Five marketing communication sins—does your company commit them?

It is sometimes amazing how stubbornly companies and their marketers cling to old-fashioned, clichéd and downright wrong ideas of how they should market their companies, products and services. Here is a collection of self-destructive obsessions from my 20-year marketing communication career.

1. Me, myself and I

The most efficient way to end a date abruptly is to talk about yourself all the time. Why would your customer think differently?

When you go to almost any company’s website or read their marketing literature, you will be inundated with talk about what we can do, what our values are or how our products perform.

Let’s be honest: the customer couldn’t care less about you. She wants to know “what’s in it for me.” Instead of knowing that your machine does X thousand revolutions per minute, she needs information on how her business will do better if it buys a machine that does X thousand revolutions per minute.

In other words, don’t just tell about features. Go further and develop them into advantages and benefits.

2. Mass individualism

It may be fun to create terms that only have a meaning to you, or your advertising agency. But what will your customers think?

The example above is from real life, but let’s not reveal who the culprit was. The company was so proud of this flash of genius that it made it the motto of their retail chain. Obviously, nobody came to think that in only two words, magnificently contradictory, they managed to create mass confusion.

The moral of the story: When you’re creating mottos, taglines or slogans, make sense. Adapt the terminology to your target group and remember that people need to understand what you’re saying immediately. And for heaven’s sake, be clear about what your business is about and what it tries to achieve.

3. We are the best partner you can imagine

If you don’t know how to quantify your offering, maybe you should start practising. Soon and hard.

I recently ran into the website of a web design company that claimed to be “the best web design company for you”. Given that a quick Google search on “web design company” gives 86,500,000 (yes, eighty-six-and-a-half million) results, I have my doubts.

Just claiming something doesn’t make you an expert. Proving it does. Again, make it crystal clear what the customer’s benefit of doing business with you instead of your competitors is.

4. This is how it’s always been done in our industry

Has it brought any results? As Einstein said: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

The funniest—or most tragic—aspect of many companies’ resistance to changing their message or tone of voice is that a) they seek the help of a marketing communication specialist to improve the results of their business, and b) when they are getting the help, they still want to do it the old way. Which needed to be changed to improve the business, remember?

Particularly in times like these when the economy is slowing down, it might be an idea to be the first to break the conventions of your industry. It takes some courage, definitely, but may produce results that surprise you.

5. Our marketing team didn’t like your suggestion

All right, that’s infinity minus one. Helps the ad agency a lot.

When your marketing message is being crafted, whoever is crafting it may not hit the nail on the head the first time. Perhaps he was sloppy, but equally well it may have been an insufficient or unclear brief. That’s why the writer or the design team need a detailed dissection of why the suggestion didn’t fare.

Besides, it is totally irrelevant what your marketing team likes or does not like. What matters is what the target group thinks. Test, research, find out. Then adapt.


  1. Linda Kaun - 2009-03-20 @ 19:09

    Hi Kimmo, I learned of you on Robert Middleton’s group. I’m an American B2B copywriter working with a couple of European small business owners here in Indonesia. I’ve heard from both clients that I’m “too American” in my marketing style. Now I’m not one to use hype and in general can understand where this type of remark might come from.

    At the same time I do know about direct response copy, how to appeal to the buyer, use headlines to draw readers in and so on. But these clients saw all that as this over the top American style. They did not want to actually call attention to themselves, and thought the use of headlines was too much like a “lure” you’d fish with. (not a good thing in their view) Your number 1 and 4 “sins” above were very much in evidence.

    I’m just wondering if you’d comment on this difference between the European marketing style and the American version – assuming I’m not talking about this hype-filled nonsense, but actual proven marketing methods that bring results. Do I have a lot of educating to do? Is there really such a difference that one cannot use certain ideas in the European market that are fairly standard for Americans. Just curious what your view is on this.

    Linda Kaun

    • Kimmo Linkama - 2009-03-21 @ 20:34

      Hi Linda,

      Based on your description and judging by how you have structured and written the content on your own site—I took a quick peek—I can’t imagine you’re doing anything “wrong”.

      I don’t see a great difference between the American and European marketing principles in themselves. This may be a generalisation, but my experience indicates that Europeans tend to prefer shorter copy and a more subdued writing style than Americans (something like “will make your profits soar” vs. “can improve your bottom line”), which requires pretty sharp focus from the writer. Then again, we have to remember that in Europe there are 50 countries and 230 languages, which makes the culture rather heterogeneous, and therefore knowing your target audience very important.

      In my experience, many manufacturing companies, the smaller ones in particular, have been founded by people who know a great deal about manufacturing, but next to nothing about marketing. That’s why I think you are facing an educational challenge with clients like the ones you mention. Frankly, their marketing thinking seems to be really backward.

      Besides educating, would it be an idea to contact some target companies and do a little background research on what they expect from a manufacturer approaching them? Or perhaps you could do a split test with your next assignment: pick a sample of the target audience and send them material written by you, and another sample who receive material written to the client’s, hmm, liking? If your copy does better, what more convincing proof can there be that it’s the way to go?


  2. Tom Ellett - 2009-08-20 @ 03:58

    Hi Kimmo,

    Some of the worst offenders when it comes to your sin no. 3 are those “all languages, all subjects” translation agencies that invariably claim to be “the leading translation company in [insert name of country, state or city].” To me, this just says they are jack of all trades and master of none.


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