Embrace Failure to Achieve Success

Too many marketers fear failure instead of embracing it. They fear that reporting poor results will be viewed as poor management. Instead, they should be positioning their results as learnings. Knowing what doesn’t work is just as important as knowing what does; yet the fear of failure permeates many corporate cultures, discouraging risk-taking and encouraging the status quo.

failure
(Image via iskandariah.perubatan.org)

Too many marketers fear failure instead of embracing it. They fear that reporting poor results will be viewed as poor management. Instead, they should be positioning their results as learnings. Knowing what doesn’t work is just as important as knowing what does; yet the fear of failure permeates many corporate cultures, discouraging risk-taking and encouraging the status quo.

There have been many times when I proposed a limited test plan with a small downside only to have it rejected by the client in favor of “the way we’ve always done it.” Following the course that nobody ever got fired for may be the politically safe option, but breakthrough results are never achieved from the status quo. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “The only man who never makes a mistake is the man who never does anything.”

Reporting on the acquisition of Whole Foods by Amazon, The New York Times noted, “While other companies dread making colossal mistakes, Mr. Bezos seems just not to care … That breeds a fiercely experimental culture that is disrupting entertainment, technology and especially retail.” (June 18, 2017) Commenting on Bezos’s style, Farhad Manjoo said in his column State of the Art, “The other thing to know about Mr. Bezos is that he is a committed experimentalist. His main way of deciding what Amazon should do next is to try stuff out, see what works, and do more of that.” (NYTimes June 19, 2017) Something direct marketers have done for decades.

Learning to embrace failure is an acquired skill. Smith College has instituted a new program called “Failing Well” to destigmatize failure for the high achievers who are admitted to the prestigious school on the basis of their perfect resumes. Smith’s Rachel Simmons says, “What we’re trying to teach is that failure is not a bug of learning, it’s a feature.” (NYTimes, June 25, 2017)

David Ogilvy, a strong proponent of testing and measurement, addresses the importance of embracing failures in the Ogilvy on Advertising chapter entitled “The 18 Miracles of Research.” He relates a story about a client who had invested $600,000 (a large sum in Ogilvy’s day) to develop a new product line. Ogilivy says, “ … our research showed a notable lack of enthusiasm … When I reported this discouraging news to the client I was afraid that, like most executives faced with inconvenient research, he would argue the methodology. I underestimated him. ‘Dry hole,’ said he, and left the meeting.”

Testing and experimentation is easy in the digital marketing environment. Even the best-conceived test plans will produce more failures than successes. Embrace those failures as valuable learnings.

Is It Time for a True Goodbye?

As I reflected on a client interaction I had this week, I thought about how helpful it is for organizations to learn from the past and then also to let go. I had facilitated a meeting where we tried to embrace failure not as life-over, but simply as feedback—to have a more positive outlook on the unplanned learning lessons that failure brings a brand. It was a tough sell. These young, smart, good-hearted brand builders were perfectionists. They only ever saw A+ on their report cards. Red Fs would have been scarring.

This morning we woke up to our first snow in the foothills of the Rockies. Even though it was only a light sprinkling—like powdered sugar on our lawn—it seemed entirely way too soon. We were not ready to say a goodbye to summer. We assumed we had a couple more weeks to enjoy patio dinners, the window boxes in full bloom and the hummingbirds on the feeders. We had to readjust.

Later in the day, I read this from Jeffrey McDaniel: “I realize there’s something incredibly honest about trees in winter, how they’re experts at letting things go.” I appreciated this advance lesson about winter … it helped me set my favorite season aside and anticipate the cozy fires in the woodstove, cross-country skiing and holiday family gatherings.

Many of my clients are multichannel retailers who introduce hundreds of new products in a season. Very few of these new rollouts become brand rockstars (as I call their bestsellers); many more end up in the middle of the performance pack and the rest trickle towards the bottom. This is a repeat pattern. I believe there is as much value in the bottom learnings as there are in the top-of-chart learnings. The conversations about the bestsellers are just more fun.

As I reflected on a client interaction I had this week, I thought about how helpful it is for organizations to learn from the past and then also to let go. I had facilitated a meeting where we tried to embrace failure not as life-over, but simply as feedback—to have a more positive outlook on the unplanned learning lessons that failure brings a brand. It was a tough sell. These young, smart, good-hearted brand builders were perfectionists. They only ever saw A+ on their report cards. Red Fs would have been scarring.

