The 4 biggest lessons I learned from 30 years of marketing mistakes

Biased research, caving to opinions, internal fatigue, and moving on too quickly—these four mistakes in marketing, at any point in the process, will hamstring the work, derail campaigns, and strain agency/client relationships. By learning from these mistakes, we can handle future situations differently, improve the work, and consistently deliver incredibly effective marketing campaigns. 

If I’ve learned anything after 30 years of witnessing (and sometimes participating in) campaign mistakes, it’s how to leverage those experiences toward being smarter and better. Here are the biggest lessons I learned: 


It takes research to design a successful campaign, but marketers often begin this process with a particular outcome in mind. Instead of searching for the right answer, confirmation bias causes them to construct research that validates their preconceptions. They set themselves up to solve the wrong problem rather than using the research to make better-informed decisions.

When companies live in a vacuum of constant talking points, it can skew outcomes based on what they care about internally rather than what their customers care about. A car battery company might want to talk about their product’s cold-cranking amps, special chemistry, or new package design because they’re proud of them. But consumers want to know if it’s dependable, if their car will start when they need it to, and if they can get one nearby. If the company forces its own talking points into the campaign, it risks being ignored and consumers feeling like the company is out of touch.

The LessonRecognize And Weed Out Bias

Stay open to discovering whatever insights come back. The answer is the answer no matter what we expect (or want) to hear, and trying to validate anything else is a fool’s errand. Marketers need to marry what they want to talk about with what the consumer actually cares about. This is where agencies can be a valuable asset: They provide brands with an objective, outside voice. 


If I launch well-guided, strategic work for a client, but a friend I trust questions the logic of the campaign, I may find myself in a tough situation: Do I listen to the friend, give in to pressure, and modify a well-researched, vetted, and tested strategy? That would be a mistake.

Campaigns crash and burn when stakeholders let opinions and pushback challenge their work and convictions. No matter how excited a client may be about the path they’ve developed with their agency, it can all go pear-shaped the minute a campaign goes live and they choose to listen to a few squeaky wheels. 

I have seen client leadership go back and change well-conceived work after a few peers questioned the logic of messaging for which they weren’t even the audience. Short-sighted decisions like this not only challenge the team’s convictions around the campaign but are also incredibly de-motivating.

The LessonListen To The Right Voices 

Being focused requires some degree of sacrifice—not every idea, consumer, and opinion can be part of a campaign journey. When Cadillac realized its audience was aging, it changed its design language and marketing to appeal to younger generations—a conscious decision to leave behind its old consumer base to embrace a new, younger one.

No worthwhile decision will make everyone happy. Do the right research, target the right people, and trust your process to succeed. 


Internal wear-out can end a campaign before it really even begins. Agencies and clients spend months and sometimes years developing campaign work. That’s a ton of time spent with the same ideas and messaging. Time that the consumer hasn’t enjoyed yet. It’s no surprise then that often soon after launch, someone inside the client/agency bubble is tired of it already. 

Creatives, in particular, are usually eager to shake things up and move on to something new. The risk is that they can throw the baby out with the bathwater and move on from great work that would have been highly effective. 

The Lesson: Give It Time

Give a campaign time to breathe and prove its worth. When measuring effectiveness, evaluate the media spend and time to audience saturation against any internal fatigue it may generate—and plan timelines accordingly. Regularly review the campaign’s creative content with the marketing team, stay attentive to their morale, and keep messaging from becoming old hat at the agency.


Closed-mindedness, losing conviction, and campaign fatigue all tend to come together in this mistake, ultimately leading to difficulties in execution. Mistakes build negative momentum and put a strain on stakeholders who feel eager to move on to the next campaign, and then the next one, and so on. This attention deficit shifts focus from campaign to campaign too quickly before each one can fully develop. 

About 15 years ago, we helped a client develop their tagline and positioning of “outrageous dependability,” which spoke to both their product and level of service. Several different CMOs have come in since, wanting to put their stamp on things and pursue a new tagline. Interestingly, their market research draws the same conclusion every time—“outrageous dependability” has stood the test of time. 

The LessonStay The Course

Introducing anything new into the consumer consciousness will come with pushback. Not everyone likes change. If you’re committed to taking a bold new direction and have done your research and due diligence, then believe in that investment. Change for the sake of change is never a good solution. Only by giving a campaign the time it needs to play out can we truly evaluate whether or not it’s successful. 

At my company, we jokingly use the phrase “Ready, fire, aim” to describe how reactionary agencies and clients can be. However, the lesson here is that putting in the work, in the right order, gives us confidence and lets us be bold enough to embrace mistakes as stepping stones towards innovation.