Marketing Manifesto – #6: Fail at marketing. Fail often and fail well.

Why the 2 year hiatus between Marketing Manifesto #5 and #6 ?  Because I was busy spending 2 years learning stuff!  And as you will find out shortly, failing at marketing.  Lots and lots of failing…which is exactly what I should have been doing.  Read on to understand this surprising (?)  reveal:

Everyone wants to do things “right” and achieve success.   We want to figure things out logically and get the right answer. We want to learn the correct path and learn from the wisdom and folly of others.  We don’t want to make mistakes or fail at things.

Sadly, that is not the way marketing works.  There is no “right” way.   We can’t figure out everything logically because of imperfect and missing inputs to our planning – inputs that just don’t exist.  And there is no “right” answer.  The “correct” path? There isn’t one. Every single project we do in marketing is significantly different from the next.  The wisdom and folly of others?  It is theirs.  Not ours.

Does this mean I don’t believe you can learn some sort of method or system of marketing? Not at all.  There  is a method, for sure. But the word “method” is very, very different from formula, scientific analysis, statistical testing, or other highly structured system.   The method of marketing, I believe, is like learning to surf:  You have to get out there in the ocean, find a wave,  and try to stand up on the board.  And fall off again and again until you get a feel for how to get up on your board at exactly the right instant when the wave is ready to crest.  This takes learning the dozens of little questions you need to ask yourself and learning which signals coming to you through your eyes, ears, and body are important. And learning what order to put the answers and signals. And when to take action on them.

Learning to surf is something you have to learn yourself – it is your personal experience. Others can help you learn some basic methodologies to get started, but in the end, you have to get up on the board and try it. Again, and again, and again, and…

which leads me to my next Marketing Manifesto Principle:

A Marketing Manifesto

10 principles and practices of great marketing:

#6: Fail at marketing. Fail often and fail well.

Marketing Manifesto #5 states that you have to do marketing, not study it.  Two years ago I wrote this and stand by it today.  But learning by doing is not about being successful. It is about failing.  Lots and lots failings.

“WHAT?!?!” you might ask. “Failing is BAD. If you fail, you are judged as being weak, stupid, lazy, dumb, of lesser status, and just generally ridiculous.”

In marketing, this is not true. Marketing is about trying things and learning from what doesn’t work.  Like falling off your surf board again and again while learning to surf, failing at marketing again and again is actually an indication that you may be learning something.  Of course, this assumes you choose to analyze what went wrong and to learn from your mistakes. And it assumes you are determined to try again. And again, and again.

In the end, like with surfing, after many failures in marketing you learn to succeed more often than fail.  You learn what it takes in a new marketing scenario to have a high chance of achieving success.

We are not taught to fail.

We are taught that failing is a bad thing.  After all, in school if you fail a test and then an exam, you probably fail the course. You are punished by the institution and punished socially by your peers for your failure.  School has few opportunities to learn by experimentation and failure in a supportive environment.  In school, then, passing or failing is all about judging your inherent worth as a cog in the societal wheel and ultimately as a human being.  Harsh assertion, I know, but hey, after a zillion years as a student and a teacher, I can state this with some certainty.

As marketers, we have to experiment with lots of small marketing ideas (Marketing Manifesto #5) and trust that we will fail regularly. And these failures have nothing to do with our “worth” or our social status.  They have to do with learning to find the truth about things, asking the right questions at the right time, and trusting that our path of learning is exactly the perfect path for ourselves…failures and successes together.

What I learned from my failed marketing

Here is  some of the learning from my marketing failures over just the last few years:

  • Don’t try to sell something to people who don’t have any money to buy what you are selling.  Just because they need what you have sell doesn’t mean they can afford it.  Loss  $0. I broke even from a cash outlay perspective, but hundreds of hours of work for free.  Learning value?  Profound.
  • Question that which seems too good to be true about a product (it probably is).  Dig deep for truth before investing.  Take all the time you need. If there is a rush it is likely because something is hidden that you need to know.  Loss:  $2500.   Learning value?  Invaluable lessons in trusting your instincts and having the patience of Buddha.
  • Sometimes you have to simply try something to see if it will work.  It may not work, but the only way to know for sure is to try it.  Loss:  $2000. Learning value?  Wow!  Insights, new contacts, and new business opportunities.

Get back on the surf board

You would think that I have a masochistic streak.  I don’t, actually. I have learned so much from recent marketing endeavors that I feel profound humility from all the gifts of learning I have received.

But I get back on the marketing “surfboard”. I continue to try marketing new product and services.  And in this I learn.  I have a voracious appetite for learning truth.  What I know now about successful marketing is vastly more than I knew a few years ago.

I will continue to try new marketing. I will continue to fail. I plan to fail well.  I am not afraid of failure, because it is a necessary path to learning marketing really, really well.

I wholeheartedly recommend failure to everyone who wants to be a great marketer.

Oh, and in case you  might be wondering how a professor of marketing can justify failing seemingly regularly when he is supposed to be teaching how to do marketing well, note that I haven’t shared how many times I have been successful in my marketing efforts over the last few years…

“Ummm…has anyone seen the keys to my Porsche?”

Kidding.  I don’t have a Porsche.


Leave a Reply