Marketing Fail

Marketing jobs have the shelf life of milk.

In the tech industry, marketing people move around a lot. Unlike code cutters, their skills can be well used up to the limits of their experience, then they see little incremental improvement from their activities. Seeing the end of a good run, they look for other companies – smaller in size, with new products, or just something exciting.

Other times they get fired.

marketing failMarketing can fail. What confounds many in management is which part of marketing failed and why. Marketing is both strategy and execution, and are typically carried-out by different people or teams. When sales are slow, management wants to know why and occasionally even marketing cannot (or will not) clearly identify what is not working. Obfuscating marketing malfunctions has become more difficult in the digital age because we can measure what is and is not succeeding, at least at the operational level. But bad strategy creates bad operations, so these lines can be made less clear.

How to spot marketing failures

Marketing execution failures tend not to be complete failures. Poor execution is like a blind elephant: they’ll find a peanut once in a while. Merely being in the market with some level of brand recognition will cause a few passers-by to linger long enough to sell them something. It may not be worth the marketing investment, but there is some return … some revenue.

Strategy tends to be more holistic: poor strategy produces little or nothing. Poor execution is like having a head cold. Poor strategy is like having late-stage cancer. When no amount of execution produces customers in target segments or key accounts, marketing strategy is the most likely culprit aside from a complete product failure.

When marketing execution fails

Marketing execution can often be fixed. By studying your sales funnel, you can see where execution is lacking. No leads at the top of the funnel means poor lead generation (i.e., anything that presents basic product info to target buyers). Significant drop-outs in the middle of the funnel indicate resistance of a stakeholding personae and the need to nurture them. My point is that point weaknesses can be individually addressed.

When there are many point failures, it may be necessary to overhaul all of marketing operations. If the strategy is sound (as indicated by target buyers buying, at least in small numbers) then the entire go-to-market plan may need changing. How leads are generated, scored, prioritized, nurtured may need rethinking.

When marketing strategy fails

Replace. Hate to say it but bad strategies can rarely be tweaked. A marketing strategy involves defining what you are selling, to who you are selling, and why it matters vis-à-vis all competing alternatives. If your marketing strategy creates the wrong product, targets the wrong buyers, or offers nothing importantly unique, then the strategy cannot be improved and needs to be placed in a casket … then set on fire while being pushed out to sea on a raft.

Knowing which is which

Crucial to this decision is having the bald honesty to unflinchingly determine which is failing – strategy or execution. Marketing executives have been known to blame poor execution to mask their failed strategy. Yet they are the ones who will tell the executive team why the company is failing. They fail their company if they report incorrectly, and will be shown the door if their failure continues. If you strategy is bust, bust yourself before the boss does.


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