10 Most Costly Marketing Blunders I’ve Ever Made

mistakes

When you think of my name, Neil Patel, what comes to mind? You probably see me as a marketing guru or as an expert who is good at driving traffic to websites.

Although that’s true these days, I’ve made a lot of marketing blunders over the years. Luckily, most of these blunders affected my own business, so it was me who lost money, and not my clients.

Nonetheless, I’ve made 10 huge mistakes that have cost me a lot of money – in fact, the cumulative loss from these marketing blunders is so great that it runs well into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Download this cheat sheet of 10 most costly marketing blunders I’ve ever made.

Here are my most costly marketing blunders:

Blunder #1: Picking a small market

As a marketer, I tend to look for niches to get into. Why? Because it is less competitive from a marketing standpoint.

That way you don’t have to spend much energy trying to rank high or dominate the social web within your space.

But do you know what’s wrong with this thinking? Picking small niches means you are limited to the amount of traffic you can generate to your website. Dominating a small 10-million-dollar niche isn’t as good as owning 1% of a billion-dollar market.

When you are picking a niche to dabble in, as a marketer you should try to pick one that is big enough.

For example, with Crazy Egg, we dominate the heat map market, which is a niche in the analytics space. But there is very little traffic in that space… So, now we have to expand our product to create new marketing opportunities.

There is nothing wrong with this, but we should have done this years ago… and the company would have been a lot bigger by now.

Blunder #2: Not focusing on our growth rate

Growing year over year is fine, but it’s not where you should focus your attention. You should ideally be trying to grow week over week, if not day over day.

For example, would you rather have your company grow at a pace of 8% month over month for a year or by 100% over a year?

One hundred percent might seem like the right answer, but considering that 8% growth month over month is compounded, it will result in 151% growth after 12 months.

Growth is good and a good place to put your focus, but what’s even better is having a dedicated full-time employee just focused on growth — it makes a huge difference.

For example, we have a full-time growth hacker at Crazy Egg who runs A/B tests, works on invite flows, and modifies the product so that it helps market itself. This has allowed us to grow at a faster pace.

I wish I did this years ago because the faster a company is growing, the more it is worth. These days, when companies acquire you or investors put money into your business, one of the main things they look at is your growth rate. So, focus on it!

If I did this years ago with Crazy Egg, and we had the resources to do so, I could have made myself an extra 10 to 25 million dollars.

Blunder #3: Ignoring freemium

I made the mistake of not offering a free plan with both Crazy Egg and KISSmetrics products. Having a free plan allows you to grow at a much faster pace.

Even if your product isn’t perfect, people will be more likely to forgive you if you have a free plan. Plus, when you have a free plan, more sites link to you and mention you within their blog posts.

Crazy Egg had a free plan early on, and from a user acquisition standpoint, our growth was five times higher than our current rate of growth. Later, we ended the free plan because we didn’t know how to convert free users into paid users, but that was a mistake. Instead, we should have learned about conversion rate optimization.

If you are creating a software company, freemium is the way to go. This is probably the largest marketing mistake I’ve made. If KISSmetrics had leveraged freemium, I expect that the company would currently be worth an extra 200 to 400 million dollars.

Blunder #4: Ignoring marketing when building products

A lot of times people build companies based on problems in the world. And although that’s fine, you should always incorporate marketing within your product.

For example, Hello Bar allows people to place bars at the top of their websites. The beautiful part about every bar that is placed on the web is that it helps drive more signups for our business.

hellobar

If you look at the image above, you’ll notice that there is an “H” within the bar. People click on it, come back to our website, and then sign up for the product. If you pay for the product, you can remove the “H,” but the free version has it and helps us drive more signups.

I wish we took marketing into account when building KISSmetrics and Crazy Egg. This would have helped my companies grow at a much faster pace.

Blunder #5: Making marketing perfect

Early on in my career, I really got into design – so much so that everything had to look perfect before it was launched or released. The issue with this approach is that it causes you to spend too much money testing things, and it also wastes a lot of time.

From product releases to marketing collateral, just get it out there (even if it doesn’t look great). If it works, then go back and tweak it. But there’s no sense wasting time and money on marketing-related collateral if you don’t even know whether it will work.

