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3 marketing mistakes founders make — and how to avoid them

Expert advice from MaRS marketing expert Kristina Cleary

As far as marketing is concerned, Kristina Cleary knows a thing or two — or for this article’s purpose, three. Over her more than 25-year career, Cleary has helped two companies IPO, and as chief marketing officer, helped grow HR and payroll software company Ceridian to the billion-dollar powerhouse it is today. She’s also an executive-in-residence at MaRS, helping promising ventures navigate the nuances of marketing in today’s constantly evolving and fast-paced digital ecosystem.

But Cleary isn’t one to boast, humblebrag or exaggerate her climb to becoming one of Canada’s preeminent marketing experts. She’s a straight shooter. And knows the value of learning from mistakes.

From garbled copy to misunderstanding what a marketing department even does, Cleary has seen every blunder in the book — and the consequences that follow. In no particular order, here are Cleary’s top three marketing mistakes to avoid.

1. Believing marketers aren’t numbers people

Cleary has worked with her fair share of new founders, and many trip up when recruiting their first marketing leader.

“They hire somebody who can do graphic design, has experience in advertising and all the pretty and wonderful things you see in marketing, but they don’t necessarily understand how to be a revenue driver,” says Cleary.

The solution? Focus on candidates who understand the revenue growth cycle, how to create leads and contribute to the bottom line.

“You have to find somebody who can talk numbers and is results oriented,” says Cleary. “Somebody who can share real-world examples of the success that they have delivered in the past.”

For Cleary, the ultimate sin is brushing marketing off as “just some creative department” and not giving it the priority it deserves.

“It pains me to see marketing teams treated as administrative resources,” says Cleary. “The truth is when you find marketers who are experts at what they do, they can deliver incredible impact to the company’s growth.”

2. Not measuring results

Cleary has seen this mistake time and again: Companies drop tens of thousands of dollars on print advertising, for example, and aren’t able to track the results or measure their value.

The answer comes in the form of a scorecard — tracking weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual growth to monitor marketing performance and demonstrate it is having a direct impact on a company’s bottom line.

“A scorecard needs to outline what a company’s goals are for a whole year, if not five,” explains Cleary. “Marketing departments should have their own scorecards to show goals, objectives and how their hard work is contributing to the company’s overall scorecard.”

Cleary emphasizes this isn’t just to pat oneself on the back for jobs well done. It’s especially useful on a rainy day.

“These scorecards provide the opportunity for marketing leaders and teams to step back, look at the bigger picture and pivot when they’re not necessarily on track or delivering the results that they want.”

3. Sending out mixed messages

“It drives me crazy when I read a company’s website and have no idea what they do, or when there’s a misalignment in messaging across all their different platforms,” says Cleary. “Whether it’s their website, social media, pitch decks or press releases, everybody’s telling a different story. It’s confusing to the market, it’s confusing to their employees, and it’s especially confusing to customers and prospects.”

Alongside the marketing scorecard, Cleary’s other bible is a corporate messaging handbook that ensures messaging is aligned across internal and external channels.

“The corporate messaging handbook is one of the foundational elements I’ve relied on in every organization I’ve run from a marketing standpoint,” says Cleary. “This isn’t just for the marketing team, but the entire organization from the top down. It clarifies the messaging in terms of why the company exists, its mission, long-term vision, as well as all of its products, services and target markets.”

A bonus fourth (and final) thought: Don’t be afraid to make your own mistakes

“I wish all founders embraced this. Nothing is going to be perfect all the time. If you’re operating well 85 percent of the time, then that 15 percent where there’s room for improvement will help project you into fast growth, more consistently,” says Cleary. “Every single one of those mistakes is a learning opportunity — learn as much as possible from every mistake, no matter what journey you’re on.”

MaRS Momentum program works with high-growth Canadian companies to accelerate their path to hitting $100 million in revenue. Is your business Canada’s next anchor company? Find out more and apply to join the program.

Photo courtesy of Kristina Cleary; Image source: istock

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