When Bad Marketing Happens to Good People

In Chronicles of a CEO by Rebecca Liston

It happens more often than any of us like to admit.

It’s heart-breaking.

Tragic, even.

You know what I am talking about…I am talking about the horror that occurs when bad marketing happens to really good people.

That new dentist who just opened his brand new practice, put up the sign, and didn’t even notice that the word “SMILE” printed on the sign was spelled wrong. (SMLE just doesn’t quite cut it.)

Or the doctor whose website is covered in bright red splotches that far-too-closely resembles blood. (And yes, I actually saw this website. It looked like a massacre had happened on my screen!)

Or the coach who is branded as an “Empowerment Coach” but who, in her professional photos, is looking up at the camera with big puppy-dog eyes and not in any way representing a sense of empowerment.

We’ve all seen these examples far too often!

Branding matters, and yes, people are likely to forgive a typo or two in a letter, but are they likely to trust a dentist who cannot spell “SMILE” properly? Or will they feel that the precise nature of the work that they need done on their teeth may not be best left to a man who didn’t even notice that the sign was mis-spelled?

Will the doctor whose website looks like the scene of a grizzly murder attract patients who truly require a sense of safety and comfort when seeing their trusted medical advisor?

Will women want to hire the Empowerment Coach who herself presents as being meek and mild and not at all strong and stable in her carriage and demeanor? I mean, if she cannot stand up strongly herself, how could she teach others to do so?

While I do not think that these folks are doomed to a life of zero business, I do think that they’ve made things infinitely harder for themselves to succeed.

Good marketing smooths the way for you to gain customers. It conveys quickly and with ease who you are and what you’re all about. This allows people to then, when they meet you, feel like they already have a sense of your business, and, provided the branding that they’ve been exposed to MATCHES with who you are, then you’re already that much closer to establishing a trusting relationship.

Good marketing also establishes credibility. There is no doubt in my mind that people choose professionals to work with who actually “look the part.” If you’re a lawyer and your professional photo is a selfie or was taken by your buddy one day at the beach after a few beers, then I think you’re not likely to “look the part” of a competent, savvy litigator, and clients will pass you by.

Good marketing also sets, quite subconsciously, a price point in the mind of the buyer. Take a look around the liquor store or even glance at a selection of candy bars and you’ll see exactly what I mean. The “choice” liquor comes in a bottle that is elegantly styled, with a name that denotes class and excellence in taste (think of Crown Royal as an example). The booze meant for the teenager going to the pool party is completely different — styled instead for ease of access and fast consumption, with a name like “Panty Remover” or “Party Mixer.” But not only are the bottles and names in alignment with the product, they also set in the mind of the buyer an idea of “how much they cost.” So as a service professional, this is important to keep in mind. If you website screams “cheap” because the photos are crappy and of poor resolution and the links don’t all work properly, then you’re going to have a lot of difficulty commanding a higher price for your services.

So if good marketing is just so important, then how does bad marketing ever happen to those really good people?

One of the biggest mistakes that I have seen business owners make is that they simply do not invest in marketing and branding support. They doodle off a logo that they like, without really considering how it is perceived by their potential clients. (Hint: YOU may really like ladybugs, but your clients, who are farmers, think that they are pests…so likely not the best logo choice for you!)

While your logo and your brand must be reflections of who you are, they are not created FOR you, but instead are created to attract your best customers. This is a really important distinction!

Another reason that bad marketing happens to good people is that they may invest in good marketing and branding support, but then insist on “calling the shots.” Oh, if I had a nickel for every time one of my graphic design friends was pulling out their hair because the client that had hired them — and was paying them money to do the job that they are experts at — was insisting on changes to the design without really understanding why the designer had created it to be that way in the first place.

The thing is, if you hire an expert, trust the expert. It is their job to know how to market to your clients and to determine the best way to do so, not yours.

I have also seen bad marketing happen to good people because business owners don’t stay consistent with their marketing, and even though they may have hired a great team to create their materials, they aren’t using them! That’s like keeping the good china in the cupboard and pulling it out only one day a year! It’s crazy! So instead of using the materials that are really great, they use something that they popped off themselves 7 years ago…and it just doesn’t cut it.

And finally, it has to be said: some bad marketing happens to good people because the good people don’t hire a good marketing company. Yep. I said it. There are an awful lot of people out there touting their skills as marketing experts…and only a few of those are really, really good at what they do. So if you decide to hire a marketing team to support you, then please, please look at their portfolio! Talk to their former clients! Do every single thing you can to ensure you are hiring a reputable company!

I’ve had the distinct advantage of working with some spectacular marketing teams over the years — both my own design team headed by India Hathaway at Inspired by India and my copy writer extraordinaire Stella Orange — and my clients and colleagues atBottomLine Marketing in Calgary, The Branding Firm here in London, the team at Minuteman Press headed by Dave Kloestra also here in London, and graphic designer Sydney Fletcher in Toronto, to name a few. So if you’re in doubt about who to hire to help with your design and branding work, then I would be happy to give you a recommendation! Interview them. Make sure they “get” you and the work that you do, and if you’re not certain how to talk marketing lingo with them to ensure you’re going to get what you need and want, thenget support with that piece, too! There are many consultants like myself who speak “Marketing” and are happy to work with you and your team to get your marketing done right! Those are my favourite projects!

So remember, bad marketing can happen to really good people, and given the importance of good marketing, you want to make sure you aren’t one of those good people! If I can support you in your quest to make certain your marketing and branding is “up to snuff,” then be sure to reach out! It would be a pleasure to partner with you on that which makes my heart sing!

Big love,



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Rebecca Liston helps her clients predict, pivot, and compete in an increasingly complex global marketplace. Her clients quickly uncover the root of their challenges and know the actions to take to overcome them. A six-time nominee for the RBC Canadian Woman Entrepreneur Award, Rebecca combines business strategy with intuition, giving her clients the edge on forward-thinking, elegant answers to their most complicated problems. Her clients are entrepreneurs with CEO-mindsets and executives with entrepreneurial instincts. She is based in London, Ontario. What if you could get the answer to your biggest business challenge, in one sitting? Visit rebeccaliston.com to find out more.