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.

Are Your Emails Helping Your Company Grow or Maintaining the Status Quo?

It is 2013. Do you know where your emails are? Or, more importantly, do you know what they are doing? Take this mini quiz. If you don’t have the right answers, then you need to revise your email marketing program

It is 2013. Do you know where your emails are? Or, more importantly, do you know what they are doing? Take this mini quiz:

Our emails …
A. … motivate our customers to visit our store and/or site.
B. … provide timely information that our customers look forward to reading.
C. … desensitize our customers to our messages.
D. … create conversations on social networks.
E. … may or may not be doing the thing listed above. I just don’t know.

If your answer isn’t “A” and “B”, then you need to revise your email marketing program.

Companies Don’t Move Forward By Maintaining the Status Quo
Eighteen emails from multichannel companies arrived in my inbox before 9:30 this morning. Thirteen are from companies that I buy from on a regular basis. Five are from companies that I rarely shop. They all look strikingly similar.

Every one of the emails consists of a promotional offer with discounts ranging from 15 percent to 50 percent. Some include free shipping as an added bonus. If I were identifiable as a discount shopper, I would expect all of my emails to be sale driven. But, I’m not. I am a category seasonal shopper. My purchases are from specific categories for every company that sent me an email this morning.

So, why don’t they send me emails based on my buying patterns? It requires a new model and more work. I’m not suggesting that the marketing teams are lazy. Most of them work very hard. The problem is that they are working so hard, doing what they have always done, that there isn’t time to find better ways to market to their customers.

What Difference Does It Make?
Historically, a successful campaign delivered a 2 percent to 5 percent response rate. Today, these numbers are declining for most companies. Getting a 0.5 percent response is considered successful by some marketers. Technically, they are right. Email marketing is so economical that an extremely low response rate still generates a profit.

Diminishing rates continue their downward trend until something makes them change direction. External forces are working to accelerate the decline. Email volume for second quarter 2013 is up 17.9 percent over the same period in 2012. (Source: Experian Marketing Services “Q2 2013 Email Marketing Bechmark Study,” opens as a pdf.) The increase is projected to continue.

And then there is that pesky email fatigue issue. When people are bombarded with the same message from so many sources, they become desensitized to the offers. They don’t even bother to open the emails most of the time.

The only way to reverse the downhill slide is to change the email marketing model. It needs to shift from generic promotional messages to customized personal ones designed to appeal to specific individuals. The tools and tactics used by direct marketers to target catalog buyers are effective with a little tweaking. Get started by:

  • Re-evaluating the effectiveness of your email marketing program. Running on auto-pilot works for a while, but regular maintenance and updates are needed for improvements.
  • Identifying email subscribers by type. Are their purchases seasonal, category, discount or a combination of all three?
  • Creating and testing targeted emails. Be careful that you don’t overshare what you know about customers. Too much information is creepy.
  • Adding “how to” emails in to the marketing mix. A reputation for providing helpful information encourages people to open your emails.
  • Optimizing emails for individuals and search. Changes are happening in the search arena that make optimization necessary on all digital content.

Email Marketing Redefined: Driving Sales

Increasing sales is the primary objective for most email campaigns. Email marketing works so well for driving revenue that people forget it is a multifaceted tool. There is a tendency to create a template and then delegate its population to a lower level team member. Doing this provides consistent revenue generation without requiring allocating additional resources. Since it works so well, why invest in making it better. The argument against the status quo in email marketing is simple. Redefining your strategy increases sales, improves loyalty and reduces costs.

Increasing sales is the primary objective for most email campaigns. Email marketing works so well for driving revenue that people forget it is a multifaceted tool. There is a tendency to create a template and then delegate its population to a lower level team member. Doing this provides consistent revenue generation without requiring allocating additional resources. Since it works so well, why invest in making it better

The argument against the status quo in email marketing is simple. Redefining your strategy increases sales, improves loyalty and reduces costs. It is an investment that delivers a strong return. The best thing about changing your strategy is that it can be done without having a negative effect on revenue. There is no down time or culture shock if you implement the execution gradually. To do this, plan your new approach complete with expected responses from your customers and then start adding your new messages to the mix.

If you are uncomfortable about making changes because your email campaigns are working so well, select a segment of customers to test your new strategy. Comparing the results with your control will help you determine the best way to go forward. In addition to guiding you down the right path, the results provide analytical proof that making the changes benefits your company.

There are four types of emails that contribute to short-term sales and long-term growth—Promotional, Highlight, Trigger and Informational. There may be some crossover between the types, but each email should have one primary objective. Limiting the focus improves response and makes it easier to measure results. A singular message is less confusing to recipients. People respond better when they know exactly what you want them to do.

  • Promotional emails include special offers, discounts and events. They are time sensitive and predictable. With a little history, marketers can project the number of orders and amount of revenue generated from each planned email with a high level of accuracy. People respond well to promotional emails because of the time sensitivity and the opportunity to save money or participate in an event. This is the staple of your email strategy because of the effectiveness in delivering short-term revenue.
  • Highlight emails showcase products and services. They may be used to introduce new items or share additional information on established ones. These emails are most effective when sent to segmented lists of people who have shown an interest in the items by inquiry or purchase. They deliver a higher return on investment than promotional emails because the items are offered at full price.
  • Trigger emails put your marketing on autopilot. They are designed to automatically transmit when people perform specific actions. They can be used to welcome new subscribers, provide transactional information and convert abandoned carts. Best practices begin with the creation of the emails and follow with consistent review of the results to provide continuous improvement.
  • Informational emails educate your customers and prospects. They may include promotional information in the form of links, but their primary objective is to teach people how to use your products and services. It’s very easy to presume that the people that shop with your company know what they need and what you provide. This presumption costs you money because it is rarely true. Educated customers and prospects are more loyal and buy more often. Teaching people what they need to know provides long-term value.

To get started redefining your sales strategy:

  1. Review your existing campaigns. Make a list of what works, what doesn’t and what’s missing. Do you have an abandoned cart strategy? Are informational emails sent on a regular basis? When was the last time you changed your welcome email? Are products being introduced and highlighted?
  2. Outline your new strategy. Define and prioritize your corporate objectives for your email marketing. Using the review, identify opportunities to increase sales, reduce costs, improve loyalty and accomplish any other objectives. Rank the opportunities by how well they match corporate priorities. Document the results so you will have a path to follow.
  3. Test everything. Create an email or series of emails designed to fulfill a high priority objective. Select a segment of customers or prospects most likely to respond to your campaign. Define specific goals to be achieved before sending the first email. Send the emails, review the results and revise as needed. Repeat.

Expanding your email arsenal to include trigger, highlight and informational emails changes your strategy from one-off offers to integrated campaigns. It engages customers and prospects and makes them more responsive to all of your emails. Isn’t it time to do this for your business?