16 Most Costly Marketing Mistakes I’ve Ever Made

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 some 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.

Here are my most costly marketing blunders:

1. The most common marketing mistake: A product-audience mismatch

It absolutely kills me to see this mistake.

It’s one that beginner marketers make, but it’s not until they become more experienced that they see the results of the mistake.

You see, many marketers learn to use the tactics they read about really well.

They are persistent and work hard to apply those tactics, which helps them drive traffic and convert that traffic to subscribers.

Sometimes, they do this for years.

And that’s why it’s heartbreaking…

…because despite all that work, they’be been building the wrong audience.

When they finally decide to sell a product to that audience, they fail. There are two main scenarios where this failure occurs:

  • Scenario #1 – Trying to sell an existing product to the audience
  • Scenario #2 – Trying to replicate a successful product and then trying to sell it to the audience

These scenarios happen because of one mistake: not understanding the product-audience fit.

Why not understanding product-audience fit leads to failure: First, you need to understand that every type of content attracts its own type of audience.

For example, if you create incredibly in-depth content like I do, it attracts those readers in your niche who are extremely passionate about your niche and will devote a lot of time and effort to it.

But if you create content like “10 quick tips to do X,” you’ll attract people who just want a simple solution. They don’t actually care about “X.” They just want the result.

And those are just two examples.

The point is that each tactic you follow will produce a different type of audience.

What happens as a result is that you end up with an audience of many different types of people.

When you’re selling a product, your goal is to make that product as appealing as possible to your audience.

If a large part of your audience is interested in it, that means you have a good product-audience fit. This is similar to the product-market fit concept.

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Can you see the fatal flaw in copying tactics yet?

Since your audience is composed of many different types of people, it’s going to be almost impossible to find a product that appeals to a large portion of them. That’s basically what happens in scenario #1.

Sometimes, you’ll get lucky by copying those tactics and create an audience that is fairly cohesive.

That’s a great thing and gives you a chance< to succeed.

But most marketers then enter scenario #2.

Since they’re used to copying tactics to generate traffic and subscribers, why wouldn’t they copy product tactics as well?

They’ll come across posts like this one by Derek Halpern in which he talks about how selling courses has helped him generate well over 6 figures.

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Then, our marketer will think something like, “That’s a great idea. I should make an online course to sell to my audience!”

Maybe that sounds familiar. If not, be wary of falling into that trap.

That’s because once you decide to create a product, you need to be ready to invest months of hard work creating it and possibly a lot of money as well.

What often ends up happening, as you might have guessed by now, is that the product flops if it doesn’t fit the audience.

And in many cases, it won’t.

If your audience isn’t interested in learning how to do everything themselves, they won’t be interested in buying a detailed course.

Instead, you’d be much better off selling tools that automate things or services that get them the results they want.

If you only take away one thing from this post, let it be this:

Always consider the audience you’re building with different tactics. Then, sell products that match their desires and needs instead of just creating the latest, trendy type of product.

2. You can’t only give value

What’s the first lesson of content marketing?

Give value.

The basic idea is a sound one because it’s based on the rule of reciprocity.

When you give people something, they feel obligated to give you something in return.

In the context of content marketing, you give them valuable content, and in turn, they give you their attention and even email addresses.

The more value you give, the more traffic and subscribers you typically get (as a general rule).

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If you understand that, fantastic.

But here’s where most marketers go wrong.

They give, and give, and give some more until they can’t give anymore.

They don’t understand that you need to give your readers an opportunity to give back to you in the form of financial support.

In other words, you need to sell products.

If you don’t, you don’t have a business—you have a hobby.

Eventually, you won’t be able to afford to keep creating great content for your audience, which limits how much you can help them.

But if you have a business that generates revenue, you can afford to invest in even better content.

Selling products isn’t an evil thing: The reason why so many beginner, and even intermediate, marketers are so hesitant to sell something is because of how they perceive it.

They believe that by selling a product they are “taking” something from their audience.

And while I understand where this feeling comes from, it’s also completely ridiculous when you start to examine it closer.

