matter the company, product, or service , whether it's business-to-consumer (B2C) or business-to-business (B2B), online marketers are running into similar challenges. So it goes without saying they're making some of the same mistakes over and over.

Trying to Manufacture Word of Mouth and Viral Effect

To lift brand exposure, marketers are resorting to some of the goofiest and phoniest campaigns. Although typically entertaining and sometimes even viral, these campaigns fall short in one of two areas: they either lack relevance to the customer to move beyond entertainment or lack a significant association with the brand or product. So if you aren't selling more or at least endearing customers to your brand, what's the point?

Does this really help Gillette sell more razors? Certainly not any more than Chihuahuas help sell tacos.

The only profitable way to harvest word of mouth is to provide customers with a product or service experience that's worth talking about.

Anything short of that is a cheap gimmick.

Getting the Right Answers, Taking the Wrong Path

We see this more and more. Many marketers are learning what information customers need to gain purchasing resolve. They write the content, create pages (we call these pages points of resolution), but they fail to properly link to that content so customers can actually find it on their natural path through the Web site.

Planning better persuasion scenarios solves this. You just needed to stand over my shoulder watching me try to buy a new lightweight laptop this week to fully understand this. Try finding a 5 pound or lighter laptop with a high-quality video card.

Expecting Customers to Behave Like They Did Before the Internet

It's still unsettling how little some companies have changed their marketing outlook in spite of the new media landscape. They mistake using new media for taking a new marketing approach. They misunderstand the nature of new media vehicles and how customers behave differently because of them.

Prospects have more control than ever: more choices and more information. Yet companies still attempt to spoon-feed the public a flavorless, neutral, old-time ad campaign. Then they're confused when people ignore it or spit it out.

The new marketing world order is about relevance, not about traffic, reach, or message posturing. It's not just getting your message out there. It's about being real and saying something true and meaningful in the most compelling way possible. Laura Reis of "The Origin of Brands Blog" shows us a great example of how Weber grills hit the relevance target.

Lacking Relevant Messaging Across All Customers Segments

Many marketers still seek that silver bullet message, the one message that resonates with the entire audience.

Give up. There is no silver bullet message.

Although you can find a big message that will resonate with a large segment of your customers, you'll always leave a significant portion of prospects cold or indifferent. Some may be perfect customers for you but need to buy and be sold to differently.

One advantage of the new media landscape is customers take different angles as they approach a product category. You can saturate these angles with relevant information for each different type of buyer. Persuading these segments could mean the difference between meeting marketing goals and not.

Unless, of course, you can afford to leave significant customers segments on the table. If you can't, try creating personas.

Approaching Best Practices as a Religion

Beware of best practices. Typically, they're born out of successes gained under very specific circumstances. Many of those circumstances may not apply to you or your marketing situation.

The online channel is still way too young to have established best practices. It's like studying medicine for 10 years then declaring you know all the answers.

Mistaking Traffic for Results

As I've been writing quite a bit recently, companies are still able to buy traffic and, in essence, buy themselves top-line business, but this is quickly becoming too expensive to maintain.

Average conversion rates are going down, and online traffic costs are moving skywards. Businesses must learn how to do more with the traffic they have and find ways to attract even more qualified traffic. The only way to do that is to better understand that each visit and click are a person with real needs and real motivations. How well does your marketing speak to each person? What brand impact does the experience have on these typical customer groups? How concerned are you with persuading them to your product? Or would you rather just have their attention? Why not both?

Settling for Incremental Improvements

Of all the things that frustrate our firm, the biggest is how comfortable the online industry is becoming with tremendously low conversion rates. The most recent State of Online Retailing reports that in 2005 the average conversion rate dropped again from 2.6 percent to 2.4 percent. If we were in direct mail marketing, we'd celebrate a 2 percent return, but the online channel is night to direct mail's day.

Online, customers are in control; they're task oriented, and with every search term they type or hyperlink they click, they reveal more about their intent. We can literally watch as they pull themselves through the buying process, yet we're losing conversions.

Something's wrong. There's a widening chasm between buyers and sellers. And in this age of superior technology and unprecedented interconnectivity, that's criminal.

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Bryan Eisenberg

Bryan Eisenberg is coauthor of the Wall Street Journal, Amazon, BusinessWeek, and New York Times bestselling books "Call to Action," "Waiting For Your Cat to Bark?," and "Always Be Testing." Bryan is a professional marketing speaker and has keynoted conferences globally such as SES,, Direct Marketing Association, MarketingSherpa, Econsultancy, Webcom, SEM Konferansen Norway, the Canadian Marketing Association, and others. In 2010, Bryan was named a winner of the Direct Marketing Educational Foundation's Rising Stars Awards, which recognizes the most talented professionals 40 years of age or younger in the field of direct/interactive marketing. He is also cofounder and chairman emeritus of the Web Analytics Association. Bryan serves as an advisory board member of SES Conference & Expo, the eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit, and several venture capital backed companies. He works with his coauthor and brother Jeffrey Eisenberg. You can find them at

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