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Marketing Fails

By: Karen Blanchard Accudata

When done well, marketing can delight its target audience and motivate them to take action. When done wrong, the marketing message can either fall into the abyss or worse, anger its intended recipients.

I’m hoping each of the following examples of “marketing gone wrong” can serve as an outline for ways to improve. As artist John Powell once said, “The only real mistake is one from which we learn nothing.”

Mysterious Postcard

This postcard showed up in my mailbox one day in a plain white envelope addressed to me. I suspect I know who it’s from, but only because I’m due for my annual physical. The postcard itself does not have any branding or the name of the doctor’s office on it. The “Please call our office today” call to action is not accompanied by a phone number.

I was completely perplexed by this mail piece, which was blank on the other side. Not only was it a wasted opportunity to market the large medical practice that sent it, but also an opportunity to give me a web link to make an appointment without having to place a phone call. Marketing fail!

The sender even took the time to hand-write the date of my last exam, but didn’t realize I would have no idea who it was from or how to contact them!

Absent any contact information or branding at all, the only thing left to do was throw this postcard away in the trash. (Right after taking this photo to memorialize the marketing fail). Hopefully my health doesn’t suffer from not being able to determine how to make my next doctor’s appointment.

Event Registration Mayhem

I am an active volunteer for a local charity and enjoy supporting their initiatives. This month, they are holding a one-day conference for all volunteers. An email invitation to the conference was sent to more than a thousand volunteers with an automated RSVP link.

I RSVP’d for the event the day I received the invitation excited about learning more about volunteer experiences and the mission of the charity. Within a few hours, I started receiving automated emails from other volunteers with comments they had left in the event software such as, “I am busy that day but wish I could attend” and “I will definitely be there.”

It took me five or six emails before I realized that something had gone horribly haywire here. I’m still not sure whether the charity set up the RSVP form incorrectly or the event registration software was having issues, but everyone on the invitation list was receiving dozens of emails a day from the registration tool with comments from each person who was RSVP’ing. And they are still flooding into my email inbox almost hourly.

Then to compound matters, I received an email a week later saying, “If you are receiving this email you have not yet RSVP’d.” Thankfully an apology email followed an hour later saying, “We do have your registration, please ignore that email.”

The next time I volunteered at the charity, one of our leaders told us that more than 400 people had registered for the event already. So the event should be a success, and charity volunteers are usually more forgiving than customers. But the marketing lessons here remains: test, test, test. It would have been easy enough to see that comments left in the tool resulted in emails to the entire audience if the form had been tested prior to sending out the email.

In addition, any time you are sending event reminders or survey reminders, be sure to suppress the people who have already taken the desired action. Avoid apology emails and make sure everything is working correctly!

It’s a compliment if you know how to use the word complimentary

Here’s an email invitation I received recently to a webinar that read: Marketing Summit: A Complementary Event for You!

While spell check wouldn’t have caught the incorrect use of the word complementary vs. complimentary, someone should have caught this error before it was sent to Marketing VP’s, Directors and Managers!

I hope you’ll get a laugh out of reading these examples of marketing fails. But remember to check your marketing pieces to ensure you have your company name and contact information clearly spelled out, and don’t rely too heavily on marketing automation without testing it first.


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