First, and most important of all, products can be good.

I am more than happy to pay a lot of money for my favorite products. They add a lot of value to my life.

I’m sure you have products like that too. In fact, everyone does.

So, why can’t you create a product like that for your audience?

You already understand them well enough to produce valuable content, right? So, the next step is to create something larger that can have an even bigger impact on their lives.

The second thing you need to realize is that your audience has been paying for your content the whole time.

Not with money, but with their attention and time.

Both of those things are very limited and worth a lot. Your audience is still giving you something in return for the value you give them.

The takeaway: Marketing isn’t just about giving away content. It’s about finding multiple ways to make a difference in your audience’s lives and getting compensated for that work.

You don’t have to resort to tricking or scamming to build a successful business. Just focus on creating as much value as possible, but give your audience a chance to buy products from you.

3. What opt-in conversion rates are really determined by

Most content marketers have the same basic goals.

Create content.

Get traffic.

Turn that traffic into email subscribers.

Marketers have finally learned the value of email subscribers, and the conversion rate from traffic to subscribing has become a huge focus.

This has led to endless posts about tactics you can use to increase your conversion rate.

Since everyone is using the same tactics, they should get about the same results, right?

But that’s not what’s happening.

Even with the same tactic, one person will get conversion rates below 1% while another will get conversion rates over 20%.

The truth is most marketers don’t understand what factors determine conversion rates. They blame the tactic and keep searching for more tactics to try.

If this sounds familiar, stop it.

Instead, take a minute now to learn why you’re not having the success you should.

There are two factors that determine opt-in rates.

Factor #1 – Exposure: On a basic level, no one can sign up for your email list unless they get the opportunity to.

Therefore, if you have zero opt-in forms on your site, you can’t get any new subscribers.

Exposure is the “easy” factor, and it’s what most conversion rate blog posts focus on.

They convince you that pop-ups, content upgrades, sidebar forms, or any number of different tactics will produce the best conversion rate.

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And to be fair, some of those are better than others.

From an exposure point of view, pop-ups are fantastic. If you set a pop-up to show up after a page loads, almost everyone will see it, which means they have an opportunity to opt in.

This is where most marketers start and stop.

They go from exposure tactic to exposure tactic, trying to find one with a better conversion rate.

Most of these marketers never get more than a low conversion rate because this is all they’re focused on.

But smart marketers know there’s one more piece to the puzzle.

Factor #2 – Value: For some reason, value is often ignored when it comes to opt-ins.

Most sites offer a weak incentive to sign up for an email list. For example:

  • Sign up to get more posts like this
  • Sign up to get a free checklist
  • Sign up to get some exclusive content

Seriously, do you think your content is so damn good that everyone will opt in just so that they might not miss a post?

Even I don’t think that.

Those examples I’ve given you are not valuable.

Sure, they have some value, but nothing that’s going to make a real difference in your readers’ lives.

But what if you offered someone $100 to sign up for your email list?

I bet just about everyone would sign up because that’s an insane amount of value.

Now, obviously most people can’t do that, but do you see how the value of the offer affects your conversion rate?

The real formula is something like this:

Opt-in rate = Exposure * Value of Offer

A valuable offer alone isn’t enough, however; you also need to get it in front of your audience.

But when you have a tactic that gives you exposure along with an offer that is actually valuable, that’s when you get incredibly high conversion rates (e.g., Bryan Harris often gets over 20% conversion rates).

Most marketers spend very little time on creating a valuable offer, and then they wonder why their conversion rates suck despite trying all the different exposure tactics.

It should be clear to you now why this doesn’t work.

So, how valuable should your offer be?

There’s no specific amount. Just make it as valuable as you can.

As an example, look at the sidebar on Quick Sprout, which contains an offer for a free course:

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As you can see, I value it at $300.

If you’ve taken the course, you’d probably agree that it’s not far-fetched.

While it wouldn’t make sense to give away $300 in cash, I am able to give away this course because it costs me virtually nothing after the initial creation costs.

