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Last week I was talking to a recent and typically sharp Wesleyan grad who asked me this question.

My first impulse was to say something about new platforms or integration or something equally fashionable–then it occurred to me that the six biggest mistakes marketers make are the six biggest mistakes they’ve always made.

Targeting everybody. Or so many different groups that the only possible execution is a pastiche of lowest common denominators.
Talking about you, not the customer. Many executives have terrific rationalizations for doing this, but you can’t outrun reality.
Being forgettable. Marketing will always be a creative business. At least for the winners.
Ignoring the pain. People are ten times more likely to tune into marketing that deals with a problem they have than some amorphous positive. Know what bothers your prospects most. Position yourself as the solution. (A tip o’ the hat to BBDO, where I learned this.)
Assuming you’re advertising in the right places. You’re almost certainly wasting money. See Mistake #1.
Neglecting to say thank you. When I buy something online, I’m immediately hit with ten other offers. It’s as if they take my first purchase as a sign of weakness. Foolishness.
I remember making a few of these points in a new business meeting and getting an eye-roll from the prospect. “Come on,” he said. “Isn’t that Marketing 101?”

I’m too modest to quote my reply. Suffice to say, I crushed him with a one-liner that was equal parts hilarity, wisdom, and diplomacy.

We kept that account for eight years.

–McK

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