Rules of Marketing – Are Your Following the Wrong Rules?

Breaking the Rules of Marketing

Breaking the rules of effective marketing isn’t illegal, you just lose your customers. photo: kelsey e.

Every game has its rules and you can’t succeed if you don’t understand them. So, what are the rules of marketing?

The rules of marketing include the laws and regulations, but you’ll never win a game if you only avoid breaking its rules. When it comes to effective marketing, the referee is the consumer and they get to choose the winner.

Marketing is a game where you get points for style and the consumers decide who wins.

How do they choose the winner? How do you style points? And which rules shouldn’t you ever break?

In other words: How do you create effective marketing messages?

Consumers’ rules of marketing

The marketing game is harsh; winning once gives you no guarantees of another win. So, you can get one customer without ever even interesting anyone else.

Every consumer writes their own rules. And every consumer evaluates your marketing and advertising with those rules in their mind – without even noticing it.

You lose if you make one foul.

Humans are very good at making instant decisions. We learned this skill during the prehistoric times; if you didn’t react quickly to the smallest things, you were on the lions’ menu.

Most snap evaluations that we do are correct, so we trust them without noticing it. We see so much marketing and advertising that we don’t have the time to concentrate on every message. The decision we subconsciously make within seconds, is usually our last.

Marketing has to speak to a group of prospects at once. When you can’t break any one’s rules, the only solution is to decide conveniently prejudiced referees.

Pick the right referees

The first step in effective marketing is to attract the right people’s attention. NOTE! The “right” people, not “as many as possible”, as it’s often believed.

If you target everyone, you attract no one.

You can never please every one. That applies to you, your products, and your marketing messages.

Those who notice your messages will evaluate them. If they decide (consciously or subconsciously) that your product isn’t good for them, it’s difficult to change their opinion later.

When you decide who you’re targeting, only pick an audience that you can handle; you can’t break anyone’s rules.

Do you only think you’re interesting?

It’s easy to make an advertisement that attracts a lot of attention. But that’s not the goal. The goal of advertising is to attract the attention of your target audience.

The most typical mistake is to make an ad that would attract your attention.

Will you buy your own product? If not, then your opinion doesn’t really matter, right?

Here’s an extreme example:

I love to play snooker (I do it often and poorly), so you can get my attention if you speak about it. But if you sell tennis rackets, you’ve wasted your marketing budget.

Obviously most marketing isn’t that poorly directed, but the problem remains: advertisements often attract people who won’t buy the product.

A typical mistake is to pick the wrong problem. For example a department store advertised travel guide books as the answer to the pain of waiting for a trip.

Sure, most travelers would love to go now, but will reading a book really help? You could advertise the same product as the answer to a bigger problem: a holiday always seems too short and looking for the attractions, restaurants, and other services takes valuable time.

A good problem

Some problems are better for marketing than others. If your product is the answer to even just one good problem, then advertising it is relatively simple.

Picking the “best” problem is a requirement for effective marketing. Even if you’re an excellent copywriter and you have a limitless marketing budget, an ineffective problem will make it near impossible to succeed.

On the other hand an effective problem will compensate for poor copy and small budget more than anything else.

So, what’s a good problem for marketing like?

  1. Easily relatable. Use a problem your potential customers can easily relate to.
  2. Important. This is a no brainer, but the problem has to be important enough to drive sales.
  3. Visual. The best problems create vivid mental images.

But how do you know which problems are important to your customers?

Do you know your customers?

Customer profiles are essential for effective marketing.

Without clear customer profiles marketing is about luck. The better your customer profiles are, the better are your chances of success.

The point of customer profiles is to segment potential customers into manageable groups. You can then target a specific segment with a marketing message.

The importance of different problems is maybe the most important part of your customer profiles for effective advertising.

Usually it’s best to concentrate on just one problem in each marketing message you create.

It’s better to be focused and speak to a specific group of people rather than trying to address every problem you can solve.

Effective marketing is based on targeting. Every bit of information that the listener doesn’t need is a distraction from the message you want them to understand and remember.

What’s the problem you focus on in your marketing? Have you spotted a poor marketing problem in someone else’s marketing? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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  1. Great reminder Peter! I know one thing we could do better is really do a better job at targeting our exact customer profile. We are working on it. 😉

    With the tools today, it has never been easier to learn more about your customers!

    • Peter Sandeen said:

      Hi Chris,

      There’s almost too many tools available; you never know which would be the best of all. But again that comes around to understanding your potential customers. Where do they search for information, which words do they search for (in Google), and what do they expect to find.

  2. Shanna said:

    I think the most difficult thing to find is the best problem. I’ve learned the hard way many times that the problems I most like to solve and the problems my clients would most like solved are rarely the same…

    Great post!

