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The 16 Biggest Myths in Marketing

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Myth #1 (Magazines): “Sure you’ll get lots of direct orders. You have no competition. You’ll be the only mail-order ad in the magazine.”

Fact: If you’re marketing with a direct-selling mail order ad, there should be lots of other mail order merchants in the magazine — the synergy will help your ad get better response. Readers will be shopping that section with a pen and checkbook in hand. If there are no other mail order ads, there’s a reason: They don’t work.

Myth #2 (Magazines): “You can sell anything from this publication. All our ads work.”

Truth: You can tell in advance what works; those ads keep repeating month after month. You can tell if your ad in a magazine will be successful to a good degree by studying the last year of issues. Competitors’ ads appear in it monthly; so do ads for similar products.
This is the only way to tell. Everything else is a crap shoot. So is this idea, but at least the dice are weighted slightly in your favor.

Myth #3 (Magazines): The Three-Ad Exposure Myth

When you ask magazine publishers for a discount on your ad (you do always ask, don’t you?), most usually respond with “Sure you can get a discount. Run your ad three times and get the three-ad rate.” Unenlightened advertisers then mistakenly place three ads in three succeeding months, and… oops! Magazine production time is three months, so when the first ad appears on the newsstand, if it’s not successful, it’s already too late to cancel ads 2 and 3. You just lost three times the amount you should have. Oh boy, how many times have I heard this story!
Here’s the myth: “Your ad needs three exposures for the best draw!” Hogwash. I don’t think so. If your first ad sinks like a stone, your other two will follow it right down to the bottom. So will your money.
Recommendation: If you want the three-ad discount, by all means, take out a three-ad insertion order. But what the ad salesperson probably forgot to tell you is that you have a full year to fulfill the three-insertion contract. So place the first ad, and enjoy the discount. Place the second ad to run in the magazine three or four months later, so you’ll have plenty of time to cancel it if the first ad doesn’t draw well. Then, if your first ad– your test ad — doesn’t work, cancel. The rest of your ads won’t work either.
You’ll get either orders or experience with your first ad. (Experience is what you get when you don’t get any orders). You don’t want to get more experience with ads 2 and 3. So don’t schedule three ads in three consecutive months — unless you have really deep pockets and can take the hit.
If you cancel your remaining ads, you may have to pay the short rate (the difference between a single insertion rate and the three-time ad rate), and that’s a fair charge. But it will be a hell of a lot cheaper than running the ad a second and third time. If your first ad works, you’ll have the rest of your life to place additional ads. You’ll thank me for this if your first ad doesn’t test well. Send a nice bottle of champagne with that “thank you” letter, will you?

Myth #4 (Magazines): The Readership Myth

“We have 300,000 readers. Our circulation figures are audited to prove it.” Audit bureau figures may show 300,000 copies of the magazine were really mailed, but don’t confuse circulation figures with readership figures. Is everyone who gets the magazine actually reading it every month? Nah. Actual readership varies; it goes down from that circulation figure.
Fact: The circulation figure doesn’t tell you how many people actually read the magazine. Readership is dependent on lots of different elements, from quality of the editorial to the weather. Let’s suppose 20% of the recipients don’t read any particular given issue. Suddenly readership is at 240,000. And I’ll guarantee summer readership is less than half that. See Myth #7 for the details.

Myth #5 (Magazines): “This is our best issue. You need to be in this issue.”

Is this true for every issue? I’ve never heard a magazine advertising salesperson say, “This issue isn’t too good, wait for a couple of months before you place that ad.” Magazines — like streetcars — come along with tremendous regularity. Don’t rush into any issue. So what if this is “The Special Show Distribution Issue,” or “The Big Buyers Issue,” or “The Giant Christmas Issue.”

Myth #6 (Magazines): “Our readership is actually 2.5 times our circ rate.”

What a bunch of crap! Often called pass-along readership, thought-up by an overzealous ad man in the late ’70s who needed to increase his readership figures overnight, this unsubstantiated figure is now spoken of in the ’90s like it’s real. Sure, some magazines have pass-along readership, but who’s counting?
I remember when this “pass-along readership” figure came out, and it suddenly doubled publishers’ figures. All the publishers jumped on the bandwagon — and then everyone’s figures suddenly exploded. So did the truth. Pass-along readership figures are pretty unreliable.
Granted, some magazines have better quality editorial, and they get passed around a bit. But there is no credible way to verify this readership figure. Do the magazines sent to physicians’ offices have a pass along rate of 200 people each issue?
Worst: Some association publishers send their house-organ magazine to all their association members, then boast high circulation figures. While circulation figures look good, some of these magazines are so poorly written that readership is nil. I receive 125 magazines each month. I glance at them all, scan most, read a few articles in some, and read only three or four cover to cover. I leave them in the bathroom to make sure they get read.

Myth #7 (Magazines): “Every issue is good for advertising. Readership is consistent year-round!”

Circulation figures stay constant, but readership goes way down in the summer. In fairness, seasonal merchandise tends to find some issues better per quarter, but generally the best months to advertise are January, February, and March. Reason: The country is cold, people stay in more, and read more. The worst months to advertise are June, July, August. Summer readership, ugh. Would you rather be on the beach sipping a mint julep, or inside, reading a magazine?

