12 Ways Marketers Sabotage Their Own Online Marketing Campaigns

There are many ways for a marketing campaign to go wrong. You might post something accidentally on social media and wind up offending a chunk of your target audience. Your company might short you on the budget, leaving you with a half-finished campaign. Your customers might not respond the way you expected them to.

Most of these things are accidents, or at least factors beyond your control. But believe it or not, they're not responsible for the majority of marketing campaign failures. Instead, it's far more common that marketers end up sabotaging their own campaigns--you may end up being a victim of your own actions. Here's how.


During the planning and strategy phase, there are ways you can ruin your chances from the get-go:

1. Not having a strategy.

To some of you, this may seem obvious, but it never ceases to amaze me how many marketers start "marketing" without any clear direction or strategy. You need to have a formalized plan, or at least an outline, of your target market, your intended effects, and how you intend to achieve those effects. Without one, you'll end up meandering aimlessly instead of going down the path you want.

2. Failing to create clear goals.

Like pretty much anything else in life, you need to have goals if you want to be successful. These goals need to be specific, realistic, and actionable goals--that means nothing vague like "more brand awareness." Try to target specific numbers if you can, or specific achievements by certain points in time. This will align your team and give you a basis for comparison.

3. Having no clear division of labor.

Unless you're running a small business, chances are you aren't running this campaign by yourself. It's up to you, during the strategy and planning phase, to indicate exactly who on the team is responsible for what, as well as your expectations for those individuals. Individual goal setting is especially helpful here.

4. Generalizing with platforms, audiences, or angles.

Throughout the different elements and phases of your planning process, you need to be as specific as possible. Identify your target demographics and exactly what makes them tick. Clarify exactly what you mean when you describe your "brand voice." Specificity is the only way to maintain a clear direction.


Even with an ideal strategy in place, it's easy to botch the execution:

5. Shuffling responsibilities.

Once you start managing the day-to-day, it's easy for lines of responsibility to become blurred. You might assume someone else is taking care of something, or you might fail to check in based on your assumption that everything is going smoothly. Try to keep the lines clear here--and if you need to change (you almost certainly will), make it a formal, announced change.

6. Deviating from the plan.

Plans change. They have to change. If they don't change, you'll have a problem--but the time to change is not immediately after you set your strategy in the first place. Stick with your strategy for at least several weeks--it's the only way to tell if it's effective or not.

7. "Winging it."

Again, there's a time and a place for improvisation and experimentation. The beginning of a campaign is not one of them. If you want to make a change, formalize it, but don't do guesswork and don't go off on your own.

8. Being inconsistent.

Consistency is key to seeing good results; even if you're consistent in a bad way, you'll at least have a reliable data set to illustrate exactly what you've done wrong and how to improve it in the future.


Don't underestimate the powerful impact that your measurement and analysis can have on your total outcomes:

9. Looking too closely.

It's a good idea to dig into the details of your data if you know exactly what you're looking for, but try to stay out of the weeds. That means avoiding digging into data points you don't fully understand, and avoiding drawing conclusions about your results after short periods of time (after a week, for example).

10. Asking the wrong questions.

Data is objective, but our subjective interpretations of data can send it through a biased filter. Be careful what types of questions you ask of your data, or else you'll find yourself getting answers that lead you astray, or worse, you'll completely neglect the most important questions to ask in the first place.

11. Forming assumptions.

It's hard to start analyzing your performance with a clean slate, but try to avoid forming assumptions when you start looking at data. It's too easy to manipulate the results to fit that assumption. For example, if you already assume you've been successful, you may seek out data points that confirm this assumption and avoid those that contradict it.

12. Refusing to adapt.

Adaptation and reformation are the keys to success in any marketing campaign. No strategy ever starts out perfect; only by identifying weaknesses and improving upon them can you gradually build a functional model.

These are just some of the main ways I've found marketers sabotaging their own campaigns--there are plenty of other ways you can interfere with your results. Once you accept that you're fallible, and try to objectively assess your own performance, you'll be in a better position to improve your execution.