What To Do When Your Marketing Fails

Sooner or later, every business reaches a point at which it has a hard time marketing its product or service. The promotional and advertising campaigns that worked so well in the past work poorly or not at all. The first response of most entrepreneurs is to do what they’ve been doing except HARDER and BETTER. This is a sensible first approach, because often enough the problem is that people in the company’s marketing chain have become a little lazy.

Rather than find the new offer, the better bonus, or the stronger headline, they have simply been content to reiterate what worked before. By recommitting yourself and your employees to hard work, you can reverse this problem. If working harder and better fails, the next step could be to look for new marketers. Maybe your copywriter is no longer good. Maybe your advertising firm has lost its fire. Maybe your marketing director, so brilliant in years past, has become distracted — or just too old. That strategy works sometimes, but not often. And when it doesn’’t work, what do you do? Most business executives don’’t have an answer. “If it’’s not how hard we work and it’’s not our people, it must be the market itself that’s gone bad,” they assume.

The usual plan that springs from this kind of thinking is some version of, “Let’s cut back and wait it out. Maybe things will get better next quarter.” Don’’t hold your breath. If you are in this situation, there is something else you must do — and, in my experience, this is something seldom done. When all else has failed (and it would be better if you didn’’t wait quite so long), you should try to change one more thing: your product/service. Products and services are not static things. They exist in relation to markets.

And markets are collections of individuals with changing needs, values, and perceptions. As time passes, these things change — and if your product/service doesn’’t change too, chances are very good that it will eventually not be good enough. It doesn’’t matter how good it was to begin with. If it doesn’t improve continually, it will become less good in time. Paul Simon said, “Everything put together sooner or later falls apart.” That applies to all kinds of relationships, not just the romantic kind.

And since your product/service is ultimately NOT a product or service per se but a relationship between your individual customers and their perception of what they want and need, you have to change or die. I remember a cartoon in the New Yorker. Three guys are sitting around a table in a boardroom. Against the wall is a chart showing declining sales. One of the worried-looking execs has turned to his colleagues and is saying, “We’’ve tried everything else. Why not try improving the product?”

If I were to survey the two dozen businesses I work closely with right now, I’’d probably find that half of them are having serious problems with their marketing. Of that half, odds are half again have product/service problems but don’’t know it. Don’’t put yourself in the same situation. And don’’t wait until the very end to realize you have an outdated product/service. Figure out, now, whether your product/service is still great. To do so (1) ask yourself if it is possible to be better and (2) ask your customers (though it’s probably better to have someone else do the asking) what they want and need right now.