The Insight

June 12, 2020
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CMOs Failing the Right Way

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CMOs Failing the Right Way
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Did you just launch a marketing campaign that you knew had all the signs of making it but bombed anyways? Get in here – we have a seat for you too!

Paul Coelho put it best when he said that “There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.”

As marketers, we always have the urge to get it right all the time. That is not always the case, though.

When you become a CMO, all the marketing wins and failures fall to your laps. This is the time for you to learn that failure is not only a part of your job but a good part of it too.

The Whys of Embracing Failure

In a world where success is rewarded and failure is punished, why are we telling you to embrace failure?

We have been in the research, marketing, and analytics business for over a decade. In that time, we have had our fair share of failures – and still, continue to. However, we never let those deter us from trying again and again. This might be the very template for the many successes that we have recorded afterward.

The key to making this happen is not just common grit and stubbornness. It is because we understand the whys behind accepting every failure as it is. That is what we share with you below too.

Be the Bigger Person

The human response to any situation is usually divided into the fight or flight behavior, and the same thing comes to the fore when you fail.

Failure comes with a fair share of embarrassment.

No one hopes to fail, so when it does happen, it looks like a slap in the face of what was supposed to be achieved in the first place. It takes the bigger person to not shy away from this failure and accept the embarrassment that comes with it.

By doing this, gracefully so, it becomes possible to turn things around in your favor. Even if the tables do not turn, you get to save face a little.

A good example is that of the Dominos Pizza marketing team which accidentally published a coupon code for free pizza. Of course, they could have just recalled it and called it a mistake – but they already had 11,000 orders that would have to be canceled because of that. 

People do love free things!

What did Domino’s do? They gave away all those pizzas, even after letting people know that it was a mistake. We bet that they have made back that money in folds right now, especially with the new customers which they would have gained in that timeframe.

Tracking Weakness

When we plan for marketing to happen, we almost always see the good side of the plan. A lot of time, energy and resource must have gone into such plans and this explains why we don’t want to see the fact that it can fail too.

Guess what, though? Failure creeps up to keep us in check.

Simulations do not always play out as we want them to. Data is important, no doubt, but there has to be room for tweaking and management too.

A good example that comes to mind is that of New Coke.

The Coca-Cola Company is one that has been great at marketing for the longest period and they decided to introduce a new flavor of this legendary drink.

The funny thing was that the new flavor was better than the old thing, but people didn’t want it. That was very confusing.

What people wanted was the same coke that their parents and grandparents drank. They want the drink from the formula that the company started with so that they can feel close to the authenticity that has become Coca-Cola today.

It got so bad that the company had to employ a psychologist when it was getting depressing calls from those that missed the old coke flavor.

Of course, this was a good marketing strategy. As we said, the new coke even had a better taste and got high ratings from the public. But then, again, they wanted the old thing.

GAP, the clothing brand, once decided to change its logo.

On the side of the company, all they wanted was to move from the old-looking logo to something more modern for its consumers. This new logo was published, and it spent only six days in the loop – but those were the longest six days in the lives of the GAP officials.

People loved the classic look and feel of the old logo. These consumers also felt more connected to the brand via the old logo than with the new one.

Establishing Boundaries

At iResearch, we are always talking about emotional marketing, creating a brand image and standing for something. At the same time, you also need to know what you should never dabble in. This is yet another important lesson that you can learn from failing at marketing.

Here, we have quite a handful of popular examples for you.

Heineken tops this list with its ad that seemed to suggest that ‘lighter is better.’ The management of Heineken might have thought that the audience would only focus on the beer getting lighter, but Chance the Rapper was quick to point out the racist undertone in the ad.

Heineken apologized and took down the commercial.

Yet another example that comes to mind is the Kenneth Cole tweet which seemed to play off the crisis in Cairo at the time in favor of its marketing. The brand would soon learn that this is not a good way to go for promoting your new collection – and we believe they must have paid heavily for it.

Perhaps a very common example is that of Pepsi, trying to build on the political unrest climate of 2017 to make marketing happen. Just like Kenneth Cole, their campaign would fast generate negative comments, rightly so, from people who saw that the brand is not recognizing the efforts of political activists the right way.