Myth #8 (Word of Mouth): “My product is so good, I won’t need to market it. I’ll just depend on word of mouth.”

Word of mouth works, but it’s slow. If you have to pay for overhead, staff or inventory, you need to have a better plan than “word will get around”! You’ll also need some kind of budget for marketing. It doesn’t need to be a lot, but it has to be budgeted in terms of man-hours (if you’re going to do it yourself) or dollars. Even the business practice of the finest architect in the world can fail if he doesn’t market correctly, and fails to bring in new business, regularly. Poor marketing will result in no new business coming in the front door. An absence of sales can be sustained, but unless you have really deep funding, not for long. No sales, nobody eats!

Myth #9 (Catalogs): “It’s easy to make money with a catalog.”

Sure, gather a few products together, have a few thousand catalogs printed up, buy a list, and you’re on your way to make millions. Don’t bet the ranch quite yet. I owned a catalog company once, and it was tough. Our P&L was on the line with every single mailing we did. I got stuck with products that didn’t sell well, and weren’t profitable enough to put back in — yet I still had them in inventory. (My friends and relatives loved me that year!) Pricing was always a big question mark: should we be discount, or high end, or somewhere in between? And I’ve had about every trick imaginable pulled on me by list vendors. It’s a tough road to make a lot of money with a catalog, and my hat’s off to the ones that do. It can be done, but it ain’t easy.
Here’s how I settled my pricing: We were below market price on items easily shopped (and that invited price comparison shopping), and then higher on unique and hard-to-find goods.

Myth #10 (Inventors): “I’ll just get this one out into the marketplace, and I’ll make money on the next one.”

How many inventors have said this to me? Most of them, I think.
Without money and profits, there won’t be a next one. At least, I’ve never seen a “next one” under this circumstance. By the time it’s all said and done, it’s too much work and too many hours to bring a product to market and not be profitable. Then to say you’re going to do it all again… ugh. You’ve got to be nuts!
Without profits, in most cases, you won’t be doing it again. You need to make a profit, and it’s reasonable to expect to do so for your investment of time and effort. You need two essentials for any business: sales and profits. Anything else can wait.

Myth #11 (Customers): “I’ll call back.”

This is the big customer myth. If you didn’t handle it right the first time, don’t hold your breath. They won’t.


Myth #12 (Sales): “It’s easy to sell this product — everyone will buy it.”

That’s easy to say until you try to sell it. Sure, you can sell anything, but it may cost you $20 to sell a $10 product. Take out an ad for $500, and you can sell 50 ten-dollar items to generate enough cash flow to pay for the ad. But if it costs you $5 to fill each order, you suddenly need to sell 100 units just to pay for the ad. Do the math up front. If it doesn’t look like it’s going to work, you’re probably right.

Myth #13 (Friends): “Everyone will buy it. When I showed them the sample, they loved it!”

After you’ve asked your friends who said, “Sure, we’ll take one!” to actually write you a check, how many did? This is the “checkbook test” — Let me know how you make out! Showing a sample to a friend and having a stranger actually give money to you for your product are quite different. Try this: when asking friends about your product, don’t tell them it’s your invention. Just show it to them. Tell them you have an extra one you’d like to sell, and ask if they’ll buy it. Then ask for the money, as proof.

Myth #14 (Catalogs): “Every catalog house will carry it, right?”

Perhaps. Everyone likes new products, but no one likes to take a chance, especially catalogers. Catalog houses present a mixed bag — they like to see a proven hot sales record, yet always want a first-time exclusive. Go figure. That all comes into play IF you can get the buyer on the phone. Take heart: there are over 10,000 catalog houses.

Myth #15 (Product Submission): “Just send it in, attention ‘Buyer’. It’ll get looked at and we’ll make a decision.”

Truth: Virtually nothing that comes in over the transom this way is selected by a catalog house, marketing agency, or mass merchandiser. This presentation is the kiss of death. If you can’t get a name of someone to send it to, forget it. When you reach this dead-end conversation over the phone with someone, it’s best to hang up politely, and call back later. Without a name, what are you going to do for follow-up? Call and say, “Well yup, I sent it in a few weeks ago. Don’t know to whom, though, or where it’s at right now, but can you tell me how it’s doing?” I’ve never had a successful product submission without sending the item to a specific name, and I’m pretty picky about sending it to the right person too.

Myth #16 (Entrepreneurs): “I’m finished with my work.”

Who are you kidding? As an entrepreneur, you’re never finished with your work. And it’s because… your work is never done! Being an entrepreneur means you know what you’ll be doing — and have your work laid out for you — for the next six months, and up. What you actually need to do is to prioritize what you need to do, so you can do it in the right order.©1998 Jeffrey Dobkin

Jeffrey Dobkin, author of the 400-page marketing manual, “How to Market a Product for Under $500” ($29.95), now has a second book, “Uncommon Marketing Techniques” ($17.95). Both books are available directly from the publisher — 800/234-IDEA. These books are completely filled with tips and techniques to make your marketing faster, cheaper, more effective-and fun. Dobkin is also a speaker, a direct mail copywriter, and a marketing consultant. To place an order, or to speak with Dobkin, call 610/642-1000 or fax 610/642-6832. Visit the company at www.dobkin.com.




This article is from thePMA Newsletterfor February, 1999, and is reprinted with permission of Publishers Marketing Association.

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