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Learning from Failed Marketing Strategies

A client once told us, “we either win, or we learn.” While we all want to be winners, learning from failed marketing strategies is often just as important. Nobody wants to be the one that came up with, planned, or orchestrated the terrible idea. But you know what’s worse than being the person who came up with the terrible idea? Being the person who came up with no ideas.

In a recent blog post, the webpage insights company Hotjar laid out all of the reasons their mobile app failed. And boy, it failed spectacularly. Rather than trying to keep forcing it down customers’ throats, Hotjar pulled the plug and moved on. That takes a lot of pride swallowing, but the team realized it was the right move. Most importantly, Hotjar took the hit and critically examined what went wrong and how to move forward. (Side note: Hotjar's desktop platform is a pretty sweet service that provides insights into how people interact with and convert on your website.) 

The Importance of Learning from Failed Marketing Strategies

It’s an important lesson many companies and agencies too often forget. If you want successful marketing strategies, you’ve got to keep moving forward. It takes time to fully understand what strategies and content really resonate with your audience. You have to be willing to try some bold tactics and to learn from their successes and failures. You also need to be willing to stop, step back and evaluate. Sometimes your seemingly wonderful idea just won’t pan out, but the lessons it teaches you can be just a valuable.

Often the idea itself is great, but it just doesn’t get the traction you were hoping for—like a piece of premium content that no one downloads or an email campaign that just doesn’t get conversions. You’ve already invested countless hours and resources into the strategy. What do you do next?

You quit.

That’s right, sometimes it’s okay to change your approach or strategy. As author and immortality quester Aubrey de Grey says, “Don’t cling to a mistake just because you spent a lot of time making it.”

As a marketing agency, we see this happen from time to time. Client, agency or both invest so much brain power, too many hours and even money into a strategy that just never pans out and are therefore reluctant to pull the plug and start from scratch. In an industry where you need to tie everything back to ROI, it can be downright difficult to admit defeat. We’ve been there.

The important thing to remember is that a failed strategy doesn’t mean overall failure. It’s only failure if you don’t grow from the experience and learn from it moving forward. Agency and client need to come together, analyze what went wrong and make a plan to move forward.

So, how do you turn these failures into future success? The first thing you want to do is pinpoint the different places things may have gone wrong. Maybe the copy wasn’t engaging enough or the CTA wasn’t clear. Maybe the audience you were targeting wasn’t ready to convert or the SEO wasn’t up to snuff. Analyze every step of the process, from theory to execution to results. Come to this process with an open mind and no desire to place blame. You’re not identifying a culprit. You’re searching for the source of your next lesson.

Here are three important questions to ask yourself and the rest of the stakeholders:

1. Did my target audience want or need what I was providing?

When we begin identifying possible content offers or other marketing strategies, one of the first questions we’ll ask a client is what do you wish your consumers knew or understood? It’s a great way to think about your company’s messaging and priorities, however, it doesn’t always account for the consumers’ wants and needs. It’s critical to find this middle ground.

Go back to the data. Did the failed content offering or campaign lean on your keyword research, buyer personas, and SEO best practices? In other words, what guided the content? What you thought the audience needed to know, or what the audience actually wanted to know?

2.  Did you validate your idea with your audience and focus on the biggest impact?

If your original plan or strategy was based on something your customers needed or wanted, did you take the time to validate whether you had the ideal solution? Let’s say you’ve decided to redesign your entire website. You have the data that shows your customers don’t like the UX and aren’t engaging with your content. However, it’s still possible to go off the rails by putting too much time and energy into the wrong aspects of your plan. For example, maybe you’ve devoted all the attention into style and appearance, when what customers really wanted was a fast, efficient, “no frills” site.

The site may be beautiful, but now it loads more slowly as a result of all the new design. Not validating the plan and not focusing on the aspects that are most important to your customers are a sure way to ruin a great idea. What can you do that will make the most impact on your company? If that seems too out of reach, what can you do to get the fastest impact with improvements to come down the line?

3. Do you have the resources to complete the plan?

Once you’ve got the right, data-backed idea, it should all be smooth sailing, right? Unfortunately that’s not always the case. Researching your idea is just the first step. Do you have what it takes to do the rest? Here are a few things to consider:

  • Quantity of Resources (Developers, sales team, marketing agency, etc)
  • Quality of Resources (Entry level, senior, expert)
  • Time (Time should be relevant to quantity and quality resources)
  • Money (Must correlate with the time and resources)

All of these variables need to be examined and determined before you know you can be successful. You can also use these questions when analyzing where you went wrong on any failed projects and document your lessons learned for what comes next.

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Chris Vendilli
About the Author
Chris is the founder and CEO of Vendilli Digital Group. In his free time, you’ll find him camping, fishing, or playing beer league ice hockey with a bunch of guys who refuse to admit they’re already over the hill.
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