Measuring Marketing Failures

  |  September 15, 2011   |  Comments

When a project fails, a campaign flops, or an investment brings in no monetary return, it's time to shine a bright light on it rather than sweep it under the carpet.

Do you measure marketing failure?

"Good heavens, man! Why on earth would I want to tally my blunders? I have enough trouble looking in the mirror in the morning or stranding on the scale at night. Why would I want to rub my own nose in a long list of brilliant ideas that imploded in clouds of noxious fumes?"

You can be proud of positive results. You can slap yourself on the back, pin the blue ribbon to the wall, and point to a shelf of trophies. We all dream of hitting the marketing target so well, it becomes the conversation of other marketers.

What would be the very best results? A campaign of viral magnitude. You would be on the pedestal for having crated the next Apple 1984 ad, the next Old Spice Guy campaign, or the next Will It Blend 9 franchise. Good for you!

But all you learned was that it's better to be lucky than good.

What would be the very worst results? A campaign that was inconclusive. What a horrible waste of resources. Earned nothing and learned nothing.

Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.
- Henry Ford

It's fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.
- Bill Gates

I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.
- Thomas A. Edison

Old wives' tale:

A marketing executive blows the budget on a million dollar campaign that returns zero to the bottom line. Embarrassed, he goes to his boss and offers to resign. "Resign?" asks the boss, "I just invested a million dollars in your education. Get back to work!"

When a project fails, a campaign flops, or an investment brings in no monetary return, it's time to shine a bright light on it rather than sweep it under the carpet. Review it for all the golden nuggets of education it has to offer. Make it a game: the failure with the most educational value gets a prize.

Note: This is about failure, not mistakes. A failure is an effort that seemed like a good idea at the time, was executed with every intention, and no balls were dropped. Mistakes are signs of inattention, a lack of ability, and getting blindsided by something that was not invisible. Failures are endeavors that are well executed but just didn't pan out.

When you make a concerted effort to learn from mistakes, you discover two important things.

  1. People who are crushed by their mistakes learn not to try.
  2. Everybody can learn from everybody else.

So I am calling on you to keep track of your failures and learn from them. Monitor the trends in marketing failures and track them over time. Tag them for a variety of attributes to see if there are prevalent types of problems. Perhaps your marketing failures are seasonal. See if you can equate marketing failures to market conditions, product categories, or geography.

He who embraces the measurement of failure will enjoy a competitive edge others will fear.

There is no failure. Only feedback.
- Robert G. Allen

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jim Sterne

Jim Sterne is an international consultant who focuses on measuring the value of the Web as a medium for creating and strengthening customer relationships. Sterne has written eight books on using the Internet for marketing, is the founding president and current chairman of the Digital Analytics Association and produces the eMetrics Summit and the Media Analytics Summit.

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