    • Peter Sandeen said:

      Hi Shanna,

      That really is the most common problem (not to know the best problem). If you’re interested, I’ve written a 6-part email course about the framework of marketing (it’s also in the sidebar), which is basically about figuring out the best problem and how to present it. Check it out if you’re not sure you’ve found the best problem for your marketing yet 😉

  3. Targeting the right way is absolutely critical. Its using a .22 instead of a cannon. A scalpel instead of an axe.
    Like Chris mentioned, the more technology and tools evolve, the easier it is to understand your audience and market. One of the reasons why I enjoy Aweber 🙂 I can track clicks and open rates, and even refine my efforts to particular subscribers based on their behavior, its pretty awesome.

    • Peter Sandeen said:

      Hi Jason,

      Going a little violent there ;D But yeah, those are good metaphors. AWeber does really offer great tools for customizing your messaging, which definitely is worth the hassle.

  4. Peter I could not agree more with you on this one. Like you mentioned in your post – If you market to everyone you will attract no one. I think the keyword in all of that is attract! But a better question is WHY are people attracted to you.

    Is it going to be because of your product or your service. Maybe it’s going to be because you are like-able and exude a positive vibe? Those reason are all possible but I think that the main reason why anyone would be attracted to you or your business will be because of your vision. In other words, WHY do you do what you do! There has to be a deeper meaning to your product or your service than just because you want to make money. When you can clearly identify what that is, you will know exactly who your customer will be, will start marketing to that customer and those people will want to follow you and tell everyone about your business because now they aren’t buying a product or a service, they are buying a vision, a mission and a cause!

    • Peter Sandeen said:

      Hi Hector,

      You’re right, people often buy into a vision that they link to the company selling a product. Even more so than the product itself. And as you mentioned, a strong vision creates customer evangelists who will do whatever they can to spread your message 🙂

  5. Jackie said:

    Feedback is the difference that makes the difference these days.

    Two way communication is something that wasn’t so much available to marketing in the past unless you had the big bucks to throw at research. I agree with Chris and Jason, the tools we have now make it so much easier to segment and qualify and quantify our market, so we can better align our offers.

    • Peter Sandeen said:

      Hi Jackie,

      The tools really are there, but most marketers don’t use them or understand how to use them… Everybody just talks about using these phenomenal research opportunities, but few get results (only because they don’t know how to get results).

  6. Jeanne said:

    I might add that beyond customer profiles and segmentations, you need to understand the worldview of your customers. Here’s a really good write-up about “why you should ditch niches & embrace worldviews”.

    In short, the customers’ worldview is one of the most important factors that will ultimately determine whether they will listen/trust/buy from you as opposed to your competitor.

    • Peter Sandeen said:

      Hi Jeanne,

      Of, my favorite topic: customers’ worldviews 😀 My Premeditated Marketing guide is largely about that. So yeah, I agree with you 100% 😀

  7. Peter,

    In my opinion this is the money shot right here… “If you target everyone, you attract no one.”

    If you hold this single idea in your head you can be successful… Thanks buddy!

    Ryan H.

    • Peter Sandeen said:

      Hi Ryan,

      That seems to be the crowd favorite here 🙂 And I really think that’s a key thing in effective marketing.

      It takes some discipline to concentrate on just one idea in marketing, but it’s worth it if you do it well…

  8. Cindy said:

    That was well constructed and it really impacted me and my thoughts about marketing. Reading this made me realize more about marketing and learned that marketing is not like those easy brainer task any businessmen would do. My favorite line would be “If you attract everyone, you attract no one.”. I think you can also use that principle in everyday life. Thanks!

    • Peter Sandeen said:

      Hi Cindy,

      Thanks a lot 🙂

      You’re absolutely right, you can and you should use that principle in your private life too. You’ll just end up trying to please everyone if you don’t understand that you can’t please everyone.

  9. A fresh look at some marketing classics, Peter. Thanks for this 🙂

    I love how you started, points for style and the consumers decide 😀 Mostly because I love style and I love consumer-praise/appreciation, so those things I keep an eye out for.

    At the same time, I speak of a different KIND of marketing on this guest post over at Danny Iny’s: if anyone’s interested 🙂

    P.S. I think this is a typo “you’ve waisted your marketing budget.”

    • Peter Sandeen said:

      Hi Jason,

      Thanks for noticing the typo (“waisted” didn’t really make any sense 😀 )

      And I remember your post, I think it’s about almost the same topic, but from a very different perspective (which is great).

  10. Marketing can be SO simple, but SO many get it SO wrong! Don’t over-promise, Don’t under-deliver, Make sure your message is targeted and clear, Make sure your message provides the solution to a real problem. With all of the Social Media tools now it is very easy to get to know your target customer, and speak to them on their level.

    Great Post!

    • Peter Sandeen said:

      Hi Steve,

      “Don’t over-promise, Don’t under-deliver, Make sure your message is targeted and clear, Make sure your message provides the solution to a real problem.” Well said. When you follow these rules, you can’t go far off the mark.

  11. […] get easily confused, so stick to what’s most important to your customers and only hint at the other […]


  1. […] get easily confused, so stick to what’s most important to your customers and only hint at the other […]

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