We bet that all these brands would have thought they were going to achieve something new with their kind of marketing. We bet that they had high hopes for such ads to do well in the market. Overall, we bet that they have now learned the boundaries of what they can and not do.

Failing Right

Understanding the reasons why failure is not final is just one step of the way. You also have to be well versed in the language of failing right. After all, of what use is knowing the reasons if you cannot use it to your advantage?

Change your Mindset

When you see 'not succeeding' as 'a failure' all the time, you are bound to go about things the wrong way.

As a CMO, you have to build a marketing strategy and campaign from scratch. Of course, you can have all the data and analytics tools in the world, and the best minds on your team too. These do not, however, take away from the fact that you are in untested waters.

The odds are high here, and they are stacked against you. All you are doing is to ensure that the odds come to be in your favor. Thus, a failed experiment is not a failure. It has just shown you one approach that won’t work – or needs to be tweaked to work better.

This failed experiment presents you with a learning opportunity. You now have a clear-cut approach to what you should avoid and what to focus on when redesigning that strategy. Better than that, you now have an important piece of knowledge in your arsenal for launching future campaigns.

That’s one less mistake to avoid forever.

Go Minimal, and Go Fast

No company wants to burn money on what doesn’t work. The company aims to invest in what brings it money, anyway, not the things that take money out of its pocket. This tells you that they will not always be there to back your experiments with huge funds if there is no guarantee of success.

That is why you don’t need to use all those huge funds to start.

When experimenting and testing new marketing strategies, create a minimal model and fund that. See what happens with the model, where it gets things right and where it might be wrong. If that model fails, you can quickly set up another small one to see where that goes.

The successful models will then be scaled higher for heightened success.

That way, you have been able to keep the marketing spends and budget conserved by not pumping it all into untested channels. Done right, the successful models will pay for the series of smaller, failed experiments.

Note: Modelling this way means you don’t have to get attached. If things are not working, cut them off fast and move on to what works.

Fail as a Team

CMOs who put the fear of failure in their team are indirectly promoting the culture of stagnation.

For those marketers to have been drafted into your department, they know what they are doing. Like you, they are also trying to get the best for the brand. When they fail, teach them to embrace it.

Besides embracing, make sure every member of the team shares their failure so that everyone else can learn from it. This gives room for accelerated growth, allows for ideas to be shared and inputs supplied on how to mitigate future failures.

By so doing, you can also ensure a team member is not burning too much time and energy on a failing prospect just because they want to turn it around. When there is a culture of sharing failures, they can quickly bring this to the table and get actionable feedback where necessary.

Drawing the Line

When we advise that CMOs fail the right way, we believe that this will help them to take risks and learn from the approach that doesn’t work. However, the line has to be drawn at a point.

There is a difference between taking calculated risks that can lead to failures you learn from and throwing caution to the wind just because “failure can be good.” This is not a ‘get out of jail free card’ for you to turn every slip-up and flat-out incompetence into a learning opportunity.

You must be able to own up to errors in judgment and differentiate them from the learning that other mistakes cause.

When you make marketing decisions, make sure that they have been vetted to a high degree of probability before execution.

Do not use the embrace of failure as a couch which you can always fall back on when things go south. If you do this, you will be hurting your reputation in that position and that of the company as a whole.

Not all failures will bring lessons with them. Some will just tell you that you have been making a hasty decision and poor choices all along. You have chosen to ignore the specifics and are reaping the rewards. It is just what it is.

When you are bold enough to distinguish between these different kinds of failure, you are good to go.

Key Takeaways

As you go into embracing this model of failing the right way, we want you to remember:

  • Don’t procrastinate on account of the fear of failure. When you have a solid strategy on ground and have vetted it too, go for it.
  • Don’t kill your decision-making process, or that of tour team, with the fear of failing
  • Connect with advisors and mentors that will track your blind spots for you
  • For every marketing campaign or project that you embark on, account for the risk of failure
  • Before you bang the gavel on decisions, evaluate the worst-case scenarios alongside the best-case options
  • Logic is key, but don’t rule out your emotions either

In the wise words of Winston Churchill, “Success is not final; failure is not fatal”

Do any of these trends jump out? Get in touch with a thought leadership expert to find out more

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