Disclaimer: No, this post is not yet another list of this year’s failed campaigns, starting with Pepsi’s <sigh!>.
This time of the year is interesting. Everyone’s looking back and celebrating their accomplishments — almost every marketing magazine out there has a list of top 10 favourite campaigns and ads.
And almost every magazine has their list of the 10 worst.
Those lists are my favourites. But before you judge, allow me to elaborate.
I love the fails not from schadenfreude, but because I see failure as an indication of brand maturity. A mature brand knows itself enough to push its boundaries.
A mature brand is — well, hopefully — smart enough to fail with purpose and learn from failure. Its mature marketers know that without having a friendly relationship with failure, they can’t push forward on culture, society, and creativity — in essence, they’re stuck doing what they’ve done before.
Look, there should no doubt in anyone’s mind that in 2018 you’re competing against everyone on the planet. Content distribution channels are cheap; content creation is easy; micro-influencers drive purchase decision. Throw in a thousand more factors that collectively make everyone not care very much about that thing you’re trying so hard to sell.
Some have dubbed creativity as the answer to standing out and getting noticed. Others say the idea is what matters. Others swear it’s the execution.
All of the above have merit. But to me the greatest key to long-term marketing success is experimentation — and by extension, the failures that come with it.
In today’s digital, data-heavy, content-flooded, rapidly changing world, the over-stimulated consumer who can spare about half a microsecond of attention for you can only be reached by … well… trying a bunch of things.
So I advocate setting-up a system that allows for experimentation and a culture that allows failure. The bigger you are the larger your experiment can be, the bigger your failure might be, and the greater the learning reward. The faster and better you get at them, the faster your brand matures.
So how do you get to a culture that allows for experimentation? Start by building the 3 key cultural pillars of abandon, accept and foster:
- Abandon random Failure is good if it’s part of your designed experiment. But random failure is damaging and pointless. Stop trying out a few things that look good. Start with measurement. If you can’t measure it and it doesn’t build on what you’ve learned previously, don’t go there.
- Accept imperfection Minimum Viable Products (new products with just enough features to satisfy early customers, and provide feedback for further development) have an important role to play. What is the minimum needed to prove something new is working? With a new product, be brave enough to aim for adequacy, rather than perfection.
- Foster failure Most importantly, foster a culture that talks about failure. Far too often, failed campaigns are swept under the rug. Talk about them! Talk about them more than you talk about your successes. Let others learn from you experiments. Make failure a key part of your iterative success stories.
Marketing’s most epic fail award might go to the launch of New Coke in 1985. And yet…
Following the launch, Coke’s (then flagging) sales rose, and not just from customers stocking up on cases of the old Coke. Coke’s stock soared when the classic formula came back a few months later, sales continued to climb, and Coke’s marketers learned an extraordinarily valuable lesson about how their customers felt about their product.
Ironically, 2017’s most epic marketing’s fail goes to Pepsi… Let’s see how they learn from it!
The most successful marketers, and by extension the most successful brands, are not the ones that already know all the answers. They just know how to fail faster and better.