Posted by David Oates 2 years, 6 months ago


Most end of the year blog posts proudly boast about the author’s achievements over the past 12 months or predict in overly optimistic tones about what will come in the New Year.

With all due respect to those articles, I’ve always found that I’ve learned more from my failures than I did my successes. Last year brought a bucket full of both for my team and me.

So it’s with humility and some trepidation that I offer up some of the highlights where I messed up in 2016:

Location Still Matters In Retail. My firm got hired by a large regional, well-known, third-party retailer to develop a marketing program that would help turn around some of their significantly underperforming stores. We spent a considerable amount of time planning the right strategy. We devised a cause marketing program complete with news media outreach, social media campaigns and nonprofit partner support to get the word out for a “Day of Giving.” It took place in five stores across three states. Years earlier, we did a similar campaign for the Southern California area developer of a franchise with great success.

This time, though, proved much different. It was, by all accounts, a failure. None of the stores garnered any additional foot traffic, let alone new customers. It was a head scratcher at first; all of our efforts leading up to that day were textbook. We had the press coverage, social media buzz and partner outreach that should have made the day a huge success. In the end, it couldn’t overcome the reality that the stores operated in struggling areas. No matter what we did, we weren’t going to be able to offset the hard reality that in retail, location is the linchpin for success.

Sugar Is Not A Good CRM Platform. Put it another way. The only way to make it work is to spend a lot of money on third party support. In my opinion, SugarCRM is clunky and confusing. There’s a reason why it’s a free platform, and we found that out the hard way when we took on the challenge of implementing it for a professionals services client.

After spending no less than 100 hours over six months just trying to configure the system to work the way we needed it to, we realized it just wasn’t robust enough. The emails looked amateurish, setting up the campaign lists was abhorrently complicated, and the analytics were not detailed enough to be useful in making the kind of strategic decisions we needed in real time. We wound up scrapping the initiative.

For the record, I’m a big fan of Salesforce/Pardot. HubSpot is also one I enjoy using.

You Can’t Overcome A Strategic Difference of Opinion With A Client. I was excited to take on a large restaurant/tavern/banquet hall that came to us wanting to bring in more foot traffic. The location is good enough, the food is outstanding (I still go there), and the ambiance is unique. The problem was the place was 22,000-square-feet and in need to doubling the normal amount of patrons that any of the other restaurants in the area required to maximize revenue potential. What we came up with was for the client to become as much an events company as anything else. We recommended to bring folks in to put on special programs; including town hall meetings, parties, special tastings and such. When we pitched the idea, the client initially agreed, and we went to work. 

The problem was that the client started pulling us in different directions almost from the beginning, getting us off track quickly on initiatives that were as effective in bringing new customers through the door. We met resistance when we tried to get back on course. Closed-door conversations followed but were not successful in bringing us back to following the original plan. We ended the work soon after.

I do take pride in several things from these experiences. For starters, we left all these relationships on good terms. Our Pay-On-Performance model helps with this because the clients fully understood that we didn’t profit from any of these campaigns. We also took away from these instances valuable lessons on what works and what doesn't work. This helped us in the service of other clients where we exceeded expectations; one going so far as to double their leads and website traffic in just six months

While these failures were not fun to go through at the time, I have absolutely no regrets in undertaking them. The cold, hard reality is that every marketing agency will fall short of client expectations now and again. It’s the unavoidable law of averages. The key is to avoid failing at the same thing twice while also making sure the client doesn’t feel like they got shorted as a result. We did that, and are much stronger for it.


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