Okay business thinkers, please know that this post is a thought experiment. I’m not providing any answers, I’m just asking you to consider a way of thinking.
Let’s go into more detail on that title.
You can spend days plotting out a digital marketing strategy in minute detail, accounting for every possibility, work-shopping it to colleagues and stakeholders until it’s a shining jewel…and it could fail. Or you could instead come up with a bunch of wacky ideas that, who knows, just might work, and test them out in little self-contained pilot programs. You don’t design them to fail, you design and execute them in such a way that you can learn from the results. From those results could come great success.
What matters is, as long as your project isn’t a critical failure and you’ve learned something…you’re good.
For the people looking at me nervously, let’s define a critical failure
In the world of digital marketing, where I play, success is not certain. There are many factors, some of which we control, many of which we don’t, that dictate whether people will RSVP for our event, register as a lead, or buy our product. The best marketing managers look to their past experience for best practices to employ in any given situation and (ultimately) roll some dice. We adapt when we can but sometimes customers just won’t show up.
That’s failure for us. We host a party and people don’t show up. A return of some sort on that financial and horological investment is not realized. Perhaps some lesson is learned, life moves on.
A critical failure is when you, say, have a well-meaning campaign that proclaims “Women belong in the kitchen” and people notice. As Burger King recently learned.
In this case the price of failure was, from a branding perspective, a teensy bit catastrophic. Instead of people scrolling their way hurriedly past yet another ad on their social feed, another spam message somehow reaching their inbox, they stopped in their tracks. Because, whoa! Burger King is telling them women need to get back in the kitchen again? Social media craves this sort of thing and so a storm erupted.
Burger King learned that one of the failure states for their campaign wasn’t that people wouldn’t care, they learned that perhaps people cared very much (and, also, that regional campaigns on social media don’t necessarily stay in their regions…).
Critical failures affect stock prices. Careers. You know one when you see one and you don’t want any part of it.
Planning for failure is easier than planning for success
My friends in my current employer’s legal team will tell you that risk mitigation is an important and vigorous part of their everyday. Marketers, I would say, treat this area a little too lightly.
We adapt when we can but sometimes customers just won’t show up.
Your marketing assets, your campaigns, your tweets, whatever, should never have a potential outcome that allows for critical failure. Life is too short to be dealing with the Internet’s torches and pitchforks, friends. Trust me — I’ve dealt with them plenty, both personally and professionally, for decades now. The worst price of failure you should have to contend with is you throw a party and no one shows up.
This is why I’m a fan of pilot programs. Try a bunch of new things, or new ways of doing things, and see what works or how it fails. Your investment, and your exposure, should be minimal. Once you’ve gathered some valuable data you can expand it into a more meaningful and, hopefully, impactful, program. One whose failure states you’ve considered carefully, and you’re equipped to learn from. Failures that you and your stakeholders are willing to accept.
Okay that’s it, now, go read something more interesting.