How to Prevent Your Next Marketing Fail


Originally published in INC. Magazine on March 4, 2014

The underlying cause of most marketing failures is simply a lack of communication. Here are some tips for getting everyone in your organization on the same page.

Every year, billions of marketing dollars are wasted. That’s right, billions.

And I’m not talking about big, visible, “New Coke” failure and waste. I’m talking about garden variety, didn’t need to happen, “come on people let’s get our stuff together” missteps that could have — and should have — been avoided.

There’s the sales promotion that drove thousands of consumers to retail locations across the country. Just one problem — the retail sales staff wasn’t properly trained and didn’t have a clear understanding of how the promotion actually worked. Or how about the giant PR blitz that generated millions of hoped-for-but-not-planned-for impressions, driving web traffic to a site that crashed under the weight of this volume. Or the new product launch that, well, didn’t launch. At least not when everyone thought it was going to (or even within a month of the target date).

They are all examples of missteps in communication: Marketing vs. Sales. Marketing vs. IT. Marketing vs. Production. Or said differently, People vs. People.

For far too many organizations, lack of internal alignment within and adjacent to the marketing function is a significant problem hiding in plain sight. The impact? At best, inconsistent and frustrating customer experiences. At worst, lost customers, sales, investment, and brand equity.

By way of quantifying this waste, IBM has estimated that $83 billion is lost in the U.S. each year due to poor customer experiences. Egads. Like most things, the cure is closer than you think. It’s the stuff we all know to do but somehow never find time for amid the ongoing grudge match of the urgent versus the important. Here are three easy ways to prevent your next marketing fail.

1. Listen. Winston Churchill said, “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” So ask yourself: When was the last time you really listened to other functional areas in the organization? Got their input? Understood their issues and ambitions? Considered the impact of your priorities on their priorities, and vice versa?

Whenever possible, our agency begins each client engagement with a deep-discovery phase, including one-on-one interviews with every stakeholder in the process — from customer service and IT to sales and production. We close with collaborative inter-departmental workshops. The result of bringing everyone to the table for an unvarnished conversation at the project’s inception? Crossed arms turn into eager handshakes. Considerations throughout the organization are actually considered. Bridges are built and priorities are defined. Alignment has begun.

2. Lead. The aforementioned IBM report also found that marketers who assume the responsibility for greater brand stewardship, identify gaps in the execution of their brand’s promise, and drive alignment and understanding throughout the organization significantly outperform their peers in terms of gross profit, net income, and stock growth. Need more data to make the case for organizational alignment?

Great marketers and business people alike don’t make excuses; they work hard to ensure that their enterprise consistently puts first things first. Practically, this means proactively defining an integration process — with comprehensive internal and external lenses alike — and not viewing integration as an afterthought or bolt-on.

3. Learn. Let’s turn once again to the Book of Churchill: “All men make mistakes, but only wise men learn from their mistakes.” You don’t have to be a Six Sigma Jedi to build continuous learning into your people process. Great leaders and organizations aren’t afraid to admit when they’re wrong; in fact, they’re hungry for future optimization. And so: make ongoing analysis a part of your ongoing process.

Create an environment open to discussion. Respect different personality types. Share what has been learned — good and bad alike — from the unique perspective of each functional area and in the context of what was initially agreed upon at the campaign’s inception. Connect insights to implications to action plans — again, with ongoing feedback loops moving forward.

Tom Peters is famous for saying, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” And in the context of this topic, I’d humbly add that organizational behavior eats the best-laid marketing plans for lunch.

So, want to increase gross profit, net income, and stock growth — and prevent your next marketing fail in the process? Make time for the people part of your marketing efforts. You and your income statement will be glad you did.