“It’s fine to celebrate success, but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.”
~ Bill Gates

Have you ever heard of Laugh-O-Gram Studios? Probably not, it went bankrupt. The man who created that failure was Walt Disney.

Not every idea is a good one and not every project succeeds.

An advertising mentor of mine, Nick Sabatino, once taught me:

“When a doctor makes a mistake, they bury it. When a lawyer makes a mistake, they lock it away. But, when a marketer makes a mistake, they publish it for the world to see.”

So, I’ll kick off this Failures Anonymous meeting. Hi, I’m Eric and I’ve failed
(Hi, Eric)

In 2006, I was helping a $17 million credit union, The Education Credit Union, to grow loans. They had one branch and limited awareness, so we executed a direct mail program to households directly around the branch. And, man, did the applications pour in!!!  You see, the branch was in a low-income neighborhood. Everyone needed a few extra bucks, but no one could get approved. The loan campaign drove in BAD leads and drowned the lending department with un-approvable apps. (I would love if you’d share your failures in the comments!)

 “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
~ Michael Jordan

Just because a program didn’t have a positive ROI doesn’t mean it didn’t have value … As long as you learned from it.

Failure hurts. It’s human nature to want to leave the project behind and kick dirt on it, like a dog covering its own crap. But you need to spend more time with your failures than with your successes. Analyze what went wrong.

Use all analysis at your disposal:

  • Awareness
  • Ad recall
  • Click engagement
  • Conversion data
  • Web traffic
  • Applications vs approvals vs funded loans/closed business
  • Talk to your best and worst performing branches to learn what worked and what did not

Reevaluate your plan and the results along the buyer’s journey. Where did the prospect exit early? (Follow the sales funnel here)

Sometime the plan can be sound and executed flawlessly and still fail. Were there any unforeseen variables? What variables can you control differently next time?

Most importantly, don’t try to hide it. Include your failures in your Board and management reports. But, be sure to include your post-program analysis:

  • Why did it happen?
  • What did you learn?
  • Is it worth trying again with a tweaked strategy?

Maybe it’s simply not worth doing again. For all you Gen Xers and older, do you remember New Coke? 

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

~ Wayne Gretzky

Never be afraid to take the risk. Another unforgettable phrase from my ad agency days is, “Show them one that scares them.”

In marketing, “brown paper bag efforts” get lost. You need to be impactful. You need to take chances. When we create a campaign, we create a “safe” campaign … something that the client will easily accept. Then we like to show them one that will scare the hell out of them. Something with guts. Something that will demand to get noticed.

If you create enough “scare ‘em” campaigns, the market will know you … but a few may crash and burn. Have a short memory, learn from them and move on.

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