Why Online Marketing Campaigns Fail

Not every online marketing campaign is a success. Surprising, I know.

While there are many things that might lead to a failed campaign, below is a list of reasons based on my experience why some online marketing campaigns don’t bring home the bacon.

sometimes you fail

1. Not knowing the right audience

Now knowing your target market is probably the biggest cause of failures. After all, it is really difficult to find your customers online if you don’t know who you want to attract to your offering.

Last year we had a prospect who wanted to discuss with us about how we might work together. Their site was generic and did not seem to have any direction at all.

When we asked the prospect who are their target customers, the answer was more or less “people who are interested in this kind of stuff”. That was the most specific they could reply. Needless to say we didn’t start working with them.

Now, I understand that it is the role of the marketer to go and find the customers online. After all, that’s what is our speciality. It just makes our job a lot easier if we know more about the prospects besides the end product(s) you would want to sell.
Without that knowledge, it takes a lot more time, trial and error before we can find the right audience, which is a problem especially if the business we are working with doesn’t have a lot of resources (or patience).

How to avoid this:

  • Your customers, both past and current, are by far the best source of information. Grab a horn, talk with them for a while and document your findings.
  • Do a periodical survey either through your email list (preferred) or on your website.
  • If your site doesn’t get a lot of interaction, research what kind of people comment on competitors sites, who shares their content and what kind of reviews they get.
  • Get insights from the analytics data on your website. While this doesn’t answer the questions “Why?”, it helps to narrow down what people are doing on your site and what brings them there.

2. Not reaching the right audience in a cost effective way

not reaching the audience

Sometimes the problem is that the ROI of the campaign just isn’t there, at least on the short run. This happens most frequently if the margins on products or services are not very high (<$20 per sale) AND when they’re not in high enough demand.

Good examples of these types of businesses are for example hairdressers and ecommerce stores selling very niche consumer products with limited appeal.

In these cases it can be really difficult to get return for your investment. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t do online marketing, but rather that you need to get creative and focus on less channels. Once one channel brings in business reliably, it is possible to expand to others.

How to avoid this:

First of all, know your numbers. Know how much the margins are per one sold product. If you sell several products, like you most likely do, calculate the profit margins on a product basis. Then use your previous sales history to estimate your sales. If your business doesn’t have a long history, do the best possible estimations you can and use that as a basis.

Use the numbers you got as a basis to calculate what kind of online marketing budget you can afford. For example if your profit per sale is on average $30 and you expect to make 100 more sales online per month, your online marketing budget shouldn’t exceed $3000 IF you want to break even immediately. For young businesses that’s usually not possible, but in many cases it makes sense to invest in building a platform online that can drive your business for years. That requires you to invest in assets, such as building an email list. Note: Google rankings are not an asset.

3. Unclear messaging / Lack of Unique Selling proposition

Lack of identity or unique selling proposition is one thing that really annoys me. Let me demonstrate this (source):

example of a bad USP

There’s nothing on that page that would make the visitor to contact the company unless you’re starting a new business. Even then, it doesn’t do a good job telling why this particular CPA company would be the right choice.

Here’s another example:

no USP example 2

You’re accelerating the business success how? What’s the concrete benefit the company provides? This page leaves it unclear how the software can help the business. The evil image slider at the top (see point #4) doesn’t make this page any better.

In contrast, check out TrunkClub:

trunk club has a good USP

The hero-area of their site is really clear: it tells and shows you exactly what you’re getting and briefly communicates why you should try them out. Lower on the page they tell you even more about the benefits and discuss some of the most frequent objections towards using TrunkClub’s service.

Here’s another good example of communicating the value the company provides:

another good USP

This is from the same market than the first example. What is great about this example is that it touches at least one pain point of the business owner looking to find solutions for. Besides that, you can see at the bottom what they do. While that one sentence description could be clearer, if you check their website you will see them explain why they are different than the other providers.

4. Always needing to start from scratch

If you think about it, it’s kind of a miracle that someone comes to your website. There are just so many options out there in every imaginable niche. And yet, someone ended up on your website.

Now, what happens next is something where many campaigns fail at.

The visitor comes, the visitor leaves and never comes back.

That cycle is especially bad if you’re using paid advertising. While some people do convert on their first visit most do not. Even if the conversion rate of the ecommerce store would be relatively good at 3%, you’d still leak out 97% of the traffic and potentially lose the opportunity to ever get them pay for your products.

How to avoid this:

There are many options you can use to do this with but these are the most common: asking them to follow you on social media, getting them on your email list or both these.

Of these the email option is usually better as that allows you to actually own those contact details. This becomes hugely important because social media sites have an absolute control over their functionality, algorithms and pricing. Whenever Facebook changes something in their algorithm, which usually leads to lower organic reach (it has dropped all the way down to 6% this year), you can’t reach the people who follow you there unless you pay.

And that might be a make or break factor, especially for smaller businesses. However, email marketing services are usually quite affordable and you can get started with $0 monthly investment for example on Mailchimp.

Besides that, compare the Facebook reach of 6% to these figures below courtesy of Mailchimp:

email marketing open rates based on MailChimp data

Bottom line: Email reach is at least 3x better than organic Facebook reach.

In terms of reach, Twitter is not better either. No matter what you decide to be the main communication channel, it’s important to have at least one way of capturing the visitors contact details.

5. Lack of buy in

This is something everyone working in an online marketing agency can relate to. Sometimes the client feels like they need to do online marketing, but they are unwilling or unable to contribute in any way leaving all the success or failure on the shoulders of the agency. Sure, that is what most online marketing agencies do for some clients, us included.

But based on our experience the results are less impressive than with an engaged client. Engaged does not necessarily mean that the client would need to produce a lot of content and be hands on. It can be just simply giving industry insights, be transparent enough about their business and customers and actually pay attention to what’s happening on the site while still respecting the opinions of professional marketers/SEOs.

Another clear indication about the lack of buy in is of course investment. Now we’re not anywhere near the most expensive agency out there, but it doesn’t mean that we can provide huge ROI with your budget of $1000/month.

Proper marketing takes time and resources.

How to fix this:
As a business owner or marketing person, ask yourself these few questions:

  • Is the time people spend online increasing?
  • Are people purchasing more stuff online compared to 2012?
  • What is the direction where the human behavior is moving on both of these things?

The answers are yes, yes, most likely (happens in China as well).

Draw your own conclusions.


Based on the list I’ve provided, it might seem that it’s the clients fault. While some are not ready to work with an agency or don’t have a strong enough offer, it would be stupid if I’d say that it’s all on them.

Sometimes us marketers just get things wrong and focus on wrong channels or customer acquisition methods. I’d like to be able to say that we or I have a perfect record, but in all honesty that is not the case.

At the end of the day marketing is about the product. A great product will do well if it is given a little bit of boost and steered to the right direction. But no amount of marketing can turn a bad product into success. And unfortunately, that’s something that us marketing agency folks can’t usually really help with.

About the Author

A Finnish dude with a beard, weird sense of humour and a passion for turning ideas in to something concrete. Online marketing consultant here at Growth Pulse.

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