But, here’s the thing: Unplanned lessons are the exact opposite of lesson plans … those neat and tidy curriculum plans teachers try to follow until the students show up and things go awry. We often learn more from things that don’t quite go the way we hoped than things that do. If we dare to review our actions.

In a BusinessWeek article entitled “Radio Flyer Learns from a Crash,” Thomas Schlegel, VP for product development at Radio Flyer shared his thoughts on a product launch that was halted. After months of development and lots of production time and dollars, Schlegel scrapped it. “It didn’t live up to Radio Flyer standard,” he said. According to the article, “his boss, Robert Pasin, CEO, told Schlegel failure was OK as long as the company learned from it. Pasin now holds a regular breakfast for new employees at which he impresses upon them the idea that failure is inevitable if you want to innovate and valuable if you can learn from it. And after every project ends—whether the project has been shipped or been killed—Radio Flyer is developing what Schlegel describes as an ‘autopsy without blame,’ in which everyone involved in the development of a product discusses four questions: What went well on the project? What didn’t go well on the project? What did we learn? And, what are we going to do next?”

Author James Joyce gives us a new perspective on unplanned lessons: “A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.” Bravo to Radio Flyer. They made discoveries and acted on their volitional errors!

So, I switched gears in my client meeting and described to these Type A risk-averse professionals how another client actually embraces failures—publicly and light-heartedly. This company even had more than 300,000 customers take a tour of its flops: Ben & Jerry’s Flavor Graveyard. It’s a real live collection of 31 ice cream mistakes and missteps over the years memorialized for all to see.

Ellen Kresky, Creative Director for Ben & Jerry’s shares this: “One of my favorite things about Ben & Jerry’s is that we’re not afraid to acknowledge our shortcomings or failures to consumers. Take our Flavor Graveyard for example. We use it on our website, and you can actually go visit real tombstones at our Waterbury tour. The Flavor Graveyard features limericks to eulogize our flavor bombs. We even sell Flavor Graveyard t shirts. A few years ago we had a contest to bring consumers’ favorite flavor back from the dead for a limited time in scoop shops. A lot of us were secretly hoping that a flavor with a low gross margin would win so that consumers would benefit in more ways than one. And our wish came true. For me, this is an example of contrarian brand management. Projects like this help continue to build consumer love and trust, and manage to do that in an un-contrived way that stays true to our roots.”

I know it used to be a common practice for many multichannelers to take the time to have strategic post-mortem conversations evaluating a season’s results by sales channels (retail, on-line and catalog) and by customer segments. Product visual boards would be created and the nuances of what worked and what didn’t would be discussed along with promotional strategies and competitive tactics and offerings. In today’s attention deficit business culture where every one is chasing the next new thing, I’m afraid these important cross-departmental meetings have morphed into line item reports read individually and acted upon in silos. The subtle underlying threads of what didn’t work do not get fully analyzed and the real failure of this short cut practice is that similar mistakes get made again (and possibly again).

I am a proponent of serious, slow talk (like the Slow Food, Slow Travel and Slow Christmas movements!) post mortems where true learning and insights can occur. I have both led and participated in these with my clients and they work and are worth it. Stop and think time. Concentrated focus on the previous season’s happenings both for your brand and your customers’ experience with your brand. Free flow of information. Open agenda. Robust conversations. Potential surprise endings.

So, have you dared to slow down and look back with your brand team? Why not take time to better understand and collaboratively converse about your brand faux paus openly and then, and only then, bid them a true goodbye!

B-to-B Marketing Is Falling Down on the Job

I heard a horror story the other day—a consumer packaged goods executive ranting about a meeting with a vendor. “I gave the guy an appointment, and he spent the whole time presenting his product,” she said. “Never asked me a thing about my situation, and what I needed.” Another exec chimed in, “Yeah, when I hear about an interesting new solution, what I need most is to sell it internally. I’m not getting the help I need from the vendors these days.” I am cringing. What is going wrong here?

I heard a horror story the other day—a consumer packaged goods executive ranting about a meeting with a vendor. “I gave the guy an appointment, and he spent the whole time presenting his product,” she said. “Never asked me a thing about my situation, and what I needed.” Another exec chimed in, “Yeah, when I hear about an interesting new solution, what I need most is to sell it internally. I’m not getting the help I need from the vendors these days.” I am cringing. What is going wrong here?

Of course, my first thought was sales training. Clearly the reps in these situations need a training refresher—and stronger management, and possibly an improved incentive compensation plan—to handle the engagement more effectively.

