Waste in Marketing


So here was some breakfast discussion from my house this morning…. why do companies waste money marketing to existing customers who already have these services? The form of marketing I'm referring to is our cable company sending a generic “sign up for our cable services” ad, with them ignoring (or being ignorant of) the fact that we are already customers.

I can imagine doing marketing for “upselling” existing customers, such as “you already have cable, how about adding HBO or HDTV services?” But, this was a generic ad “targeted” for non-customers.

How hard can it be to merge your existing customer database with your marketing database? As a customer, I'd rather have the cable company spend money on improved service reliability or improved customer service training for phone reps.

I did a quick web search and found this article, which refers to types of marketing waste and even references lean manufacturing. The types of waste don't match exactly to the typical Toyota “7 Types of Waste,” but the thought it similar.

I'd categorize my cable company's mailing as “overprocessing.”

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. Mark, I used to know well some folks who lived and died by direct mail. They did, regularly and knowingly, exactly what you describe here.

    I asked about it on several occasions, thinking as you do that it was obvious overprocessing waste.

    I usually got a blank stare to that question. In that world, it is axiomatic that you simply blanket the market with fliers like this. All about making more “impressions.” Suggesting otherwise seemed to be a sacrelige.

    I have only found Seth Godin and his “Purple Cow” concepts to be a way of reframing this discussion. His approach of “creating a remarkable product” and “viral marketing” are a fundamentally different paradigm.

    But it is hard to change a paradigm. Particularly for folks who are perceived to only know manufacturing (like us!!); we don’t usually have much influence on marketing efforts.


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