“The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.” -Michael Porter

Everyone who hears the above quote for the first time enjoys a certain eye-opening liberation. Especially the harried marketer. Somewhere along the way, the blinders fell off and marketing professionals were exposed to all the other marketers, an experience that (with the right guide) could have been helpful. The only problem is that onlookers only get one side of a picture, and often the new knowledge gained by comparison translates immediately into pressure.

Can we free you from some of that today?

Sometimes it helps to know you’re not alone. It’s encouraging to hear that other marketers struggle with similar pressures. Best of all, it’s a relief to learn that some of those burdens can be offloaded. Here are some of today’s marketers’ most common temptations, plus how to know which ones are worth entertaining.

There’s the temptation to put form over function. This temptation likely stems from the ability to see what works for other marketing teams. If one marketer generates tons of social engagement from his short, Q&A-style Twitter videos, it’s tempting to follow suit. Before you do, stop and think. Even if you and he share a target audience, that’s no reason to value that particular medium over another creative art form.

Another source of this pressure comes from commentators that claim one medium outperforms the others when in reality, that reporting analyst cannot know the objectives of the creative effort he critiques.

To change this in your own organization, simply put up your own radar. When talking with your marketing team, be on the lookout for telltale statements like

  • “We should start a YouTube channel! It’ll be great!”
  • “Outsourced custom publishing is the way to go. It’s always worked, it always will.”
  • “User-generated content is the least expensive. Let’s start with that.”
  • “What we really need is an influencer.”

Granted, these statements may be true in certain contexts. But if they come out of the blue, you’ll agree: they start with the medium. Not the audience. Flip that around, and soon the most effective format will become clear.

There’s the temptation to believe you really know and serve your customer. One of the best parts of any long-term relationship is letting someone surprise you just by being them. Too often, though, marketers close the book on their buyer persona brainstorming session, and never again reconsider their target audience member.  Marketing great Jay Baer calls this the number one blind spot of people in our profession. Based on recently released research from Marketo called The State of Engagement, Baer concludes that most marketers are massively overestimating the relevancy of their commercial messages to audiences.

The overwhelming temptation, he says, is to use data to become acquainted with a target audience. “This discrepancy between how much marketers think they know customers and how much customers think marketers know them is a real problem,” he writes. “If you want to know what customers really need, get out there and actually talk to customers.”

There’s the temptation to publish Tilt-less content. Part of knowing your target customer inside and out is understanding that they can get almost any information in the world online. Why, then, would you re-publish the same step by step tutorial they can get somewhere else?

Because it’s tempting. You’ve established a content calendar, and it’s looking thin.

Or because you’ve already said your tilted thing. Is there really another way to say it again?

Yes! If you possess a truly differentiated message, then there are unlimited ways to deliver it. If you’re running out of ways to say it, resist the temptation to publish fluff. Instead, invite an expert into your organization to verify whether your message truly is differentiated. Like a content therapy session, you’ll be surprised at what you can discover together.

There’s the opposite temptation to take a stand – and be mean about it. If Seth Godin hadn’t done it first, we could have called this common faux pas a lack of talent or creativity. But the master himself went and made this mistake by titling his 2012 book ”All Marketers are Liars.” He later apologized for the misleading title. It just goes to show that even the best marketers are tempted to say somewhat mean things to stand out. Don’t be that marketer.

Another temptation is to take a public stand on specious issues that doesn’t matter much to your industry or audience. Repeat: Your organization need not take a hard stance on everything. Only what matters most to your brand, audience, and industry.

Patagonia’s leadership may well have an opinion on politically charged topics like health care reform or marriage equality, but the public only knows about their vocal advocacy for the environmental crisis. They take a stand on an issue, not a dozen issues. And they’re not malicious about it.

There’s the temptation to rely on someone else’s platform… indefinitely. You already know building your home on rented land can backfire. Generating followers on social channels alone won’t build an addressable audience. The reason marketers are tempted to do it anyway is that it’s relatively easy and instantly gratifying. Plus, it somehow keeps internal shareholders happy. At least temporarily.

Facebook’s recent algorithm change has alleviated many marketers of this temptation once and for all.

There’s the temptation to be everywhere online at once. OK, so you finally agree it’s best not to trust a fickle social channel with your marketing department’s greatest asset (that is, your audience). So you resolve not to build your home there, but you still want to use social platforms as a marketing tool. Perfect.

Now though, if you’re like most marketers, you’re tempted to set up accounts on many social channels. Why not, right? It takes an hour or so to get started, and millions more can now receive your brilliant message!

Hold up.

According to Statista, less than half the users on Reddit are female. If you’re endeavoring to build a community of moms, is that the best place to be? Depends. If the moms you want to attract are also database pen testers, then sure, Reddit may be the perfect place to join or start an unbranded conversation (you’ve been warned). The mothers planning birthdays, though, may be accessible on a more forgiving site like Pinterest, a fact illuminated by Pew Research’s most recent Demographics of Social Media Report.

The problem is no matter where you go, someone inside your niche audience will be on the neighboring platform. So it’s tempting to set up an account over there, too. Before you do, remember that setting up is the easy part. Getting to know the users, listening, engaging in back and forth, and consistently adding value or entertainment to the space can be extremely time-consuming. Of course, if you have unlimited time and resources, do it. But for the rest of us, it’s better to choose a couple communities you can genuinely enjoy and reciprocate, investing consistently over time, all the while remembering it’s not your addressable audience.

There’s the temptation to advertise products, not content. It’s a good time to be a consumer. Today, consumers decide which brands they’ll let in. If a company’s content is useful or entertaining, they’ll be invited back in to share more. Why then, are marketers still so hesitant to use paid placement for quality content? Why are ads reserved for products and services, instead of the altruistic gift of an episodic podcast or enlightening white paper? Imagine the day ad blockers decline in popularity because brands pay to give consumers access to a good story or resource, instead of a blinking 10% off coupon.

The tricky thing about some of these temptations is that many have worked for other marketing teams. If you try them without a strategy, that does not guarantee a colossal failure. It just means that recognizing these potential pitfalls before jumping in can give you the foresight to play it out beforehand. Rest assured – for every one of these common pitfalls, a host of other similar, more promising tactics awaits.

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