How do you judge the effectiveness of your small-business marketing? Easy. Does it produce results? Great looking ads, fancy logos, and flashy websites are worthless if they don’t bring business to your door. This list of 10 common marketing mistakes can help you produce better results.

1. Not having a clearly defined USP. Do you want to fit in or stand out? In order to thrive in today’s cluttered marketplace, every business owner must be able to clearly articulate an answer to the question, “Why should someone do business with you rather than your competitor?” That is, what makes you unique? Your answer to these questions constitutes your Unique Selling Proposition. Do you offer 24-hour, 7-days-a-week service? Do you offer the lowest price? Do you offer a no-risk guarantee? A strong USP helps you to stand out in a crowded field.

2. Selling features rather than benefits. Someone once said, “No one ever bought a drill bit. Millions of people have bought a hole.” People don’t buy features, they buy benefits. They are tuned into Radio Station W.I.I.F.M. (What’s in it for me?). Tell them clearly how the features of your products and/or services will help them, make their lives easier, etc.

3. Not using headlines in print advertisements. You have at most a couple of seconds to grab someone’s attention when they read a newspaper or magazine. Using an attention-grabbing headline ensures that the reader will continue to read the rest of the advertisement. The headline is an ad for the ad. Take a look at some newspaper ads. Which ones attract your attention? You will probably find they have an effective headline.

4. Not testing headlines, price points, packages, pitches, everything. How do you know what ad, what price, what offer most appeals to customers? By putting them to a vote. Test everything. Rather than running one newspaper ad for three weeks, why not run three different ads for three weeks and measure which draws better? Why not price your products and/or services at different points and see which sells more? Is cheaper always better? Not necessarily. Each situation is unique. One price may outperform another for a myriad of reasons. Your job is not to know why, but to find what works. Test, test, test.

5. Making it difficult to do business with you. Is your sales staff knowledgeable about your products? Does someone answer your phone promptly and in a friendly manner? Can people find your phone number and your location? Can customers find things easily in your store? Put yourselves in your customer’s shoes. Don’t make them work — they won’t. I’ve seen a website that undoubtedly cost the company thousands of dollars and nowhere could I find a phone number or e-mail address. Your customer has better things to do than struggle to do business with you.

6. Not finding out what your customer’s needs are. What is the first step in filling your customer’s needs? Discover-ing what they are. What’s most important to them? Don’t even try to guess. You may think price is most important when what they really want is fast service. You may believe fast service is what they want when what they desperately want is a friendly, personal touch. How do you find out? People won’t tell you unless you ask. So ask.

7. Not maintaining an up-to-date customer database. Your customer list is pure gold. Rather than always working to bring new customers in the door, why not take advantage of the goodwill you have already built with your existing clientele? Experiment with extending special offers to your customer base. Ask for referrals. Send them a card on their birthday. Call and ask what they most enjoyed about doing business with you (or what they disliked doing business with you). You worked hard to develop these relationships. Recognize their value and work hard to “re-delight” them.

8. Not eliminating the risk. What stops a customer from buying from you? Are they unsure that your offer is worth their hard-earned money? Make it easy to decide to buy from you. How can you reduce their risk? If you are in a service business, let them try your service at no cost. Offer them a free consultation. Offer them a money-back, no-questions-asked guarantee on any product they buy. Why not? Are you afraid people will take advantage of you? Give it a try for a month. You may be very pleasantly surprised. Not confident in your product or service? Then go to work on improving your service.

9. Not educating your customers. Don’t just claim that your service is better. Explain why. Is your staff better trained? Do you utilize a technology that increases service turnaround or quality? Don’t expect people to just take your word on it. The words quality, service and value mean nothing; everyone claims to offer these. Make these claims real for the customer by offering credible explanations why they should do business with you.

10. Not knowing what works and sticking with it. Do you know which ads are effective? What media pulls best? What offer gets the best reaction? By testing (see above), you will find out. When you find something that works, don’t change it until you find something that works better. Just because you’re sick of an ad or offer isn’t a good enough reason to change it. You can supplement it with other ads and offers. If it works, keep it.

Liraz is the president of (, a free informational website for entrepreneurs and small-business owners.

Publication date: 10/29/2001