But I also cringed at the marketing failure. We marketers should be helping with these sales opportunities, to increase their chance of success.

So, herewith, I set down a list of oft-forgotten B-to-B marketing imperatives.

  1. Marketing’s Role Is to Provide Sales Support
    Unlike consumer-facing companies (where marketing owns the P&L and sales is one of its levers) in B-to-B, sales typically owns revenue responsibility. Our job in marketing is to make sales more productive. It’s a mindset that doesn’t come naturally to marketers. And some would debate this interpretation of marketing’s role. But when a sales rep goes in to a meeting without the tools needed to close, it’s marketing’s failure as much as anyone’s.
  2. Provide Sales With the Tools They Need
    This means presentations that can be easily tailored to target industries, and particular target accounts. It means pre-call preparation documents—company history, personnel backgrounders, installed technology analyses. And a library of content assets the sales rep can choose from, filled with white papers, research reports, case studies, infographics, videos and e-books.
  3. Prove the ROI on Your Solution
    Marketing must gather the data—and the stories—to prove the value of the product or service to the prospect. This might mean independent third-party research. It also means case studies, ROI calculators—whatever points can help the internal advocate represent the project inside the firm.
  4. Resist the Plea From Sales to Pass Unqualified Leads
    I’ve made this point before. But it bears repeating. Some sales people will claim that everything going on in their territory is their business, and there’s logic to that. But if you let them know that a mere inquiry came in from an account in their territory, and they pounce, only to find it unworkable, you know darn well what you’ll hear from sales: “The leads marketing gives me are useless.” A legitimate complaint. But the even more important consequence here: Marketing has failed to enhance sales productivity.
  5. Be Careful How You Promote Marketing Success
    If marketing is heard in meetings to claim responsibility for a certain level of revenue, watch out. Sales is making the same claim. So you might want to couch it in ice hockey terms, like an “assist.” And take full responsibility for interim metrics like cost per lead, and lead-to-sales conversion rates, which are more in the direct control of marketing.

I hope readers will comment on other imperatives for successful B-to-B marketing today.

A version of this article appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

Mindset and Measurement

In her book, “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” Stanford University Professor Carol Dweck purports that people possess one of two mindsets: the fixed mindset or the growth mindset. Fixed mindset people are “always trying to prove themselves and they’re supersensitive about being wrong or making mistakes.” They fear failure. They feel that they are always being judged. Fixed mindset people feel that they have fixed traits and talents, and that they’re never going to get any better. For them, success is about proving they’re smart or talented. Validating themselves.

In her book, “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” Stanford University Professor Carol Dweck purports that people possess one of two mindsets: the fixed mindset or the growth mindset.

Fixed mindset people are “always trying to prove themselves and they’re supersensitive about being wrong or making mistakes.” They fear failure. They feel that they are always being judged. Fixed mindset people feel that they have fixed traits and talents, and that they’re never going to get any better. For them, success is about proving they’re smart or talented. Validating themselves.

Growth mindset people believe that “your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts.” They welcome failure as a learning experience, an opportunity to grow. For them, success is about stretching themselves to learn something new. Developing themselves.

Which mindset a marketer possesses affects the way they approach testing and results measurement. Beginning my career in a traditional direct marketing environment, I learned early on that failure is a good thing. It tells you what doesn’t work. I thought everyone developed tests that had limited downside risk to determine the best media, creative and offers. We roll out the winning campaign and test against it time and again. Success is always evolving.

It wasn’t until I started in the agency business that I learned there was another mindset—one where in-market testing might uncover flaws in a campaign that could open it up for judgment. In the fixed marketing mindset, the agency team and the client select what they believe is the best approach. If time and money permit, then perhaps they do some research to validate their choice. But as David Ogilvy pointed out so many years ago, “Research is often misused by agencies and their clients. They have a way of using it to prove they are right. They use research as a drunkard uses a lamppost—not for illumination but for support.”

The fixed mindset marketers measure to validate their campaigns. The growth mindset marketers measure to challenge their campaigns.

Agency people can be especially prone to the fixed mindset, particularly when it involves admitting that the agency’s initial work or recommendation was not perfect. Once, I was analyzing conversion from visit to lead at a website. I found a problem with the way leads were being directed to the landing page; it wasn’t an intuitive interface for the visitor and it was a spot where visitors were abandoning the site. When I informed the account person about the issue she said, “We can’t change it now. The client already approved it.” Classic fixed mindset. Being wrong equals failure, even if admitting it means better results, learning and growth.

