We all love a good success story. It gives us a touch of envy, a whole lot of hope, and the fuel we need to persevere and carry on.
And who doesn’t enjoy a good case study? Especially the ones where macho marketers brag of their success, presenting all the steps they took to achieve such amazing results.
But there’s one small problem with such success stories; they all just end up being a result of finding a winning lottery ticket. And what kind of lesson is that teaching anyone?
Epic tales like that are cool to read and discover, but at the end of the day they aren’t very helpful. More importantly, they’re missing the whole point. There isn’t one seamless method for gaining success just like there isn’t only one winning lottery number. We need to get in the habit of holding as many tickets as we can carry because the more options you have, the more chances you have at success.
(This problem with success stories comes from, and was described perfectly by Darius Kazemi in his talk at the XOXO Festival in 2014. The way he presents his case is hilarious and extremely on point.)
If success is just confirmation of one’s awesomeness, then failure is the reality that something isn’t working. It forces us to choose between trying again and giving up completely. Which is why, in most cases, we learn a lot more from our failures than we do from our success.
Now that we’ve got the Life Lessons portion out of the way, we can focus on the marketing aspect of this post. Read on as we teach you how to turn all your failed marketing efforts into valuable insights for the future of your company and its campaign; step by step.
1. What failed exactly?
This may sound like a question Captain Obvious would ask, but it’s actually a rather important piece of the puzzle. Asking this question helps to address the issue right on the nose while putting a finger directly on the cause.
Where did the marketing strategy go wrong? What made it fail?
Don’t stammer just to produce a quick reply. Absorb each question before writing down the answers. Doing this can provide much-needed clarity while enabling you to put things into perspective, for now and in the future.
For example, don’t simply resort to responding with: “We weren’t able to get as many sales as we had hoped for.”
Focus on making detailed statements, full of hard facts and reasoning, and pinpoint the main thing that makes you feel the campaign was a flop.
2. Was it a complete failure?
It’s very unlikely that your campaign ended in a complete failure. Therefore, you can start by listing the things that did go well.
- Your relationship with partners: did they help out?
- The quality of your ads: what were their results?
- Your design: were you impressed by it?
- The distribution: how far did you go?
- Reader interactions: did you get feedback?
List anything that you’re happy about – every small victory.
And you should do this because…
(1) You’ll want to keep a record of successful practices and tactics to use in future campaigns
(2) our failures are usually less brutal than we remember them to be.
This is something you’ll quickly discover, after following these steps…
3. Did you set the right goals?
In point #1, we named the main component of the campaign’s downfall. For our next task, we’ll compare that main component with the first initial goal of the campaign.
Oftentimes, this step is where many marketers realize they hadn’t clearly defined their goal in the first place. In other instances, they’ll discover that they had set their goals too high or around the wrong metric. An example of this may be focusing on search engine rankings vs. search engine clicks and traffic, or traffic vs. conversion.
Looking back, this can teach you a valuable lesson on how to achieve what you want when building a new marketing strategy.
So ask yourself this:
“Did my goal accurately reflect what I wanted to accomplish?”
If not, improve on this with your next strategy by assigning metrics that properly define and reflect your objective.
4. Were your predictions right?
The web may try to convince us otherwise, but not just anything goes viral. Which may seem untrue when we see yet another BuzzFeed article with one trillion shares…
But despite what most people think, it’s actually quite difficult to create a message that goes hog wild viral. Especially one that resonates while doing so. Because, as it turns out, the whole process is as much a science as it is an artform.
So you may want to ask yourself if you’ve been setting your expectations too high. When estimating a campaign’s supposed impact, are you generating lofty predictions?
One way to find out is by taking another look at your competition. What techniques are they using? And by asking your network and business partners what they think and if they have any suggestions.
What results do they tend to achieve on successful marketing strategies? And were those results easy to predict or were they unexpected?
5. Was your research adequate?
Many digital marketing strategies fail even before they begin. Which may sound hokey but sadly, it’s true.
And here is why:
The research done prior to starting a campaign defines every step you will take later on. And it’s because of that particular research that drove you to…
a.) Choose certain channels over others
b.) Build and express the marketing message that adequately applied
c.) Select a specific target audience for your campaign. And so on.
One way you can analyze your research postmortem is to return to your notes (assuming you knew to take notes in the first place). It may be helpful to compare your list of predictions and expectations with what actually happened after execution.
- Was your target audience responsive to your campaign?
- Were they ever engaged?
- What elements of your research made you choose this audience?
- And was it the right choice?
Now list all the steps and actions that could make your research better in the future. And keep those notes in a safe place where you can easily scoop them up again, for next time.
6. What was the primary source of failure?
Failed marketing campaigns often start from a chain reaction. One little thing goes wrong, and the whole structure falls apart.
For instance, was this strategy’s success reliant on a single event whose smooth execution determined whether or not everything would fall into place? Were you counting on the impact of a well-known influencer sharing your message with their audience? Did a promising video not go viral as anticipated?
Hmm. Looks like someone put all their marketing eggs in one basket…
But that’s alright. You can learn from these mistakes by remembering to stay realistic and avoiding the allure of that mega million lottery ticket and its one big jackpot.
What to do next time:
So your marketing strategy didn’t go so well. But the world doesn’t end there – and neither do your chances for making it succeed. As long as you’ve learned some useful lessons along the way and discovered how to draw valid conclusions, you won’t come out empty-handed. Every failure is a valuable learning experience in disguise.
To ensure that your next marketing strategy is a winner, this is what you should have in your notes:
- A list of your small wins – the things that were executed effectively and that produced good results.
- The reasons you failed this last time around – so you can prevent it from happening again.
- Specific and articulate goals – so you can share them in a way that’s understandable to everyone involved.
- A list of expectations that are actually achievable.
- Improved research methods – from sources that are relevant and that you trust.
- An adequate form of time management – start by estimating how long each step of the process takes in order to schedule your time better.
Long-term marketing success is rarely just about “going viral” or getting an influencer to barely mention you in a tweet. In this department, true success comes from relentless testing, learning from your mistakes, and allowing constant room for growth.
All in all, we recommend directing your focus on improving the small details first. Because those are things that you and your team can control. Luck and lottery tickets don’t belong in a marketing campaign. Save those for the weekend when betting your bottom dollar is actually encouraged.
How do you deal with a marketing strategy or campaign not going as planned? We’d love to hear how YOU dust those shoulders off.
Header image by Jose Manuel Rios Valiente. Embedded images by Raul Lieberwirth, John Nicolls, frankieleon, Anton Petukhov, Hernán Piñera, Luis Marina, USDA gov, University of the Fraser Valley, Alexander Lyubavin, and foam.