Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Marketing Mistakes Have Been Made....

Let's face it. We've all done it at one point or another: executing a plan or program that you know is flawed from the get go. 

Most of us - at least once we've reached a level of experience and confidence in our careers - have pointed out the flaws and suggested alternatives, but sometimes we still get stuck with carrying something out that we don't think is going to work.

If we have any integrity whatsoever, we'll do the best possible job that we can to make sure that "it" - whatever "it" is - succeeds. The alternatives to soldiering on aren't very attractive. We can half-heartedly support (or, far worse, deliberately undermine) "it", thereby guaranteeing that "it" won't work.

Or we can quit in a snit. But, let's face it, when it comes to marketing, most of the stakes we're dealing with aren't so darned high that it's worth making a big grandstand play out of refusing to execute a poor idea. Most of my career has been in B2B or T2T (techie-to-techie) technology - business applications, development tools. The bad idea has never been anything all that dramatic, or even marginally involved with ethics. There's been no: 'Market this child's toy containing napalm or else'. 'This cake mix only contains trace elements of ground glass.' 'The Surgeon General has not explicitly stated that kindergartners shouldn't smoke.'

It's mostly been around the lines of let's sell into this market, price this product, talk to this analyst. Maybe I think I have a better idea, but maybe "they" don't think my idea is so hot. "They" like theirs better.

So as marketers, when we're asked to do something that we might not agree with, we go ahead and do our best.

And why not?

As both John and Mary have pointed out, we're going to get blamed for the results anyway.

I'm still smarting from a relatively recent experience while working for a small, unfunded startup.

The program in question was premature, ill thought through, and underfunded. Trifecta!

Premature because we still had not clearly identified our true value proposition or price point. Ill thought through because we selected a target market without fully understanding it. (And I'm hoping I'm not just saying this out of sour grapes because it was not the market I would have chosen - premature program and all.) Underfunded because there was no money.

I mean, there was some money, but not a lot. Not enough to have turned the program into a successful campaign, even if it hadn't been premature and ill thought out.

But "they" wanted to do something, anything - and I didn't want to be the one accused of foot dragging and analysis paralysis. We've all seen this in action (or in inaction): some people think it's better to just do nothing, because then you can't fail.

So, I pointed out my reservations and counter-suggestions. Got over-ridden. And tried to execute the program in scrimp and save mode, to the best of my ability.

No surprise that "it" didn't work. I mean "it" really didn't work.

I'm sure there are plenty of examples where a $3K marketing spend has turned into $3M in revenue, but this sure wasn't one of them. I would have been happy if we'd broke even.

The client was pretty graceful about the entire thing. They're pretty smart guys. And I had, in fact, managed expectations quite deftly, if I do say so myself. But there are expectations and there are expectations. I know that everyone was hoping that our first foray into the big, wide world; our first baby-step marketing campaign, was going to yield some great results.

On behalf of marketers everywhere, I feel bad that marketing seems to have let the side down.

Not to imply that all - or even most - of the marketing mistakes I've made have been based on somebody else's bad idea.

I can come up with an entire litany of mistakes that I made on my own. (Now, that'll be a post when I get around to it.) I've done stupid things through ignorance and inexperience. I've let dumb things happen because I was unwilling to confront someone. I've let dumb things happen because I didn't want to hurt someone's feelings. I've hired the wrong people. Or the wrong consultants. I've designed and executed programs that sprung full blown from my own personal brain - and no one else's - that produced nada in return. (Good thing we didn't use metrics in those days.) I've flubbed vendor relationships. I've done careless proofreading and let typos fly by. Mea marketing culpa...

Hmmmm, I'd better stop this one in it's tracks right now or no one will ever hire me again.

I will say that most of the real lulu mistakes I've made are behind me, and I've learned from them.

Still, with this still relatively recent experience so fresh in my mind, I do ask myself: could I have done something, anything differently? Should I have been more forceful and vocal in my objections to the program? Should I have told them to get another girl?

Just another episode in a long string of live and learns, I guess.


Mark Cahill said...

The nice thing about being a consultant or contractor is that when the customer begins to stop listening and heading down rat holes, you can leave without animosity.

"I'm sorry, we've reached a point where you're headed in a direction I don't support. As such, it'd be wrong of me to continue to bill you for advice that you don't want."

Not so easy though, when your working on staff for that company. Our tendency is to ride the flaming wreck into it's inevitable crater.

Mary Schmidt said...

Good point, Mark. I might soften it just a bit to "I believe I'm not the best fit for your new direction (idea, project)however, I wish you the best of luck - and keep in touch if I can be of assistance in the future."

As for doing projects on a shoestring in start-ups - man can I relate! I do my best to give good advice, but ultimately it's their money, their business and their careers/stock options, etc.

If it's basically harmless I will help the client implement something that I don't recommend - so I can help them avoid ratholes...the ol' tri-fold brochure is a good example. One of my clients was bound and determined that's what they, I worked to make sure they got a good graphics design and wrote the copy so at least it looks professional and (I hope) is interesting reading. Otherwise, they would have tried to produce "in-house" and it would have had that "made by loving hands at home" look.

It's all "pick the hill you want to die on."

Mark Cahill said...


Mary: you're right - usually when I have to deliver such a message, I edit, run past a trusted business associate, and then sleep on it for at least a night. The message gradually softens up...

My partner Jill was showing me a trifold one of our customers did prior to working with us. It's amazing the work that some so called "professional designers" will turn out.