Many of the projects I manage with companies are born out of a catastrophic event. They seek me out because something they have built--a product or marketing campaign--isn't generating the numbers they had hoped or expected. I work with them to correct their course.

From this unique vantage point, I have had the opportunity to dissect some outstanding failures of products, companies and marketing messages. One thing I've learned: While a product or a company's failure hinges on many factors, some of which are out of its control, a marketing failure is completely avoidable.

I have found three marketing mistakes companies make most often.

Making Bad Assumptions

Marketers jump to conclusions about the patterns they see in their data and what they actually mean. The Lean Startup movement calls focusing on unimportant data "vanity metrics:" The numbers make the executives in the C-suite feel good, but they aren't truly helpful in measuring long-term success.

Your landing page may be converting well or people may be downloading your application or latest whitepaper, but do you understand why and what to do next?  You need to get underneath these numbers and make sure you understand "why."

I see this problem often when companies focus on the amount of "buzz" or mentions generated in social media. Take television shows. My research shows there is a group of consumers who participate in a spike of activity around a television show only to enhance their personal reach and increase their followers and personal brand.  They have no vested interest in the show and once the buzz dies down, they will move on to the next trending topic.

When the MTV Video Music Awards aired and Miley Cyrus became the biggest trending topic on Twitter to date,  many of the social media mentions were made by this group of consumers. Many of them probably weren't even viewers, instead jumping on the topic later that night or the next day when it was all over the news. Counting this group as part of the viewing audience is most definitely a vanity metric.

Looking at Each Campaign Individually

Marketing used to be about creating a campaign that drive a transaction. Now it's about establishing a relationship. All of your marketing initiatives should work in concert to bring your customer to a final decision, so you need to look at the totality of the touchpoints experienced by your customer.

When I interview customers about what brought them to the decision to buy a product or try a service, they always tell me a story of what happened first, second, third and so on. Understanding where your marketing efforts fit within this journey is key.

Your customer views buying as a process or a journey, and you should see it the same way. Look at what you sent to the customer along their buying journey and strive to understand what outside influences may have pushed them to make a purchase. Was it a mention in a local newspaper, a tweet or a recommendation from a friend that made them ultimately buy into the vision you have been promoting?

When working with a company focused on creating a diet plan, it was the recommendation of a close friend that often pushed the person to participate, and that close friend's recommendation was based on reading a review of the weight loss program on a trusted blog. Instead of focusing all of their dollars on high dollar advertising, this company needed to assign some of their resources to making connections with influential bloggers to get this essential recommendation.

Copying Others' Success

Just because a marketing campaign worked for your competitor doesn't mean it will work for you--even if you are selling a similar product. I often work with brands that are part of a larger portfolio and there is always one brand that is the darling of the bunch and the rest of the portfolio wants to be "just like them." But copying doesn't work.

In 2009 Radio Shack, made an attempt at being Apple-esque by rolling out a campaign in which it referenced itself as "The Shack." The hope was that by moving away from the word radio, they would open up consumers' perception of what the stores sold and let them compete more effectively with powerhouses such as Apple. As is evident in Radio Shack's most recent financial announcement of a $53 million quarterly loss, it will take much more than a name change to update consumers' perception of Radio Shack.

Today's marketing is much more complex. You must understand why certain approaches work within the totality of customer's journey, and stay true to how your customer perceives your brand or company.