So, ask yourself how much your current offer is truly worth.

In the case of low conversion rates, it’s usually not much.

Find an effective exposure tactic or two, and then spend your time and effort testing the value of your offer. You’ll have far more success.

4. Being first counts for a lot

If you rely on bloggers to show you new tactics, I have some bad news.

While you can find effective tactics in blog posts, most of them have been discussed and tested behind closed doors in mastermind groups and private chat groups.

This means that by the time you finally see a tactic, many marketers have been already using it.

Why is this a big deal?

It’s a big deal because you miss out on first-mover advantage.

While this term typically applies to technology, I think it also applies to marketing tactics.

Basically, it states that the first company to offer something new will have a great advantage over those who come after.

That’s not to say that copycats can’t be successful, but it’s much harder for them to succeed than for those who are first.

When it comes to marketing tactics, first-mover advantage would simply mean being one of the first to use a particular tactic, before hordes of marketers jump on the trend and saturate it.

A great example of this is using infographics to build links.

As you might know, I used infographics extensively in the past. I still occasionally publish them but much less often because they’re not as effective anymore.

From 2010 to 2012, I published 47 infographics, which generated 2,512,596 visitors and 41,142 backlinks from 3,741 unique domains. That comes out to an average of 53,459 visitors and 875 backlinks from 79 unique domains per infographic.

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In the following 2 years, my results declined dramatically even though the infographics were just as good (probably even a bit better).

The infographics I produced during that time period produced an average of 21,582 visitors and 371 backlinks from 34 unique domains.

Overall, the results declined by over 50%!

And since then, the results have diminished even further.

No doubt you could still create infographics that go viral, but it’s much more difficult now.

Instead of struggling to compete with thousands of other marketers doing the same thing, wouldn’t it be better to find a new tactic to be among the “first” to implement?

How to get a first-mover advantage of your own: The fundamental reason why most marketers are behind the curve is not even because they rely on blogs for tactics (although it doesn’t help).

Some blogs do mention tactics early enough that you can still be part of that first group (there were certainly blogs mentioning infographics during 2010-2012).

But there’s one thing about infographics back then that you can’t appreciate now:

It was much more difficult to make a great infographic back then.

There were fewer designers who were experienced with them; they charged more; and there were no tools like Canva to help you produce them by yourself.

So, if I ask you now why you didn’t create more infographics during that time period (assuming you were in marketing then), the answer probably isn’t because you didn’t know about them.

Instead, you found out about them, but they seemed difficult.

And that’s the key marker you should be looking for.

Tactics get easier over time as more case studies are published and as tools are created to make it easier to implement them.

Not coincidently, as tactics get easier, more and more marketers start using them, lowering the results they produce.

Ideally, you want to get on the ground floor of a tactic.

To do that, look for unsaturated tactics that seem difficult to use.

This means that you will have to figure out how to execute them.style=”font-weight: 400;”> It’s going to take you some extra time and resources upfront, but that will allow you to get better results before others catch on.

I can give you a few tactics right now that are still pretty difficult but getting easier and more popular every day.

First is webinars. While they’re not exactly “new,” they haven’t been adopted nearly as fast as infographics.

This tactic is currently producing fantastic results.

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Webinars take a lot of work, and there are still some difficult parts, but if you’re willing to put in some work, you too could get the same results. If you’re interested, here’s my guide to getting started with webinars.

Second, what about using tools as a link-building and traffic-generation tactic? The Quick Sprout analyzer tool is responsible for hundreds of thousands of visits, a ton of links, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue.

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Tools are difficult to make because you need to know how to develop or hire a developer. That’s what gives you an opportunity to massively benefit from making one.

But have no doubt, there are already tools being developed so that non-technical marketers can make their own simple tools.

These will become more and more advanced in the coming years, and creating tools as part of content marketing campaigns will become more common and less effective.

5. There is no single perfect email outreach template

Outreach has been a huge part of marketing tactics for the last couple of years as more and more businesses have realized that they should be using white hat techniques.

