From the December 2001 issue of Entrepreneur

Planning a hot new marketing program for 2002? Sometimes, even with the help of a qualified agency, what may at first look like brilliant marketing moves can actually be big mistakes. Here's how to avoid four marketing blunders that can torpedo your best-laid plans.

1. The Wrong Message

One of the most imaginative TV commercials of the year ran during the Super Bowl. Dubbed "Running With the Squirrels," it was a parody of the running of the bulls through the streets of Pamplona, Spain, but instead of angry bulls, hundreds of squirrels chased runners through the ancient city. Unfortunately, the $6 million spot from EDS did little more than entertain, because most viewers were left puzzling about what was being sold.

You can avoid this problem by making sure customers receive enough information from your ads to understand what you sell as well as why and how they should buy it.

2. Forgetting the Benefits

Just as an obscure message can bury your chances for positive results, by neglecting to explain how your products are useful, you run the risk of turning customers off. For instance, suppose an investment brokerage firm in Seattle creates a direct-mail campaign targeting entrepreneurs statewide. In an effort to impress recipients with the company's scope and ability to compete with national firms, the direct-mail copy lists the range of products offered-instead of how those products will benefit the ad's target audience. Big mistake.

Prospects and customers look at your marketing materials with one question in mind: "What's in it for me?" So make sure your materials put benefits front and center.

3. Aiming Too Wide

Focus is vital for businesses. Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs try to hit too many targets and thereby increase their marketing risks. Imagine you own a company that sells handmade hair accessories to gift shops nationwide. Your marketing program includes print advertising in trade publications and at trade shows for gift shop owners, catalog mailings to customers, and direct mail to prospects followed by phone calls from your sales staff.

To increase sales, you could either market your current line to women's clothing boutiques or expand your current target audience. Both choices involve risk, but taking on a new target audience would require additional advertising, direct mail and trade shows that could dilute your budget and drain your staff. On the other hand, adding a new product line for your current audience could enhance sales without as much financial outlay or risk.

4. Same Ol', Same Ol'

If you really want to ensure success in the coming year, climb out of your marketing rut. If you've simply been mailing a catalog four times a year or relying purely on trade shows, make 2002 the year you break out and reach customers through additional, more innovative marketing methods. Figure out where and when your customers will be receptive to your message, then put tactics in place to make multiple contacts with them year-round.