Is Your Marketing Consistently Failing to Deliver? Check Your Motivations

by Jay Harper

Does this scenario sound familiar? You coordinate with your marketing partner to develop a multifaceted strategy focused on delivering long-term ROI. Along the way, you hear unique feedback from a handful of consumers that makes you wonder, “If we tweak this approach a bit, could we immediately net more leads or revenue?”

So you make a change in midstream, thinking you can get the best of both worlds: maximizing both a short-term opportunity and long-term growth and viability. You tweak more bits of new information, one-off responses, and statistical outliers continue coming in until you realize too late that you’ve sabotaged your marketing strategy chasing revenue phantoms and have nothing to show for it – not revenue or sustainability.

What went wrong? To be clear, there are two things I’m definitely not saying here. First, I’m not saying you should never make adjustments to existing campaigns based on new information. Your marketing has to be quick on its feet to succeed, and responding to real changes in the market will often give you a distinct competitive advantage.

I’m also not saying it’s inherently bad to prioritize goals with shorter timelines. Sometimes the near term should take precedence.

What I am saying is if your marketing is consistently failing to deliver or seems to be stuck in some kind of a lose-lose gray area between short-term revenue and long-term growth, the problem likely stems from poorly defined motivations.

Check Your Motivations

That may sound a little strange. Unclear motivations? Isn’t every dealer’s motivation for advertising and marketing, increasing traffic, and making money?

Well, it’s actually not that simple. The broad answer is yes; your marketing should ultimately be about driving more business. But the ways it can go about doing that are not only different in methodology; they’re different in how they even approach the question in the first place.

Think of the contrast between a national-scale branding ad meant to boost general awareness versus a one-off mailer with an expiring offer meant to drive foot traffic right now. Conceptually they have the same goal – driving more business – but in reality, they couldn’t be more unalike.

That’s the difference between a focus on short-term goals and long-term goals. Too often, advertisers either haven’t made a clear distinction between the two, or they think they can engineer a new strategy to attain both at once.

But in many ways, these goals oppose each other, certainly in terms of the content of your messaging. On-the-fly marketing engenders feelings of urgency, of getting a great deal if the consumer acts quickly, of a fleeting opportunity. Marketing for the long haul, by contrast, should position your brand as steady, reliable, trustworthy – the traits of a business looking to build long-lasting relationships with repeat customers.

So, what happens to businesses that fail to make that distinction ahead of time? Frequently, exactly what I described. They’ll be on board with a long-term strategy focused on growth at the outset but start changing course when one of two things happen: 

ROI return on investment


  • The anticipated ROI doesn’t materialize as quickly as hoped (which often happens, as it can take some time to nail down exactly what mix of channels and messaging works for a particular business);
  • Or, short-term revenue phantoms cause them to take their eyes off the ball.

That kind of undisciplined tinkering almost never ends well. Typically, the campaign as a whole suffers, long-term ROI isn’t realized to the extent it could or should have been, and those revenue phantoms turn out to be illusions.

What you’re left with is a wasted marketing budget and a growing sense that maybe marketing itself is the problem, rather than the approach, which could lead to slashed ad budgets in the future and, eventually, a downward spiral of ineffective marketing that can be hard to come back from.

The Disciplined Approach

The alternative to this grim scenario is to think very carefully about what, exactly, you want your marketing to achieve. The more specific and narrow the goal you set, whether it’s short-term or long-term, the less chance there is of getting pulled off-course.

  1. Set success parameters - setting very specific parameters of success at the outset of your campaign.
  2. Recognize the process - recognizing that achieving the desired ROI can be a lengthy and involved process.
  3. Stay focused - being able to hold the line even when bright and shiny objects try to distract you.

At the same time, not every message turns out to be the right one the first time around. How do you recognize when it is time to change course? This, in my opinion, is when it’s critical to partner with experts who know this industry inside and out. They can help you differentiate between statistical noise and actual warning signs that a course correction is warranted.

Even if you get everything right, consistently successful marketing is a tricky business. To avoid sabotaging yourself down the line, take the time to set clear and limited goals ahead of time, and stick to that vision until you have solid evidence that a change is needed.

Chasing revenue phantoms might be appealing in the short term, but discipline always pays off in the end.