“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