How to Prevent an Epic Marketing Failure

Have you ever seen a marketing campaign and thought “what was that company thinking?”

I know I have.

Starbucks’ “Race Together” campaign from last month certainly comes to mind.
 On a smaller scale, so does the story I shared last week about a real estate company that got in hot water over a controversial postcard campaign.

The public outrage and PR backlash for both of these campaigns could have been avoided if the companies had been a little more thoughtful about their marketing approach.

How to Avoid Bad Marketing

The thing about marketing is that it’s both art and science. Yes, marketing pays attention to data and trends.

 how a campaign is perceived is often in the eye of the beholder.

The most powerful marketing campaigns can be incredibly provocative and attract a ton of attention for your brand. The challenge is to get the right kind of attention. Veer too far one direction and your campaign to engender potential customers can send them running the other direction.

So, how do you avoid an epic marketing blunder?

Playing it safe is the easy answer. But, that also means you’ll end up with boring marketing, which is just as fatal.

Instead, there are a few things you should remember as you’re creating your campaigns to prevent
 an epic marketing failure:

1. Stay true to your values.

Many marketing mishaps could be avoided if the company focused on staying true to their values.

Sometimes, companies try to do too much with a campaign or they insert themselves into a conversation that doesn’t really align with their brand mission. When you do that, it can create all sorts of problems.

The Starbucks “race together” campaign is a prime example. After all, does it really make sense for a barista to be chatting up customers about issues of race in America? Probably not.

Before embarking on any marketing campaign, ask yourself a few questions:

  • Does this marketing effort accurately represent our business?
  • Is this approach consistent with the way we do business?
  • Will our company be proud of this campaign?
  • How will people who have never heard about us perceive this campaign?
  • How will our customers and greatest supporters respond to this campaign?

The answers to these questions will help you determine whether the campaign is “on brand” for your business.

2. Understand your audience.

Some of the biggest marketing blunders of all time could have been avoided if the company was more mindful of the audience they were trying to attract.
levis-adIt’s imperative that you have a keen understanding of whom you are trying to reach. For example. Levi’s ad campaign from a couple of years ago boasted
 that “hotness comes in all shapes and sizes.” However, the image certainly didn’t match that claim as the ad only showed small, rail thin models.

If Levi’s had thought a little more about their target audience, this could have be avoided. Women DO come in all shapes and sizes. Had Levi’s shown that, the campaign would have been likely applauded (much like Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty).

When creating your campaign, think about your target audience and ask yourself these questions:

  • What is important to them? What do they value? What do they believe?
  • What are their pain points? How will this solve their problem?
  • What are their goals or aspirations? How will this answer that?
  • What will they think of this campaign? How will it make them feel?

And, it’s even better if you actually talk to your customers so you can make sure you fully understand their thoughts, feelings and beliefs. If you do that, you’ll be more likely to
 hit the mark with your campaign.

3. Be involved in the decision.

Whether you have an internal marketing team or you’ve hired an agency, company leadership must be involved in the decision to develop and run the marketing campaign.

Don’t just make your marketing team an easy scapegoat if the campaign goes south. Make sure your ideas and thoughts are represented so a campaign is set up for success. Because it is your business, you will hopefully have a better understanding of what messages will ring true with your audience.

4. Say “no” to bad ideas.

Although marketers are creative and strategic folks, not every idea we have is brilliant (as much as I’d like to think that’s the case). In fact, sometimes marketers have to come up with plenty of bad ideas before striking gold.

That’s why you have to be honest about the quality of the ideas presented to you.

If your marketing team pitches you an idea that doesn’t feel right, say so. Don’t agree to a bad idea because you feel you should.

5. Watch out for design by committee.

Sometimes, perfectly good ideas can become a mess in a hurry when there are too many people involved.

Danielle and I were talking about this last week. She told me about a situation at a previous job where her agency came up with an innovative and provocative idea. To the client, it felt a little too provocative for their brand. They decided it needed a few edits, and then a few more.

The more everyone noodled with the campaign to “make it work,” the further it moved from what worked in the first place: a clever idea that pushed the envelope. Ultimately, the concept was a flop in execution and never saw the light of day.

In this case, the client should have trusted the agency’s concept and allowed it to come to fruition as intended. But, if they didn’t feel comfortable, they should have nixed it altogether instead of trying to triage the idea.

6. Get feedback.

If your marketing team presents an idea, don’t always take it at face value.

Take time to think it through. Get feedback from other members of your team. Ask an outside party to take a look. Or even talk to your customers to see how they respond to the campaign.

Although you don’t want to have design by committee (see above), you want to make sure your efforts aren’t tone deaf. If the real estate company I mentioned had tested out the messaging with their clients, they might have received valuable feedback that would have helped them sidestep this issue.

7. Know the risks.

Sometimes, the best marketing can be incredibly provocative. There is a fine line between brilliance and ignorance. If you decide to be bold with your marketing effort, understand the risks and anticipate the possible responses to your messages.

What could people say? What’s the worst that can happen? If you take the time to know and understand the potential downsides to a campaign that can help you be prepared should things go wrong.

Preventing Bad Marketing

My hope here is that this post doesn’t scare you off from being creative or innovative with your marketing. Far from it, in fact.

But, I do hope these tips encourage you to be strategic and think through your ideas to make sure your marketing efforts are met with applause instead of criticism.

What do you think? What other tips would you add to help companies avoid an epic marketing disaster?

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Laura Click

Laura Click is brand strategist, speaker, podcaster and the founder of Blue Kite. Learn more about Laura and her work at Blue Kite.

2 replies on “How to Prevent an Epic Marketing Failure”

I love your insight here, Laura. We just did an interview with the CEO of the fastest growing tea company in the nation and he told us about a time his business almost went under. A mentor to him said, figure out who your best customer is and go get 50 more of them. That’s exactly what he did, going door to door-to-door to get these customers, and by the end of that month… His business was thriving and now look where they are. The same can go for marketing. Take what’s working for you now, or what worked for you in the past, and do more of that. Sometimes people are too excited to try and reinvent the wheel.
Love your articles, excited to read more.

Hi Sarah & Prince – Thanks for stopping by! The story you shared is spot on. Sometimes, companies make marketing and sales way too complicated. Going after companies that share the same characteristics as your best customers is great advice. The other ignored market? Your existing customers. Sometimes, the best source of revenue is people who are already buying from you. How can you cross sell to them? Or, how can you get them to buy more? These people already trust you enough to buy from you. Why not focus on that instead of only chasing new business?

Glad you like our content and thanks again for sharing!


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