How to Avoid the Marketing Trap

Many products fail for many reasons - but one big reason that is often overlooked is what I call the marketing trap. Whether your vision for your product (or service) is world domination or small niche adoption, at the stripped down core of success is getting people to try your product and find value in it. But, the marketing trap prevents this from happening.

Before I can talk about this common trap, I want to acknowledge that many things can stand in the way of success. Success can be thwarted by a whole host of internal problems and external forces. Internal problems like poor management, lack of investment, poorly allocated resources, and staffing issues are of course very real, but they can be identified and fixed.

External forces like competitors, costs, shifting trends, etc. can also greatly impact success, but they also present an opportunity to examine your product's features, approach, pricing, and positioning and make improvements. I don’t want to minimize these problems and forces. They absolutely need to be considered every step of the way.

To understand how so many businesses end up in the marketing trap, let's go to the heart of a product’s success, and that’s connecting deeply with the people who find true value in your product or service. If this connection doesn't happen, nothing else you do will matter.

The 3 P's of Success

Value can be defined in many ways. I like to think of it in 3 Ps.

  1. Productivity - Does your product/service help save time or money?

  2. Pleasure - Does your product/service bring some sort of entertainment value or somehow make life more enjoyable?

  3. Problem-Solver - Does your product/service solve a problem in a new, better, or different way?

Most likely if you’re reading this, you have a product or service that allows you to answer yes to at least one of the above questions. I think it’s safe to say that no one would start a business or launch a product without consciously (or unconsciously) thinking about these same questions.

So, Why Do So Many Products Fail?

According to Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, each year more than 30,000 new products are launched and 80 percent of them fail. A study by the Product Development and Management Association (PDMA) found failure rates varied among industries, ranging from 35 percent for healthcare to 49 percent for consumer goods. Looked at another way, 8 out of 10 entrepreneurs who start businesses fail within the first 18 months, according to Bloomberg.

Having worked on and studied a variety of product launches in the past 15+ years, I’ve learned that failure often stems from the fact that the type of thinking required to create a product is not the same as the thinking required to market it. A different level of consciousness (thanks, Einstein) is required to get people to engage with your product long enough to see if it improves their productivity, brings them pleasure, or solves their problem.


No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.

Albert Einstein

Failing (not so) Fast

I’ve seen it time and time again across industries, from startups to established companies, where the product visionaries, developers, and investors, are eager to get to market and start driving sales, as they should be! They've worked hard to build their product, carefully considering every feature. Some of these businesses have had a small number of early customers or devoted followers who love the product.

Naturally, they are anxious to get the word out and start generating $$: go to market, iterate, fail fast (insert favorite buzzword here). So, they hire an agency, or specialized contractors, or a small team of tactical experts (i.e. writers, social media managers, event marketers) to get to work! Six months down the line they don’t see the results they hoped for. Some might conclude they’re failing fast - but are they really failing or falling into the marketing trap?

The Marketing Trap

Many think they’re spending money on marketing but they’re actually spending money on lots of marketing activity. Two very different things. Marketing activities include a new website, sell sheets, email campaigns, SEO, blog posts, social media, etc. things they think they need and they probably some point. The question is, when? 

Understandably, a limited marketing budget (and whose budget doesn’t have a limit?) doesn't appear to allow for a senior level strategic marketer. Paying a six-figure salary may zap a large chunk of the budget leaving little to no money to execute on a plan, purchase ads, attend events, etc. This leads to the marketing trap. Businesses find themselves in this marketing trap when a limited budget is spent on marketing activities instead of strategy resulting in depleted funds with very little to show for it.

Many of these activities are done in the name of "brand building." Once you start doing these branding activities it's hard to know when to stop. I've found that many businesses delay hiring a senior level marketer for fear that they’ll end up with lots of strategy and no execution. Instead, they hire people to do stuff. The question is, are they doing the right stuff?

Getting Out of the Trap

If you find yourself in this marketing trap, here are three steps you can follow:

  1. Don’t Panic! Whenever you find yourself in any kind of trap, the worst thing to do is to panic and make hasty decisions. Same is true for the marketing trap. If you start throwing more money at marketing activity, you may end up with lots of attractive material but little results for your precious investment.

  2. Call for Help! Find someone you trust who has experience identifying audiences, telling product stories, and building marketing budgets designed to achieve business goals. If you aren't ready to bring on a senior level marketer, you don’t have to. You can partner with an experienced marketer who can help you find your audience, tell your story in a way that stands out, and shape your initial marketing spend so you can learn what works for your business.

  3. Test the Keys! Just as you can’t put all the keys in a lock at once, you can’t tackle every marketing initiative at once. Come up with a short-term plan to gather information about your potential target audience(s) then test out messages, platforms, and approaches to see what resonates and what converts. Found something that works? Direct more of your spend at that. Plan. Spend. Test. Measure. Adjust. Repeat.

Anyone can avoid the marketing trap. This requires taking time to deeply understand the people + product + value equation. Who are the people that will connect with your product? How does your product / service meet their needs? What value does your product / service uniquely deliver? The answers to these questions form the basis for the strategy and story that will guide every marketing decision you make.

Only when these foundational steps are taken can you begin to prioritize marketing activities and feel confident that you are steering your budget and timeline toward your business goals.

If you're already in the marketing trap or want to avoid it altogether, let's connect. I can help.