Of course, many articles have been written about writing emails to help you drive links, mentions, shares, and all sorts of useful things. On top of that, many tactics include email outreach as a main component.

And in those articles (the best ones at least), the author typically includes a template of what they might send in an email. For example, here’s a screenshot of a template I provided in a past post:

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It’s a good email.

Sorry, I should really say it was a good email.

Since I published that, that exact template has been sent thousands of times (even to me a few times!).

Obviously, when someone receives an email (or more) that is exactly the same as the one they got in the past, they’re going to realize something’s going on. The email obviously isn’t personal, and the recipient is going to feel used.

The emails you see in templates are often very effective at first. However, following the first-mover advantage concept, they will become less effective over time because other marketers will start copying them.

If I publish a template email, I will never personally send that one again because I know that it will produce diminished results.

If I say an email is converting at 10% and then give you a template, don’t expect to get the same results if you just copy that email. Other people will as well, which will impact the email’s effectiveness.

Using email templates the right way: Does all this mean that you should ignore templates when you see them in posts about tactics?

Not at all. What it means is that you shouldn’t just straight copy them.

Instead, break them down section by section, and determine the purpose of each sentence. Then, rewrite them so that you have an entirely unique template that accomplishes the same purpose.

For example, the first sentence of the email above is:

I love the work you do on (site name). In particular, I was blown away by (title of content you linked to) when I was researching my latest post.

The purpose of that line was to show how you came across your target’s site.

You could rewrite it in many ways to be completely unique but still mention the post on their site that you were interested in. For example:

I’m a blogger myself, and I was seriously impressed when I came across (title of content you linked to) when I was doing some background research for my next post.

This opening is very similar in meaning and effect to the original, but it doesn’t look like a duplicate.

Do this for each line in the template, and you can create your own template that will get similar results to those of the original.

In most cases, you can improve upon templates: When it comes to email outreach, templates are used to save time (instead of writing emails from scratch).

However, that limits their effectiveness because they aren’t usually personalized.

In general, the more personalized an email is, the more likely it will be opened and acted upon.

You can also improve the effectiveness of templates if you understand their limitations.

If you’re willing to add some sort of offer or gesture of value to the person you’re emailing, it will take more time per email, but you will get better results.

For example, in the above email, you could say that you’ve shared the post on social media or signed up for their email list. Just make sure you actually do it.

6. Some tactics depend on having an existing audience

The final mistake I often see marketers make is trying to copy tactics that require an audience when they haven’t built a sizable one yet.

Some tactics are best used when you’re starting out, and some are best left for when you have an audience.

Let me give you a few examples.

Writing about controversial topics has long been a great way to generate comments and links because people love to talk about controversial topics.

The only problem is that they require a great deal of authority.

For example, I wrote a post about why link building is not the future of SEO:

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It got hundreds of comments and tons of shares on social media.

But the only reason I was successful with this post was because I already had a large audience to show it to, and I have a pretty recognizable name in the SEO world.

Once a discussion is started on a controversial topic, most people want to weigh in and share it with their friends.

But you can’t easily get that initial discussion without an audience.

If someone with 50 subscribers published the same post, it wouldn’t have gone anywhere.

You can use the same tactics, but don’t expect the same results: When I publish a new post, I rank for all sorts of long tail phrases in Google after the first week.

Targeting long tail keyword phrases is an example of a tactic that works best on established sites.

Quick Sprout has tons of domain authority and hundreds of high quality articles. That’s why I rank so fast and easily.

But if you are on a brand new domain, it will take months of link building and content publishing to rank for long tail phrases.

This is an example of a tactic that can work even if you don’t have an audience, but it will work slower and take more effort.

What you need to take away from this is that when you read about a tactic, first consider whether it will work with your audience and website.

If you think it will, consider if you should expect to get the same results as the author. If not, lower your expectations, and prepare to put in more work.

If you don’t think a tactic will work for your audience, save it for later, and find a more suitable one.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. 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.

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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.

11. 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.

12. 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%.

13. 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.

14. 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.

15. 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?

16. 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.

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.