Just look at the Quick Sprout Analyzer: it’s nowhere near perfect, but the product was a success from a usage and marketing standpoint. Now we are investing hundreds of thousands of dollars to improve it and build a business around it, but there would have been no point if we didn’t already know that the concept was going to work.

Actually, there were no plans to turn it into a business… It started as a marketing strategy that I used to bring in new visitors. But because it worked, I can now invest more resources into it.

When testing out new marketing campaigns, don’t worry about perfection. Once they work, go back and fix them then.

Blunder #6: Not getting the messaging right

With KISSmetrics, we struggled for years to get our marketing message right, but I feel like we’ve nailed it now based on our conversion rates.

By tweaking the headline over the years, we were eventually able to nail the messaging. The one that converts the best compares our product to Google Analytics.

For example, our original headline was:

KISSmetrics helps you get actionable metrics for your business.

We eventually changed the headline to:

Google Analytics tells you what happened, KISSmetrics tells you who did it.

Nailing the messaging increased our signups by 40%.

This means that for roughly 3 years, we could have had 40% more signups if we focused on messaging. After we fine-tuned things a bit more, we got the numbers up by over 60%.

Blunder #7: Writing off startups

As a marketer, I tend to focus my energy marketing to companies who can afford my services or products – meaning that in most cases, I tend to ignore startups.

Some startups have money, but most are very cost-sensitive and try to avoid spending lots of money.

While KISSmetrics was ignoring startups, others came into the space and offered their products to these entrepreneurs for free. Although that doesn’t seem like a big deal, it is.

It’s not because these startups will eventually pay, but rather because these startups are very vocal. If you can get a lot of them to use your products or services, they will tell thousands – if not millions – of other people and companies. This will cause your business to grow at a faster pace.

Blunder #8: Ending marketing at sales

Within an organization, sales and marketing should work closely together. At KISSmetrics, I spent millions of dollars and thousands of man-hours focused on driving leads.

Once someone became a lead, marketing handed off their file to sales and did not touch the lead again. What we eventually learned is that the sales team didn’t close enough leads and were also focusing on certain leads that were a waste of time.

Marketing should have qualified the leads, helped sales create PowerPoint presentations and marketing materials, and worked together with the sales team to close more leads.

Once we started this approach, the sales team became more efficient and started to close more deals. If we had done this earlier, we would have made the company an extra 3 to 4 million dollars.

Blunder #9: Focusing on acquisition and not retention

My skill set has always been driving people to a website. For that reason, I tend to focus solely on that and ignore most other marketing activities.

In the software world, retention is as important as acquisition of customers (if not more important). Simply put, if you can keep customers longer, your business will be worth a lot more.

Nowadays, our marketing team creates email sequences to get customers who have canceled their memberships to come back and pay again. They also run promotions, focus on up-sells, and create training materials to help companies use our products better. This all helps with retaining customers.

This approach means customers stay longer, which in turn means they are worth more money. Most importantly, however, marketing can then spend more money on acquiring new customers. This has allowed us to open up a lot of new channels that we couldn’t touch before.

Think about the lifetime value of your customer. If you can up-sell to them or get them to come back, why not try?

Blunder #10: Waiting to blog

I should know this one better than anyone else: blogs can drive revenue. I’ve known this for years, yet it took me two years longer than it should to start the Crazy Egg blog.

What’s even worse is that I still don’t have a blog at Hello Bar. I know it works, but I haven’t spent any energy creating one.

Don’t make this mistake I keep repeating. Start a blog right away – it can’t hurt. It helps drive more visitors, and a portion of those visitors will eventually convert into customers.

Heck, I would even say: start a blog before you start your company. Once you launch your business, you can then instantly drive customers to it from your blog.

Conclusion

My marketing blunders may not seem like a big deal to you, but they have cost me over 100 million dollars. I hope you can learn from me and avoid some of my simple mistakes.

What marketing blunders have you made?

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Comments

  1. Good reminders. Its good to hear these mistakes made by most often. Thanks for the write up.

    • Christopher Pontine :

      Hey Naresh,

      I know pretty refreshing right. You think in your head “Am I the only one that F*^## UP”

      Any one of these really stand out to you?

