Your marketing won’t work

Your marketing isn’t going to work. At least, not at first. It’s something I call “The Principle of Expected Failure”.

Your marketing isn’t going to work.

At least, not at first.

It’s something I call “The Principle of Expected Failure,” for which there are two tenets:

1. Your initial marketing efforts, no matter how considered or carefully planned, are likely to fail—or at least be less successful than you might want.

2. And you need to know exactly why it failed to ensure future success.

As Roger Martin has said, nothing that’s truly new can be proved analytically ahead of time. And if you’re doing anything worthwhile, you’re doing something new.

And there’s simply no way to know for sure, ahead of time, that your marketing’s going to work. We don’t operate in a deterministic environment—everything is probabilistic. And the people who know what they’re talking about know that there are no guarantees.

But too many marketers pour all of their money and effort into a single, initial campaign. And then, when it lands like a brick, they have no resources left—including patience and enthusiasm—to keep going.

So they just stop.

Worse, many marketers have simply convinced themselves and their clients that success is measured in views and impressions—or other meaningless, easily-gamed metrics—instead of actual sales, the only metric that matters.

So leaders are told that the marketing is working, even as sales stall, because their Instagram post got a lot of attention, or their YouTube video got a few thousand views. Or they got an impossibly large number of media impressions.

But their business continues to struggle anyway, despite the money spent, the ads created, and the logos redesigned.

But when you anticipate failure, two important things happen:

1. You avoid the disappointment and resource waste that leads to ending your efforts early.

2. You pay extremely close attention to what happens, and why. You don’t try everything all at once, you do one thing at a time, and you measure and adjust until it works.

As the saying goes, no plan survives engagement with the enemy. And in marketing, the enemy is the uncertainty of the market, the uncertainty of competitive behavior, and the uncertainty of your own ability to execute on your initiatives.

If you’re not planning for initial failures or setbacks, you’re assuming you know the future. But as John Kenneth Galbraith wrote, “very specific and personal misfortune awaits those who presume to believe that the future is revealed to them.”

Experts build evaluation and adjustment into every strategy—it’s part of the core structure, not something they leave until the work is over. They don’t make excuses for poor performance or waste days manipulating spreadsheets until they can pretend the numbers are better than they actually are.

Instead, they create a structure to work efficiently to get what they and their clients want—the definition of strategy. And that strategy contains feedback loops for change and improvement. They then implement the strategy to the best of their abilities, and they never spend all their resources on the first attempt.

Because the biggest problem in marketing isn’t failing. It’s stopping before it works.

Only the reckless and irresponsible bet it all on one hand. On one campaign, one launch, one effort.

The careful, the prudent, and the successful play to be able to keep playing.

So if you’re not planning to fail at first, you’re guaranteed to fail eventually. Because you’re not planning to learn.

Instead, make your best possible strategy, your best possible plan, and your best possible creative implementation.

And then wait for when it doesn’t work perfectly, and figure out exactly why and what to do differently next time.

And keep going.