For better or worse, marketing is all about relationships. The best marketing campaigns aren’t just trying to sell a product or service – they’re trying to forge a strong, stable and long lasting relationship with a target audience.
Many people often forget that relationships are a two-way street. They’re not passive affairs – you have to actively work at them all the time. If you don’t work enough, the other member of the equation will start to feel neglected and will look for a relationship that is a little more fulfilling. If you work too hard, you can (and often will) wind up making mistakes as you “learn by doing.”
You WILL make a mistake in terms of business marketing – to assume that you will not is to acknowledge that you never really understood the role of marketing in the first place. But even the biggest mistakes will only sink your company if you allow them to. If you really want to learn how to come back from a legitimate business marketing mistake, there are a few key things to keep in mind.
Mistakes For the Ages
Again – when it comes to making a mistake in terms of your business’ larger marketing campaigns, you’re not dealing with a question of “if” but “when.” It IS going to happen – as evidenced by a few of the most significant marketing “snafus” of all time.
In 2007, for example, Cartoon Network found itself in a bit of hot water with a guerrilla marketing campaign gone awry. They set up LED signs in major cities like Boston to “covertly” promote one of their cartoons – Aqua Teen Hunger Force. One Boston resident mistook one of the LED signs for a bomb and called the police. Because the signs were everywhere, this turned into a terrorism scare very quickly – causing the city to shut down public transportation, bridges, and even roads. The head of Cartoon Network had to resign because of this.
One of the most significant marketing mistakes in recent memory involved Qwikster, which is a term that has essentially become synonymous with destroying the value of a brand overnight. Though you might not remember, in 2011 Netflix made a surprise announcement that they were splitting the mail order DVD and online streaming arms into two separate companies. The former would remain Netflix, while the second was dubbed Qwikster.
“Mistake” doesn’t begin to describe what happened next. This decision made the process of interacting with Netflix on behalf of a consumer incredibly complicated. If you wanted to use both services – as many at the time did – you would suddenly be subjected to a 60% price increase. Netflix lost 800,000 subscribers (and about 77% of its total stock price) as a result of this catastrophe.
Yet both Cartoon Network and Netflix still exist. Because it ultimately wasn’t about the mistake they made, but what they chose to do from there.
Back From the Brink
It’s somewhat ironic, but the number one tool that you’ll use to come back from a legitimate marketing mistake is what got you into trouble with your audience in the first place – your marketing.
Pay very close attention to what the problem actually was and listen to what your audience is trying to tell you. Did you attach your brand to a hashtag on Twitter without first researching what that hashtag was, leading to an insensitive message (albeit one with solid intentions)? Don’t run from it. Acknowledge the problem.
You screwed up – period, end of story. Send additional messages detailing what the problem was, what you should have done and what you are going to do to make sure it doesn’t happen again in the future.
Did you do what so many other companies have done – lose sight of your original focus and start adding features to a product just because you could, not because your audience was looking for them? Create additional marketing collateral outlining what led you to the problem, why it was a problem and (once again) what you’re going to do to stop it from happening in the future.
You’ll need the type of detail that the format affords so that you can truly back up your inevitable apology and reassessment with content that audience members can actually buy into.
Also, consider creating a video that lets you speak to someone directly. Don’t shy away from your responsibility in this situation. Let people see your face. Let them hear your voice. Coming back from a legitimate mistake is possible, but doable. Depending on the nature of the situation you’ve found yourself in, you need all the help you can get – which is why videos are so essential.
In the End
If you’ve never heard of the name Gabe Newell before, you can be forgiven – you’re probably not much of a video game player. Though his career began as a computer programmer (and he rose to prominence as an employee at Microsoft during the halcyon days of the 1990s), he’s best known for founding the video game development and digital distribution company Vale Corporation – one of the most successful companies of its type in history with a total equity of $2.5 billion as of the most recently available estimates.
In a lengthy interview about his company, Newell said two things that are incredibly relevant to this discussion. “Don’t ever lie to the Internet,” he said. “Because they will catch you. They will deconstruct your spin. They will remember everything you say for eternity.” He also said that “pissing off the Internet costs you a million bucks in just a couple of days.”
You are going to make business marketing mistakes – it happens to even the most forward-thinking companies. The thing that matters – the only thing that matters – is what you do next. Don’t try to hide it. Don’t pretend it didn’t happy. Don’t downplay a legitimately big deal. Lean into it. Acknowledge it. Learn from it.
Not only will you have a much better chance of successfully course correcting, but it will go a long way towards solidifying the open and honest relationship with your audience that you were trying to create in the first place.
About the Author
Payman Taei is the founder of Visme, an easy-to-use online tool to create engaging presentations, infographics, and other forms of visual content. He is also the founder of HindSite Interactive, an award-winning Maryland digital agency specializing in website design, user experience, and web app development.