      Thanks,

      Christopher Pontine

    • Holy Cow a top 10 list of things not to do. Usually I only learn from my blunders now I can learn from yours. I feel like Olaf right now and just experienced a warm hug.

    • Glad you found the tips helpful guys. I would be curious like Christopher is as to what issues you guys faced early on…

  2. I can relate to your blunder #5, Instead of going for the perfect solution it’s better to just launch the product and slowly tinder with it comes closer to perfect. Great post 🙂

  3. Christopher Pontine :

    Hey Neil,

    OH snaps on “Blunder #10: Waiting to blog”. I think many businesses wait way to long on this.

    Now for myself “Blunder #5: Making marketing perfect”. I feel you always want it to be perfect, but at the same time what does that even mean.

    Thanks for a great article.

    Thanks,

    Christopher Pontine

    • Christopher, I agree — even I didn’t know what that meant. I was just seeking perfection when there is no such thing.

  4. Thanks Neil. Was feeling down about growth today, and this gave me some inspiration to keep going! – Tyler

  5. Really great help. Thanks Neil.

    Ih

  6. William Zimmerman :

    Neil,

    Great stuff as always!

    Especially love Blunder #5: Making marketing perfect. Perfection is the enemy of achievement.

    Hope you are doing well man,
    Bill Z

  7. Great Insights Neil.

    I like the fact that you’re very honest and transperent.

    Thanks for these great tips, and will help a lot of people.

    And I totally love kissmetrics headline, i think its probably one of the top headlines in startup world today.

  8. Alfonso Prim (Innokabi) :

    Good post Neil, I have tried some of those mistakes, jaja but the good thing is that I am learning step by step. Blunder #1: Picking a small market and Blunder #9: Focusing on acquisition and not retention for my are most typicall.
    Thanks Neil for the post

  9. As usual awesome content shared Neil,

    As my point of you if product is dumb also with help of good marketing you can double u r revanues at some point of time. But not longer time.

  10. Sarkari Naukri :

    Hello Neil ,

    Thanks for Sharing good information ..

  11. Focusing only on the acquisition and ignoring retention is one of the costly mistake. I know this because it has happen to me. The other mistakes you have mentioned are also costly.

    Thanks again for this very useful article.

    • Bilal, glad you found it helpful. Mistakes are made so that we can learn from them — sometimes the cost is worth it 😉

  12. Thanks Neil for sharing your experience and analysis.

    I think everyone goes along his or her own way with its blunders. Learning and analyzing others’ mistakes is great but does not save you from your own ones anyway 🙂 But it definitely helps.

    Personally, I struggle with perfection, which takes a lot of time for achieving. So, I guess right balance between efforts and perfectness should be considered as a matter of successful strategy.

    • Michael, it’s all about that balance. I go through this all the time. At some point though I just realize that my best efforts usually yield great results.

  13. Big thanks Neil for the post!

    I can attest to #6, getting the message right. For the longest time I would occasionally find myself on the Kissmetric homepage and not really understand why I should use it instead of Google Analytics (or that I could use both). I was an impatient reader and would just skim for bullet points to quickly get the gist of the service.
    Once I saw your new headline it finally made sense and I saw why I should pay for the service. Although a freemium plan (blunder #3) would have made me more likely to try the service out too.

    Thanks again Neil!

    • Scott, that’s why messaging is so important. A lot of people (myself included) skim through things. If you can capture and retain their attention then you can achieve a higher conversion rate.

  14. When you think of my name, Neil Patel, what comes to mind?

    1- Pop-ups. (LOL)

    2- I’ve been in SEO long enough that the 2nd thing I think of is “princess”.

    3- Massive amounts of traffic.

    4- Actionable advice.

    5- An insane blogging work ethic.

    As always, I enjoyed your post. Hope you’re well. 🙂

  15. Randy Kauffman :

    Pretty good list. I will learn and earn. Thanks Neil!

  16. Thank you Neil, that was a very good read.

  17. Great insight on your past experiences . I’m sure this is going to help me in a long run.

  18. Hi Neil,

    Marketing was one of my biggest headache till now, thank you for your tips, will try to use a different strategy for my upcoming ebook

  19. I love this post Neil,

    I feel like I have been making all this mistakes last 5 years. Obviously am not missing out hundreds of millions, but maybe 100s of thousands.