Clients who have lengthy, multi-layered approval processes are also prone to the fixed mindset. They resist testing because it’s too difficult to get multiple creative/offer variations approved. But perhaps they’re reluctant to admit to people across several departments and levels of the organization that they don’t know prospectively what’s going to work best.

The good news is people can change their mindsets if they change their perceptions of what it means to succeed and what it means to fail. Dr. Dweck relates that “John Wooden, the legendary basketball coach, says you aren’t a failure until you start to blame. What he means is that you can still be in the process of learning from your mistakes until you deny them.”

Testing new approaches and learning what doesn’t work is a step along the path of continuous improvement. If we’re going to take our marketing results to the next level, we need to challenge the status quo, not preserve it.

7 Email Marketing Mistakes Even Seasoned Marketers Make

Email marketing is so easy that it is tempting to use it as a set-and-forget marketing tool. Failure to optimize email marketing strategy and execution affects customer loyalty, sales and costs. Email provides a personal, one-to-one connection between customer and company. It’s a shame to lose opportunities to build relationships, increase revenue and reduce expenses by not committing the time and effort required to maximize email effectiveness.

Email marketing is so easy that it is tempting to use it as a set-and-forget marketing tool. After all, if the subscriber list is large enough, almost every send will generate revenue. Marketers dealing with constantly changing technology, platforms and channels have little time to commit to a channel that works with minimal effort.

Failure to optimize email marketing strategy and execution affects customer loyalty, sales and costs. Email provides a personal, one-to-one connection between customer and company. It’s a shame to lose opportunities to build relationships, increase revenue and reduce expenses by not committing the time and effort required to maximize email effectiveness.

Most of the mistakes made in email marketing have simple fixes with minimal costs. Here are seven common mistakes made by even the most experienced marketers:

1. Treating All Subscribers Alike
People choose to receive your emails for personal reasons. Some are trendsetters who want to see the latest and greatest items. Others are discount shoppers seeking the best deal. Nestled between the two are a variety of personalities looking for specific solutions to their problems. Failing to recognize the different types and create customized marketing messages for them speeds the email fatigue process and reduces sales opportunities.

2. Failing to Capitalize on Contact Opportunities
The email subscription process provides several opportunities to connect with people interested in knowing more about your business and products. Each step should be used to educate, entertain, and enlighten new subscribers. Poorly designed confirmation pages and welcome emails are lost opportunities.

3. Ignoring Deliverability Rules
The problem with this mistake is simple and obvious: Emails that don’t reach recipients won’t generate responses. Spam is a huge problem. According to a report by Symantec, 75 percent of global emails are spam (pdf). The tools designed to eliminate spam aren’t perfect. Encouraging subscribers to whitelist your emails increases deliverability but it doesn’t guarantee it. Ensuring that all emails follow deliverability rules improves chances that people will actually receive them.

4. Repeatedly Sending the Same Visual Email
Creating branded templates so that your emails are easily recognized is a good practice. Using the same one repeatedly isn’t. You have less than three seconds to capture the recipient’s attention before the delete button is pushed. People respond to visual information first. If all of your emails look alike, they trigger an “I’ve seen that already” response.

5. Presuming Recipients Recognize Icons and Know What You Want Them to Do
Icons are great visual add-ons, but they need a text call to action to encourage people to take the next step. People are trained from an early age to follow instructions. If you want them to connect with you on social platforms, visit your website, call your business, or get directions to your store, tell them. Icons without a call to action are tools for people who already know what they want. Icons with a call to action encourage people to do what you want.

6. Neglecting to Make Emails Mobile Friendly
According to a study by YesMail, over 41 percent of mobile device owners said that they have made either an online or in-store purchase as a direct result of an email promotion they viewed on their device. Are your emails easy to read on the small screen? Do all sections render properly for mobile devices? Some emails show a blank body when viewed on cell phones. Be sure to test your emails on Apple, Android and Blackberry devices to ensure recipients can read them.

7. Expecting HTML Emails to Automatically Convert to Readable Plain Text
The automated conversion tool provided by most email marketing services simply converts HTML to text. It does not make it readable. If your email is filled with links, the text version will look like a page of computer code instead of a message from a company that cares about customers and prospects. Always create HTML and text versions of every email to insure the message is appealing and readable for all recipients.