• Wanda Kenton Smith

15 Ways to Wreck a Marketing Career

by Wanda Kenton Smith

Published on Soundings Trade Only Online


Identifying these shortcomings, and working to address them, is key to finding success

For 24 years, I’ve written this column for Soundings Trade Only. The exercise has made me a better marketer and kept me on top of my game.

By design, my column is usually focused on delivering a mix of the latest emerging news and trends, platforms and technologies; providing insights and commentary regarding industry marketing initiatives; and often sharing key strategies that ensure marketing success. This month, I’m going to do something different: focus on the hidden culprits that lurk right beneath the waterline and cause an otherwise smart marketing crew to sink the ship.

For the first time in more than two decades, I’m purposely steering you off course through murky, unchartered waters. Get ready for a bumpy ride as we throttle headfirst into the danger zone and uncover 15 common failures that can sabotage a marine marketer’s efforts and career.

I hope you’ll candidly assess your marketing approach against this set of flops. If you find you’re hitting against a few (or too many) of these designated markers, now is the time to kill the ignition, make corrections, readjust your course and then fire up the engines to get back on track for success.

• Failure to plan strategically. Are the company’s short- and long-term goals and objectives clearly defined and understood? Has sufficient time been invested to develop — and execute — sound marketing strategy? The best marketers are strategic thinkers. Remember: Failure to plan is the same as planning to fail.

• Failure to know the numbers. Does your marketing team have a firm pulse on key numbers? Whether it’s sales volume, lead generation or conversions (or all of your many marketing key performance indicators), are you regularly trending, tracking and reporting results? The inability to collect, analyze, grasp and apply critical data inhibits success.

• Failure to budget and measure return on investment. During the past few years, Covid-19 has thrown a wrench into traditional budgeting, which has prevented marketers from doing their jobs effectively. Smart marketers embrace the budgeting process to demonstrate how marketing activities directly affect sales and more. Conversely, inability to quantify performance can lead to demise or dismissal.

• Failure to test campaigns, concepts and platforms. Before sinking big bucks into a campaign launch, that campaign needs to be tested. Never go to market relying solely on gut instinct. For starters, you may be repeating the same old marketing activities you’ve deployed forever, when you should be researching and testing new concepts and platforms. Today’s affordable digital marketing and media landscape allows you to test on the cheap with real-time analytics so you can measure and adjust on the fly.

• Failure to communicate. When consulting, I’m often surprised to learn how infrequently companies connect with customers and prospects. Customer retention strategies, including ongoing communication, must be a top priority. Don’t rely on other parties to serve as a communication conduit to the end user of your products or services. I recall a manufacturing client once telling me he intentionally chose not to engage with the buyers of his product because it was the role of the dealer network to do that job. To earn customer loyalty, you must define the customer journey and create communication touchpoints throughout the process.

• Failure to continuously improve the customer experience. The best marketers are wildly passionate about the customer experience. It’s never a good sign when your marketing team is so consumed by creative pursuits or the next spectacular campaign that they forfeit a focus on the customer experience.

• Failure to follow up. Want to lose a prospective customer fast? Fail to follow up. You need sufficient systems, processes, protocols and procedures to ensure accountability regarding follow-up. Is your team doing so in a timely manner? Are there rewards for follow-up and consequences for a lack thereof? Is this expectation part of the company culture? Today’s customer demands immediate response. Whether it’s the lead generation process, the website chatbot, a customer service portal or a live greeting when answering the phone, marketers must be all about tracking and ensuring a prompt, professional follow-up process.

• Failure to create and promote unique selling propositions. In consulting, I always ask a client why I should buy from them. Frankly, I’m often underwhelmed by a ho-hum response that virtually anyone in their segment could proffer. Every marketer should strategically develop a series of authentic USPs that are integrated into a company’s brand messaging. These USPs should resonate with customers and prospects. USPs should answer the questions, “Why this company?” and “What’s in it for me?”

• Failure to update. When working with a new client, I take a deep dive on their website and communications platforms. Unfortunately, it’s not unusual to discover that website content, imagery, videos, the event calendar, personnel listings and even the brand or product listings are woefully outdated. Assign a team member to own and take full responsibility for regularly assessing and refreshing content.

• Failure to manage time and projects. If there is one universal truth about marketers, it’s that we’re master jugglers. You won’t cut it in this career if you can’t juggle projects and fast-moving deadlines. If you’re dropping the ball, study up and apply time-management strategies.

• Failure to learn. The best marketers invest in professional development. The good news is that virtually anything you want or need to learn can be found with the click of a mouse, and mostly from the comfort of your home or office computer, at minimal cost.

• Failure to collaborate. Smart marketers know they aren’t solo acts with all the answers. They embrace brainstorming, collaboration and teamwork. The smartest marketers develop a tight network of trusted colleagues they turn to for insight and expertise. I have a diverse community of marketers inside and outside the marine industry who serve as my go-to resources for fresh perspectives. Do you?

• Failure to give credit. Marketers rely on the contributions of others throughout the organization to help us achieve our objectives. Instead of expecting support, which can create resentment, good marketers develop relationships built on mutual trust with, and sincere appreciation for, team members from other departments. In short: Show gratitude.

• Failure to proof. Whether it’s your website, social media, advertisements, e-blasts or other outreach initiatives, your reputation is on the line every time you bring your brand to market. Be sure to thoroughly spell-check; do a double take on names, titles, addresses, phone numbers and URLs. Ensure that all links work. Credibility counts.

• Failure to overcome fear. I’ve saved the biggest personal gauntlet for last: What’s your biggest fear associated with your marketing role? Maybe it’s testing a new platform that you know little about, or doing an interview on video. Or maybe you’re anxious about pitching the C-suite or speaking in front of an audience. Whatever your poison, you must be willing to overcome your fears. With focused intention, determination, commitment and practice, anything can be conquered. Start today.

As you’ve cruised through this column, I hope you’ve felt some discomfort. That’s a good thing. Once you identify areas that would benefit from improvement — and start paying attention to fixing them — you’ll be well on your way to building an epic marketing career.

This article was originally published in the September 2022 issue.