Marketing During A Recession: Failure Isn't Fatal

This week, I've been writing about marketing during a recession - about how recessions are opportunities to gain market share, the illusion of stability in marketing, and the role of risk.

But what if you take that risk and fail? I was interested to hear how marketing gurus framed failure and what we could all learn from their wisdom.

It's Only A Flesh Wound

Regular readers know that I recently listened to the audiobook of Seth Godin's Tribes. Here's what he had to say about failure:

"The secret of being wrong is not to avoid being wrong. The secret is being willing to be wrong. The secret is realizing that 'wrong' isn't 'fatal.'

The only thing that makes people and organizations great is their willingness not to be great along the way. The desire to fail on the way to reaching a bigger goal is the untold secret of success." (2:43:43)

Mr. Godin has clearly lost his marbles.

How can failure be good? I then went to Ron Hunter Jr. and Michael Waddell's Toy Box Leadership. Maybe they could shed some light on the subject.

"The most important creative freedom by far is the freedom to fail...Just remember, the consequences of failing are small compared to the consequences of not trying at all." (page 63)

Craziness! Surely Joseph Jaffe and Join The Conversation could sort these guys out about the disaster that is failure.

"[Sir Ken Robinson] has said that 'to take chances is to not be frightened of being wrong.' In other words, those who are not prepared to be wrong will never come up with anything original or be creative." (page 117)

Why are all these businesspeople courting risk?

Of Course, I'm Being Facetious

As I wrote earlier in the week, our job as marketers is not to mitigate risk by going along with the status quo. Our job is to manage the risk and sometimes we fail.

That stinks, but there's nothing we can do about it. It's inherent to the job. So it's better to get in there and figure out your best odds of success (and learn from your mistakes).

Like Michael Daehn said in a comment yesterday, "You need to decide what you want and where you are in life and weigh how much risk you are willing/able to afford. I agree the current market is scary for most, but it has terrific opportunity for those willing to take some chances."

3 Recent Examples

It's not difficult to find examples of how failure affects some companies. Here are three very different responses to failure:

  • Motrin: Depending on your point of view, Motrin's failure lies either with the offensive ad itself (most of us) or the fact that they pulled it so quickly. Either way, their trip-up was a golden opportunity to jump into social media and get to know their customers a little better, in order not to repeat the failure. Instead, they raised the white flag and hunkered down - not a peep since. This is truly an all-around failure.
  • Molson: The beer maker got into hot water for a Facebook photo campaign that some Canadian university administrators claimed promoted irresponsible drinking. Paul Gillin, in Secrets of Social Media Marketing, attests that they at least are thinking correctly. "[T]he company actually considered the campaign to be a success, according to Dawna Henderson, CEO of Henderson Bas, the advertising agency behind the content. 'We learned a lot about what not to do next time,' she said." (page 224)
  • Dell: After blogger Jeff Jarvis' DellHell blog, the computer manufacturer got the message. Though Jarvis' blog posts rightfully cited Dell's resistance to conversation, they started Direct2Dell, a collaboration and conversation vehicle. In February 2007, they launched IdeaStorm, a glorified (but successful) suggestion box. They also have quantifiable data that shows they have reduced the percentage of negative online conversation. Dell really did turn a failure into a success.

What failures have you seen in the marketing world? Were any turned around into successes, or at least lay the groundwork for future success? Please leave your comments below and turn in tomorrow to discuss whether the recession will push social media into the mainstream.


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(Photo courtesy of Qaiser18 via Flickr)