How forensic analysis helps understand why a marketing campaign failed


Like most I never win every bid I present, but as with baseball if you average a hit one out of each three times you are at bat, that .333 batting average will make you a perennial All-Star. You will be above the rest and yet close enough to the top to still go for the gold.

In the last 18 months a strange phenomenon (for me) has occurred. Many of the integrated marketing programmes that I bid on and did not win have been reassigned to me after the programme was assigned to another consultant, activated and then failed.

My new assignment is not to recreate the effort, but to perform a marketing autopsy, an after-the-fact forensic review of what went right and more importantly what, where and why the program went wrong, and failed to meet the desired expectations. Basically the programme died on the vine!

Based on my examination and my tales from the marketing morgue, I have concluded that nearly all failed programmes have three strategic common flaws. Simply stated, the strategic errors are in most instances based on misguided content, incorrectly applied context and expectations that are just wrong.

What I focus on is the marketing, using a proprietary measurement tool called Wav3tm, which is based on a strategic, operational and tactical review. No holds barred and no prisoners taken.

The first step to failure: Incorrect content

There are many definitions of marketing content, and here is my definition – one of my golden rules and part of Wav3.

Content as a marketing term is the creation and distribution of relevant, topical, valid and valuable information that can attract, acquire, develop dialogue with and engage a demographically defined and well-understood target audience.

Content as a marketing term also means the information provided must be knowledge based, be perceived as applicable wisdom as it relates to the product/service being marketed. It has to be more than just sales and advertising copy. Content has a goal and objective to drive profitable customer actions for its business. The content should also support the goals of the product/service being marketed.

I have been told and agree that “Content is King” – “Context is the Queen” and as we all know, the Queen runs the castle.

The second step to failure: Context

Defining context is a bit more difficult since it too has a few different meanings and can be confused as contextual marketing. The following is my measurement, while also being part of Wav3tm, and the second of the three golden rules.

Context is delivering correct content to the correct demographic (people, business, B2C or B2B) at the right time and via a media that has value to the targeted audience within the scope of the need, goals and objectives of the marketing effort.

The third step to failure: Expectations

What is the expected response rate and sales goals? Is the goal to increase brand awareness? What is the source of your expected response rates? Did you base your expectations on real-world data – industry research? No matter how exceptional the marketing effort, most will provide response outside the expected range of the targeted audience or vertical.

These are the three critical points of analysis and in conjunction with other - rules, many other rules, provide the results based effort I have called Wav3.

Here are three quick examples of Wav3tm – a forensic marketing analysis.

Autopsy one: What creatives want

A marketing solutions provider decides to enter a new vertical – develop a new business program. The brand determines that the market is mostly creative (art directors etc.) (correct) and incorrectly identifies the critical service as the need to “CYA” (cover your ass) of the targeted audience via proofreading and other related support services.

A second error occurred when the solutions provider also determines the need to define the technology that the solutions provider applies to complete/fulfill an assigned project was of great importance to the targeted market – wrong, again!

The integrated effort, a multiple-tiered direct mail program linked to emails and a micro site was more like a college examination than a support and services offering. A test (with grades) for creative that is not going to happen!

Yes the effort failed, but why? The content was way too technical as well as being incorrect. It was too over the top and in some cases had no validity or value to be included in the programme. The programme was to develop new business not prove my client's solutionshood. The information (context) was supplier-driven with the question “Here is what we do” vs. “What do you need” and “Our goal is to” vs. “What are your goals and how can assist you with our skill set to reach your objectives”.

A complementary discussion was required, not an authoritative “do it our way” dialogue. The solutions provider needed to think trusted advisor not dominant “parental” figure.

In the end the media was incorrectly selected, the solutions provider thought that they would use dimensional direct mail and emails and be cool about it, (good idea) they should have realised that a mobile tool/device would have been better to include, to enhance the program – creative types like mobile.

Mobile was driving this industry/vertical along with interactive, AR, digital watermarks and other links to actionable items. Static direct mail, limited interactive links, 800 numbers and limited support social media just do not sell “knowledge and marketing professionalism”.

Autopsy Two: A millennial here or a millennial there?

I teach sales promotion at a major NYC college. The students are nearly all millennials. I felt I needed to understand their dreams; desires, needs, thoughts and feelings, I conducted in-depth research of who and what they are, why they “do what they do” – part of my “know your market/customer” rule.

So it was interesting to be asked to develop an integrated marketing campaign for a clothing manufacturer and the main target are those born between 1985 and 2000, one of the many “zones” that millennials sit inside. You guessed it, I did not get assigned the project, but I did get assigned the autopsy. What a gory task that was!

The short story was that the content was nearly on target, but the context lacked a true understanding of their lifestyle* and the way they view life, their (yes THEIR) media. The deployment was wrong, all wrong, with media selected that had no or limited value to the audience, media that offered limited interactivity and very limited social support.

More importantly, the expectations (results) had been greatly enhanced. This frugal group were not the buyers that their parents where, many live at home, are already stradelled with debt and just do not see the need for many of the firm’s products. At least, not without discount coupons and other benefits being offered – such as reward, referral and “friend/sharing” programmes.

Media was a serious concern and the data showed that legacy media had value, print magazines (niche magazines) rated highly with the crowd, (no print media was used) social was “OK” but “texting” was better as was the combo of social, location and mobile, otherwise known as SoLoMo, with as mentioned interactive, measureable links.

In the end, the clients that hired me to conduct the autopsy began to see that the strategic need supported by an operational plan and instituted with defined tactical tools based on the target markets needed to be more than carefully developed.

They, the firm hired, only went one or two levels deep in the research and stayed on the surface when it developed the content, context and deployment. Instead of limited research, a deep look and a carefully designed mix and measured combination of content, context and real world expectations would have created a marketing effort based on success rather than being doomed to failure.

Wav3's rating system

Part of Wav3 is a rating system that not only focuses on the components mentioned, but looks into, examines the experience level of those involved in the development of the programme. What I have found is many, if not most of people developing the programmes, have limited experience in marketing and their manager is so busy that they rely heavily on a staff that in most cases just does not have the experience needed.

Wav3 is not a perfect system (I am constantly adjusting the process), but it does provide a very powerful tool to allow you to understand why your marketing effort may have missed the mark, failed to achieve the goals you identified and may have placed you, your job in jeopardy.

Wav3 via a long tested and proven process, which assigns metrics to the components of the failed marketing effort, comparing those metrics with experience, an understanding of the value and impact of media – based on the targeted audience.

Based on a proprietary methodology the “more than numbers” are crunched and a highly accurate overview of nearly any marketing effort is developed. Wav3 reviews key elements such as content, context and expectations as well as supportive components such as media, deployment, timing, frequency, and goals and objectives of the marketing effort.

Wav3 is based on ROI, Return On Investment, which is better than the other ROI, you Resume On the Internet.

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