Marketing Know-how

Warning Signs! How to Spot Bad Marketing Advice


When it comes to marketing, not all advice is created equal. From marketing books to online courses and social media, there is endless information out there. But how do you know what is relevant to your small business? And, more importantly, how can you spot the red flags and avoid bad marketing advice?

In this post, I’m going to share a few examples of advice I’ve seen go badly. Use them as warning signs to look out for when looking for or getting small business marketing advice.

The “start from scratch” approach

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Unless you are, quite literally, starting a new business from scratch, this is a red flag right there. Someone telling you to get rid of everything you’ve done before might sound like they are simply more knowledgeable than you. It’s very easy for business owners with limited experience to believe that they’ve had it entirely wrong.

The reality, however, is that this is highly unlikely to be the case. If your business has been around for a while, whatever you’ve been doing will have built some brand awareness and authority. Don’t let that go to waste! You might have lacked in strategy, but chances are you have made up for that with a really good understanding of your target audience, your USP or your brand personality.

A marketing professional should be able to help you work with what you’ve got. Bringing them in should help you hone your skills and strengthen your strategy. They’ll take the building blocks you’ve generated and help put them together.

So if someone comes in and tells you to abandon the channels you’ve been working on, delete your previous content and start with a “blank slate”, be wary!

It doesn’t fit with your values

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In terms of bad marketing advice, this is one thing that will vary drastically from brand to brand. Because every business owner, and every brand, has their own set of values.

I’ve spoken in previous posts about the importance of knowing your values. It’s a key part of developing any business, as it is one of the things that will draw a customer to you. If you are an environmentally conscious business, that promotes sustainability, you will attract customers who have a similar passion for the environment. Makes sense, right?

This is why it’s incredibly important to make sure the marketing advice you are receiving does not conflict with those values. An obvious example here might be rejecting the advice to do a leaflet drop, as that wouldn’t align with your views of reducing paper waste.

But it can be much more subtle than that. It could be that you receive advice to increase the “salesy” side of your marketing. And if you’re someone who values the community you’ve built through content marketing, increasing your sales emails and social media posts might not sit right with you.

And that’s okay! You know your business and your target audience, and you get to say no to tactics that don’t reflect what you’ve built.

It doesn’t differentiate you from your competition

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One of the most important things your marketing should do is help you stand out from your competition. Your USP (or positioning) is crucial. Because you are unlikely to be the only business in your industry offering your product/service.

In order to succeed, you need to find what differentiates you. So if you meet with a marketer or read something online telling you to follow the ‘best practice’ approach, aka exactly what someone else has done, sadly you’re encountering an example of bad marketing advice!

There is absolutely no harm in looking to successful businesses in your industry for inspiration! But if someone tells you to mirror what the leader in your area is doing, it’s going to be a big miss. All that happens there is you become a less well known version of the same thing. In which case, why would any of your target customers choose you?

Instead, you should be using your branding, USP and niche to carve out your own marketing strategy! No copycat behaviour. Your business is unique and special and your marketing has to reflect that. Any professional worth working with will tell you that.

There’s no control over costs and profit

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Here’s one piece of bad marketing advice I’d like to think many people would spot quickly! When it comes to money, we all generally have our guard up. In this case, that is a good thing.

Outlining exact costs v profit when it comes to marketing can be tricky. The reality is, promoting your business is a long game. I’ve written extensively about this before in my post on touchpoint marketing! So there will be costs associated that may take a while for the results to show.

That being said, if someone is encouraging you to keep pouring resources into something where the costs outweigh the profit, that’s a big red flag. While it’s great to try out new potential sources of sales, if you are consistently seeing that the costs of the Facebook ads being run are obliterating any profit you hoped to make, it’s time to pull back.

Keeping control of your costs is imperative to keep your business afloat. So if anyone tries to push marketing tactics on you that make you relinquish that control, take note!

There is no evidence to support the claims

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Another warning sign of bad marketing advice is that there is no evidence to back up the claim being made. In order to feel confident in following someone’s advice, you need to see that it is proven to have worked already.

For example, have you seen those ads on social media that claim their Facebook Paid Ads campaign made them 6 figures? Or that they have “the secret to making millions from one product”? Be very wary of these claims if there is no solid proof to back it up. Often these people talk in terms of turnover rather than profit, so listen carefully to the terminology being used.

Additionally, remember that these people are making money on the back of this advice. If you have to hire them, or pay them a sum to access these “secrets”, you need to know they actually know what they are talking about. So do your homework – have they run a successful business themselves? If they’re charging you for their book or course, they should have.

The social media age has allowed people to start all sorts of businesses from their sofas. And that’s amazing! However, it has also allowed people to charge for second-hand insights. If you find that the advice being given to you is vague, lacking specifics, or selling you more of a general idea, than the concrete steps you need to achieve it, take it with a pinch of salt. The chances are this advice is coming from someone who has never walked the walk themselves.

Not bad marketing advice, just not right for you

square peg round hole
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And last but not least, there is plenty advice out there that isn’t bad; it just isn’t suitable for your business. In order to establish this, it’s important to look at the goals it is aiming to help you achieve.

I’ve written a whole post on how the size of your business impacts on your marketing. The reality is, if a serial entrepreneur is offering advice, it’s most likely to be helpful for other aspiring serial entrepreneurs. The scale here is crucial – if you’re a small local business looking to make a consistent income, the approach, goals and mindset of a serial entrepreneur will not be aligned with yours.

Similarly, the type of business or product has a significant impact. If your business is an online software system, advice from someone specialising in the marketing of a physical product is unlikely to work for you. And if you’re a B2C business, listening to tips from a B2B marketing expert might be a waste of your valuable time; it doesn’t always translate. It isn’t bad advice, it’s just a round peg and a square hole.


If you are interested in reading more about this topic, have a look at these:
How to Stop Feeling Stuck with your Marketing
7 Common Marketing Myths You Need to Stop Believing
What Exactly IS Marketing? OR: Marketing Strategy v Marketing Tactics
Marketing Consultant v Marketing Agency: the need to know differences

Denise Strohsahl brand and marketing consultant for small businesses

Hello, I’m Denise from sandstonecastles, a brand & marketing consultancy based in Edinburgh, Scotland.

I help small business owners like yourself to find the right marketing that’s in line with your brand and values.