Marketing Failure is Not an Option (Oh, Really?)

marketing failure is not an optionGuest Post, Mike Smith of WordSmith Creative

Fans of the classic Ron Howard space epic Apollo 13 will remember the galvanizing quote from mission control director Gene Kranz when the ground crew was trying to figure out how to get their three astronauts back to earth from their crippled space ship: “Failure is not an option!” It’s one of the shortest, most stirring motivational speeches ever given. There’s only one problem.

Gene Kranz never actually said that.

The fact is that nobody involved with NASA’s Apollo 13 project ever uttered those words. But it sounds like it should be true—and it made for great cinema.

“Failure is not an option” is a lousy business mantra. Granted, you need to have grit and determination and perseverance to succeed in business. But failure can (and does) happen in various parts of business.

Marketing is certainly no exception.

What’s more important than trying not to fail is to figure out why your marketing efforts failed—and what you can learn from the failure. When you’re involved in marketing, you’re often dealing with a moving target. People change. Their tastes change. What they respond to changes. And while we need to gather as much information about our audience as possible, there are times when we simply don’t know the right way to proceed. So we take our best educated guess and try something.

Smart (and successful) businesses keep track of what they tried and what kind of results they got. If a campaign didn’t work, they pick it apart and try to figure out why. They make deliberate, measured changes—and try again. That’s particularly important when dealing with new approaches and new technologies. A lot of the things we’re doing in marketing now—think social media—haven’t been around a very long time. There’s not a lot of background data. So sometimes we have to try, fail, and try again. Failure doesn’t have to be fatal. It can teach us what to avoid in the future.

So instead of adhering to an adage that Gene Kranz never really said, perhaps we’d do better to remember the actual words of another great American who refused to give up. Thomas Edison once exclaimed, “I have not failed, I’ve just found ten thousand ways that won’t work.” Wise words from one of the most successful “failures” the world has ever known.

What have you failed at recently? And what did you learn from it?

mike smith

Blog Post Written by Mike Smith

I help my clients identify their key messages and communicate them to the people they are trying to reach—in a way that matters to them, and makes them respond. I am the “Mike” at MikeWordsmith of Colorado Springs.