    This should be a whole course Neil. Thanks so much for being so open and honest. Not many people will tell you they made super-sized mistakes.

  20. What an honest and good article! It prove that one CAN build a thriving business while making mistakes. Thanks for your insights, both conscious andere subconscious.

  21. Neil,

    Thanks for the post.

    May I add my own blunder…

    I suffer from getting too many ideas, then hopping from one to another. Thus I have 5 websites and multiple ebooks… ALMOST ready. I’m still learning how to get the focused dedication to get one thing done, THEN go to the next one.

    Again, thanks for helping me learn.

    John

    • John, glad I could help. I think a big takeaway is to focus on doing a couple of things right. 5 E-books doesn’t sound like a bad thing — I am sure you have learned something from each subsequent book.

  22. hi neil,

    very good post and yes i am agree with you that start blog before starting company.

    thanks for such a nice post.

  23. Neil, your numbers are eye watering, but the points you list makes sense. I think I should take your advice on board, even for a humble endeavour such as mine.

    Thanks!

  24. My mistakes
    Lack of clarity of values, mission, purpose…
    Lack of consistency throughout my life with the above….
    Lack of parameters… IE How much to do before moving on…. when to move on, how much to put in where… Allocation of time and money… Etc…
    Lack of a focus on time management and priorities+posteriorities (consciously eliminating distractions and replacing them with priorities).

    • … I won’t polute the comment section on the specifics of every little thing I did wrong and the long winded, detailed stories… It wouldn’t help anyone much to know details of what I did way back when before panda/penguin/etc…
      🙂

  25. Thanks For Sharing Your Experience!

    It’s Really Great.

  26. Thanks Neil.It’s always a pleasure to drink from your ever flowing fountain of wisdom.You are so young but you have got wealth of experience in the business world.

    Look forward to hearing from you again.

    John Ukonu.

  27. Superb and because of you, now I’m sure I’m on the right track.

  28. In the begining I didn’t believe in you, but your point of view is often inovative and good

  29. “Dominating a small 10-million-dollar niche isn’t as good as owning 1% of a billion-dollar market.”

    I’ve once dominated a $10 local niche… 🙂

  30. I agree with many, but love #9- and #10 works in conjunction. They have to relate to a Blog to get started, then you need to retain them by continually giving them good content and a great product. Nice list

  31. These are very valuable learnings that every business, however big or small and every marketer needs to apply. Thanks for sharing this Neil.

  32. Hi Neil,

    What you are saying about small niches is right opposite to what guru marketers like Seth Godin are teaching. They say: find your small specific niche and focus on it.

    Maybe it’s a good point to begin with a small industry portion and then to expand onto the whole market after becoming the leader. Then trying to grasp the ungraspable from the beginning (having no team & funds).

    What do you think?

    • I think it really depends on your field. Sometimes you’ll find that throwing out a wider net allows you to capture a greater audience.

  33. Tito Philips, Jnr. :

    Thanks Neil,

    The truth is that most of these blunders are not peculiar to you alone. Many entrepreneurs repeatedly make these marketing blunders, knowingly and unknowingly. Seeing them coming from someone of your caliber, just further confirms our vulnerability to them as entrepreneurs.

    My personal favourite is “not getting your marketing message right”. One subtle often overlooked part of marketing. No matter how you emphasize this to startups, they still feel a great product can compensate for it.

    But the reverse is the case, especially for innovative products/services.

    Thanks for an awesome piece!

    • Tito, glad you liked it. It’s all about honing in on the right message so you can get the best results possible.

  34. Thanks, these are some really great advices. I was suprised by how important the correct headline might be

  35. Himmat Chahal :

    Had to stop reading after I read the line: “For example, would you rather have your company grow at a pace of 8% month over month for a year or by 100% over a year?”

    Awesome insight — now back to reading : )

  36. Jeremy Eveland :

    Thanks Neil for sharing this valuable Post

    These are some really great instructions for every business, however big or small and every marketer needs to apply.

    • Glad these helped Jeremy, let me know if you get stuck or have questions

      • Jeremy Eveland :

        Hey Neil,

        Thanks for your supporting, Right I don’ have any questions, I got solution from you Articles.
        In Future facing any problem definitely I will contact you.

        Thanks

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