Skeletons in Your Marketing Closets

Last week I shared some of my worst marketing missteps, and asked ClickZ readers to share their own. I was overwhelmed by bright and friendly (and self-confident!) folks willing to expose the marketing skeletons in their closets. So to further entertain you (and give the “Blimp Pimp” a break), I offer you five wonderful lessons learned from marketing mishaps gone by. Thanks to all of you who submitted. Enjoy!

All the Nudes That’s Fit to Print

I was promoting a wonderful traditional Korean bathhouse in Sydney. It offered massages, facials, and skin scrubs, and was split into two private areas for men and women because it was all done in the nude, as per tradition. I invited journalists to come on down for a complete body overhaul, and I soon had free publicity falling out of every newspaper in Sydney. I actually had finished up my contract and had just enjoyed a very long farewell lunch when a journalist called to do an off-the-cuff telephone interview. We got talking, as you do, and I began regaling the journalist with a number of inside stories and my thoughts on the hilarious nature of human nudity.

Well, that Sunday there was a huge article in the paper with the headline “Julie Can’t Wait to Get Nude,” and it included my ideas on going topless at the beach as well as quotes from me about what I said to strange, heavy-breathing men who rang to seek services not provided by a Korean bathhouse. Of course, every person I knew in Sydney decided to read that Sunday paper, and I’m still living down my nudity issues!

My lesson? Never get to chatting with a reporter after a long lunch!

Julie Souter
Editor
Butterfly.com.au

Another Reason to Hate Lawyers

In the early ’90s, the hot products were optical scanners and OCR software. The company where I worked as the marketing/sales manager was an early supplier of these two products. We looked for a niche market that we believed would be early adopters, and we thought strongly that the legal market presented just that opportunity. We spent a fair amount of money on print advertising in legal magazines and took a booth at the Moscone Center for a legal convention.

Well, were we way off the mark. Even though the state of California had an ongoing initiative to have all legal documents converted from 8.5″ x 14″ to 8.5″ x 11,” the lawyers had no intention of leading the conversion. I took along several boxes of the product as a giveaway to interested lawyers, and I stacked them into a tree structure on the floor. One lawyer I spoke to asked me what a “mouse” was. That caught me so off guard that I couldn’t explain its function very easily, and I’m usually never at a loss for words.

That was when I realized we had badly misjudged the legal market. Although lawyers are highly educated, many times it’s the secretaries who do all of the computer work. That was one heck of a lesson learned from a miserable experience.

Ron Rolland
Product Manager-Business Advantage
ePhones

I Threw a Party No One Came To

Back in 1996, Digital Equipment Corp. (generally referred to as “DEC” – now deceased under any name) was an Internet leader. The president/CEO/chairman decided to sponsor the 100th running of the Boston Marathon. The jewel of our sponsorship was to be a web site that would represent the event – history, interviews, news, and live updates during the race. Not knowing it was impossible to do all that with $100,000 and just me, a co-op student, two engineers, and borrowed servers, we did it anyway.

The key offline component was an ornate ballroom high over the finish line. We had ice sculptures, waiters in Swiss Guard uniforms, lots of silver platters covered with shrimp and salmon, an open bar, etc. all for our field sales guys and the customers and hot prospects they would bring to the big event.

The web site was very successful – lots of traffic, TV coverage, and before-and-after aided and unaided surveys showed that our recognition as a high-tech Internet leader went up about 6 or 7 percent.

And I and my team had all the champagne and food we could handle. No one came to the reception. No one except the corporate vice president of marketing. He loved the web site, but he sure was eager to talk with the guy who had been responsible for communicating with the field sales guys about the event.

Moral? Integrated communications continues, after all these years, to be a safe mantra, but it takes a lot of hard work, coordination, and clearly delineated responsibilities and accountability. No one suffered from the Boston Marathon debacle – after all, those were the wild and crazy days of the Internet. Even (especially?) very senior VPs could be faked out by lots of flash. No more.

Donald Skarzenski
Senior Vice President of Marketing
NetMason.com

Stamp of Disapproval

It was my first job out of college. I was working in direct mail and was charged with the task of designing a trifold brochure with a business-reply mechanism that would be placed in hundreds of banks across the nation.

I designed the brochure all right. It ended up generating the highest response rate of any DM piece put out by the company. A big hero, right? Wrong! I mistakenly put a #10 business-reply bar code on the reply mechanism, and as the responses came in, they all were held hostage at the post office requiring additional postage. Ouch! It cost the company a bundle. I luckily had a good contact at the post office who kindly pulled some strings to get the bar code to process as a postcard rather than a #10.

Lesson learned: Basically, detail orientation is a valuable trait to have in marketing. No matter how much pressure you have to get a project out the door in a rush, use your gut as a cross-check. If you have a tingly feeling in your stomach, you’ve probably missed a detail and should take a deep breath and cross-check all project variables to ensure no mistakes were made.

Chad Buckendahl
Marketing Manager – Internet
Tactical Marketing Ventures LLC

Preaching to the Converted

Now that web marketers are embracing database marketing, I thought it would be appropriate to share an early blowup of mine before other interactive databasers are treated to the same humiliation.

It was 1990 or so, and we were desperately trying everything we could to figure out the B2C beast called Home Shopping Network, the first 24/7 interactive retailer. Exactly how do you create profitable marketing campaigns with this thing? Is it TV, meaning we should use TV Guide? Is it retail, meaning we should use Sunday newspapers? A combination? Neither? (Later on, we found out “neither” was the right answer.)

I was convinced database marketing was the answer. The business just “felt” like it had classic catalog characteristics. So I scraped together a skunkworks group and a budget, and set out to do some customer retention testing. Early stuff looked promising, so we convinced finance to let us load up for a big shot.

As the campaign results were coming in (in real time, by the way – back in 1990!), we were overjoyed. The campaign was designed around best customers and headed for a 70 percent response rate! We’d be heroes!

Then the financial results came in from the analysts. We had a 73 percent response rate and lost more than $1 million. How is this possible? Subsidy costs. Virtually all of these customers would have bought anyway without the campaign, according to the control groups we used. Nearly every response was nonincremental, meaning the cost of the campaign and the discount (5 percent) was all dead cost with no revenue lift to match it against.

Luckily, we didn’t get canned immediately, were able to study the campaign in depth, and we went on to design very profitable campaigns. When we added the Internet in 1994, we documented the same effects but were ready this time.

Here’s the lesson for interactive B2C marketers promoting to your best customers: Many are extremely likely to buy without promotion. Response is not always a good thing. Design promotions appropriately, and be careful what you wish for!

Jim Novo
Marketing Mercenary

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