June 23, 2018

by Nigel Hollis

The mantra fail fast, fail often, was popularized by a book of the same title which encourages readers to suspend their fear of failure and let their enthusiasm to guide them. Sadly, when it comes to marketing this advice is simply a recipe for wasted marketing spend if you do not know things are not going to plan.

The strange thing is that Ryan Babineaux and John Krumboltz, the authors of ‘Fail Fast, Fail Often’, are psychologists and career counselors, not innovators or marketers. Their book is speaks to professional success not business success. As someone who used to manage teams of people to get projects done, let me ask you how would you regard the brash know-it-all who repeatedly screws up? Can you say ‘performance improvement plan’?

When it comes to failure I am firmly in the same camp as Steve Tobak who states,

“Failure is lack of performance. Failure is the opposite of success. Failure is falling short of your goals and commitments. Failure is saying you’re going to do something and not doing it. Failure is being hired to do a job and then not doing it to the best of your ability.”

When it comes to marketing I would add: failure is costly, failure is a waste of time, failure gives the opportunity to a competitor. I think Jeff Bezos, Founder and CEO of Amazon, has some much better advice for marketers when he says,

“If you’re good at course correcting, being wrong may be less costly than you think, whereas being slow is going to be expensive for sure.

But if you want to course correct you need to know whether things are on course or not. Fast feedback is essential if you are going fix mistakes as they happen. That is why Kantar Millward Brown reports the impact of new marketing activity using readily available search and social data, digital tracking and responsive survey measures so marketers can quickly identify opportunities to course correct their marketing investments.

Knowing what is happening as it happens does not just allow you to fix mistakes: it enables optimization of your marketing spend and provides learning for future success, as outlined in our report How Disruption Can Fuel Brand Growth. So do not assume failure is a good thing. Do what you can to avoid failing, because even if you can write it off as a learning exercise your CFO will probably think otherwise. But what do you think? Why do so many people seem to think that repeated failure is a good thing?


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