Marketing is a practical necessity for all businesses -- big, small, new or old. But, unlike other business needs that are fairly cut-and-dried (think accounting), marketing is a bit more qualitative in its approach.
In fact, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of different strategies to choose from, and conflicting information can sometimes be an issue in trying to make sense of them.
As a result of this somewhat imprecise and less-than-predictable nature of marketing, there are several myths about it that persist in the entrepreneurial community. There are big myths -- like the idea that marketing is only a tool to increase sales -- and small myths, like the one that says paid advertising is the only way to get seen on social media.
But there’s one myth that stands out among the others, because almost every new entrepreneur falls for it: the myth that somewhere out there, there’s a guaranteed formula for success.
Why the myth hooks so many entrepreneurs
It should be fairly obvious why the myth is appealing. If there’s a guaranteed strategy out there to earn you more visibility and sales, it gives credence to your marketing efforts and reduces any perceived risk of investing in it.
If, sooner or later, you stumble on the “right” marketing strategy, you’ll make money no matter what. The reality, that marketing is often unpredictable and rarely works the same for any two different businesses, is scary and intimidating.
Sources of the myth
There are a few reasons the myth persists today. Part of it is its raw appeal, assuming it were true. If there isn’t a guaranteed method for success, that makes marketing scary and unpredictable, so some entrepreneurs hold on to this myth out of necessity. The myth also persists due to the sheer number of marketing agencies that have peddled their services under the false pretense that they have the “magic formula” for results.
Some agencies guarantee their results; and although this isn’t inherently bad or deceptive, it can be misleading to a new entrepreneur. For example, an agency might use different strategies, adjusted carefully and frequently along the way, to get those promised results for every client.
This is also a dangerous myth to spread by word of mouth. When a new entrepreneur hears from a more experienced entrepreneur about a successful marketing strategy, he or she may assume the strategy works for everyone. Similarly, if a new entrepreneur finds a specific strategy to be successful, he or she may genuinely believe it will be successful for everyone.
Why the 'myth' is a myth
So, having established that there is no guaranteed formula for marketing, let’s tap into the reasons why this belief is a myth:
- Different companies have different needs. You know, for example, that the sales cycles for B2B and B2C businesses are extremely different. Brands, industries, structures, demographics, competitive environments, technologies and geographic locations are just a handful of the factors that can influence which marketing strategies “work” -- and those are different for every business.
- Consumer behavior is unpredictable. First, let me clarify that market research is valuable (and, I would argue, necessary). The more you know about your customers' demographics, the better you’ll be able to communicate with them. That being said, nothing is set in stone, and consumer behaviors will often defy your expectations: Even a simple change of fonts or colors can have a significant impact on your bottom line.
- Technology and trends change constantly. Had there been a single marketing strategy that could guarantee success in 2005, there’s no way it would still be relevant today. In the digital age, consumer trends and available technologies change so fast it’s almost impossible to keep up -- and that means that the roster of effective marketing strategies is always evolving as well.
- Experiments are what drive results. Ask any successful marketer how he or she achieved results, and you'll hear back something about experimentation. All successful marketers are unsure of themselves at first, but they experiment, run tests and make adjustments until they see the results they want.
- If there really were a magic formula, more people would be using it. It’s a simple statement, but an important one. If there really were a strategy that worked for everyone, the secret wouldn’t be kept for long, and every business in the world would soon be using it.
Key takeaways for new entrepreneurs
If you’re new to the world of entrepreneurship, your biggest takeaway should be obvious: Don’t fall for the myth that there’s a specific marketing strategy (or set of strategies) that works 100 percent correctly in 100 percent of situations. Every business, brand and entrepreneur has different needs. And even if they didn't, consumer behaviors, trends and technologies would still be too difficult to concretely predict.
The only way to be successful in marketing is to learn from others, take your best shot, then experiment and tinker with your approach until you come up with something that works for you.
Don’t let any false promises of “guaranteed” or “magic” formulas get in the way of that process for you.