“It’s not failure, it’s data”

A teapoot with a fortune cookie wrapper coming out of it that reads "do not fear failture"
“Do not fear failure” by Tomasz Stasiuk is licensed under CC BY 4.0

“It’s not failure, it’s data,” Elizabeth Lombardo wrote in my most recent edition of Health Magazine. She was talking about what to do after you’ve swayed from your diet/eating plan, but this quote is also very relevant to marketing.

Too often, I hear stories from marketing colleagues who are in work environments where failures are punished severely (mine is not that type of environment, thankfully). The result? They don’t innovate or take risks. They stick to what they’ve always done, and it seems to be working ok.

But that’s the problem, it’s just working ok. Those organizations are standing still while communication patterns change and other companies innovate. To really excel, you have to try new things, and that most likely means some successes (Chick-fil-a billboards) and some failures (remember Pepsi Clear?).

A marketing Vice President I interned with at the Kellogg Company told me to think of marketing more like a panel of knobs. You turn one and see what happens. If things go badly, you turn it back and turn another knob. If things go well, you turn it more or turn another knob.

“It’s not failure, it’s data.”

So how should your organization encourage stepping out of the comfort zone while also minimizing critical errors? For this answer, I turn to the “Mistakes” part of my old employee handbook from Adams Outdoor Advertising:

If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not trying hard enough. Be sure to screw up wildly, creatively, and originally. So long as you have a good rationale for the chances you take and the mistakes that result, and you spend more time being right than wrong, you are doing your job.

Honest mistakes are welcome. But if you make a mistake due to laziness or stupidity and try to use this section as a defense, you’re going to be fired.

Further reading:

Avoiding the copycat “Us too” style of marketing


Photo: “Do not fear failure” by Tomasz Stasiuk is licensed under CC BY 4.0

Reader question: How do restaurants benefit from giving free meals on Veterans Day?

veterans day

A reader, who is a veteran, asked, “How do restaurants benefit from giving free meals on Veterans Day?”

Let me first start by saying that it is my hope and my assumption that the main reason that businesses offer free items and discounts to veterans is because they truly respect what they have done for our country and want to honor them. With that said, they do gain from supporting veterans and this post focuses on those benefits.

Employee morale

If the organization has veteran employees, one benefit of giving discounts or free food/items to veterans is that it is a way to communicate to their veteran employees that they support them. This can be a morale-booster for veteran and non-veteran employees alike.

Product/service trial

Discounts or free food/items to veterans encourages them to try a new product or service. For example, a veteran may have never tried a particular restaurant, but might because of the free promotion. That veteran may like it and come back on a regular basis after that, which means a lot of additional sales for the restaurant. Or, perhaps a veteran hasn’t been to a particular restaurant in a long time and the promotion reminds them how much they like it, so they start visiting more frequently.

Additional sales of family/friends that come along

The majority of people do not go out to eat by themselves. So, it’s most likely that a veteran going to a restaurant for a free meal or discount will bring family or friends along with them.

Very similar to offering free kids meals, the math on this works. A veteran will most likely pick a mid-range item on the menu and bring family and friends. It’s very likely that the profit from those family and friends will cover the cost of the veteran’s meal. And, the restaurant has trial (see above) from the family and friends as well as the veteran.


Media mentions are extremely valuable to business and organizations. Everywhere you look right now, there are news articles listing organizations offering promotions/free meals for veterans (Example: ABC News, The Top Veterans Day Deals and Freebies Tomorrow). And, let’s not forget about all of the social media sharing that is happening between people sharing the promotional information. So, by offering a promotion, these organizations are seeing a Return on Investment from the media mentions.

Me too/Social pressure consideration

I’ve written before about the dangers of copycat “us too” style of marketing. Again, I’m assuming that most restaurants give away free meals to veterans because they want to show their appreciation. With that said, I do think there is a lot of social pressure to do so because other restaurants are doing it and restaurants are afraid of negative publicity/pushback if they don’t do it.

So hopefully, dear reader, this didn’t kill your view of this important day. The above are just considerations. Thank you for your question and Happy Veterans Day.

Avoid the copycat “us too” style of marketing

A cat sleeping on the glass of copying machine
Photo from Flickr creative commons: miconian

If you’ve ever worked in marketing management, you’ve probably experienced that moment when someone walks into your office or sends you an email with one of your competitor’s ads. The delivery is different depending on who they are and their directness level, but the message is always the same, “They are doing this, so we should be too.” What they don’t realize is, there are a whole host of reasons you shouldn’t copycat your competitors.

And balloons sell cars…

I’ve heard the phrasing above several times in my career as an internal joke amongst marketers. To my knowledge, there’s never been a legitimate study that has shown a ROI correlation between putting balloons on cars, or having a pink gorilla out front, and the actual selling of cars.  In reality, the advertising and selling of cars is a complex process (for more on this, see Addressing the Question: Measuring Advertising ROI).

The point here is, car dealers put balloons on their cars because other car dealers put balloons on their cars. This “us too” reaction is not founded on the actual selling of cars. Just because someone is doing a particular marketing technique doesn’t mean it actually works.

2 companies using the same message/strategy = not effective

Still using the balloons on cars example, even if, at some point, it did draw potential buyers in, it was probably because having balloons on cars was rare. People notice things out of the ordinary, not the ordinary. Now that everyone else has balloons on their cars, it’s become ordinary.

Similarly with advertising claims, if two major brands took the exact same marketing position, they’d simply cancel each other out.

What works for one does not work for another

You have a unique selling proposition (if you don’t, that’s your issue) in some way shape or form. That means you have a unique way you need to communicate and a unique set of people you need to communicate with. What that means is, what works for your competitor (if what they are doing is really working), probably won’t work for you.

When I was working as a marketing director for community colleges, people would bring me ads all the time from four-year schools to look at. Although looking through them did spawn some great ideas, I had to also remember that they were targeting a different group than I was.  I was targeting local students that wanted to stay local, they were targeting students from across the country who wanted to go away to school. I was targeting an older set of students (our average age was 29), they were targeting 14-18 year olds. And so forth.

What you should be doing instead

It’s hard when the above happens, especially if it’s pressure from your leaders, to not fall victim to “us too” type advertising campaigns, but you have to be willing to or you’ll end up wasting a lot of time and money.

The best defense to this is a good offense; have a strong marketing plan developed that outlines your unique selling proposition, your unique target market, the best ways to communicate with that target market, and how you’re going to differentiate yourselves from your competitors. Communicate this plan early and often.

At the same time, be open to gleaning ideas by watching competitors, but only utilize them if they your unique selling proposition and marketing vs. harming it.

And, if all else fails, forward this article as a response back to the person who suggested you should copy your competitors  🙂