Why a Fear of Failure Might be Holding Back Your Marketing Success

Welcome to the Friday Commentary. In this series every Friday experts will shine a light on the digital industry. Where are we heading, what is going on and how should we approach this as decision makers? This Friday it is time to listen to Blueglass UK founder Kevin Gibbons.

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The problem with modern day marketing is that, under increasing pressure to get results, we’re often too scared to fail in order to achieve success. Everyone wants to be innovative, but no one wants to make mistakes – those two things don’t go hand in hand.

Without failing along the way, you’ll never learn the lessons that can really set you apart from the crowd. Ask any of the most innovative brands about their success and they’ll likely tell you of twice as many bigger mistakes they’ve made in the past, but they all have one thing in common – they’ve learned from it, never quit and were prepared to take that risk of uncertainty in order to get ahead.

Everyone knows how fast-changing digital marketing is, we all live and breathe it every day so you don’t need me to tell you that the only constant is change.

They used to say an Internet year was 4.7 years – but now it’s feels more like 20! Between Google penguins and pandas, paid search enhanced campaigns, responsive design, analytics privacy, new content distribution channels, social media advertising (not to mention Facebook acquiring everyone they can) – there’s a plethora of information to keep the most savvy digital marketer busy for years to come just trying to keep up-to-speed with the latest updates.

So if everything is changing so quickly, doesn’t that mean you have to evolve at a similar speed just to keep up? The problem is you’re scared to fail, so we stick with what we know works – even if we know it offers diminishing returns in the future. But with taking away that fear of failure, you open up much greater potential rewards:

If you don’t fail, how can you innovate?


In an ideal world every brand wants the best results possible, and they want an innovative and unique approach to stand out from their competitors. The problem is, we work in the real world and that only comes from making mistakes and failures along the way – you can’t be innovative if you only do what’s trusted to work.

The biggest risk of all is standing still


The issue with digital marketing is you can’t just evolve every time a change is made – otherwise you’ll just ending up chasing the latest trends, and not necessarily doing what works for you.

But likewise, if you don’t evolve and keep up, you’ll always be following others and playing catch-up. If you’re not making mistakes, you’re likely to be taking too many safe bets – for outstanding results, you have to go that extra mile.

Failure isn’t the worst result, mediocrity is. It’s easy to say “failure isn’t an option” – but short-term failures are vital towards learning. Once you can understand that then you’ll realise that avoiding failure short-term may not be a good thing, but if you truly embrace a fail-to-learn mindset you can make sure that long-term failure isn’t an option!

Test, test and test again


Digital marketing should always consist of a series of experiments. This way you can take an agile approach to marketing and incrementally add value to the bigger picture whilst applying a 70:20:10 rule to ensure you’re always testing new ideas and concepts to keep you ahead of the curve, without losing focus on what is demanding the majority of your focus and budget.

The innovative brands like Apple, Red Bull, Google and Nike are always testing new ideas – for every Google Chrome, there’s a Google Wave/Buzz and every Apple eMate (I don’t remember it either!), there’s an iPhone – but each time they come out stronger from the knowledge learned.

Managing expectations is vital


My approach has always been to look to under promise and over deliver. Sometimes that’s not always what a client wants to hear, but more often than not they admire the honesty (even if they don’t like what they hear, it’s always better at the start rather than facing disappointment further down the line).

Setting realistic expectations is always key to success in any relationship. This is why it’s vital that if you want to have a unique and forward-thinking approach to out-smart your competitors, you need to educate clients that some of your ideas won’t work – but it’s hugely important in the journey to help find a way that does.

This can be challenging to get across, but everyone needs to remember that it’s not an “us vs them” scenario, we’re on the same team, which means we win and lose together.

Do brands put too much pressure on short-term success?


Quick wins are great – and I’m a big believer that lots of marginal gains can make a big impact, but that doesn’t mean you should lose focus on the long-term.

We need to set expectations that we will try new things, some of them won’t work, but the overall uplift will be worth it – and we’ll learn a lot more along the way.

If you take safe bets, you know what you’re going to get. It will achieve results, but if you’re just following everyone else you’re always one step behind. To get ahead of the curve you need to think smarter and try some things you haven’t done before.

You have to be prepared to spend time focusing on the unknown risks that may or may not come off. But when they do work, it outweighs all of the failures and learnings along the way.

The job is never done, neither is it won or lost


It’s important to remember that we work on shifting sands – just because you’re market leader that doesn’t mean you can sit back and relax at the top, and likewise if you need to make up ground, you’re going to have to do something different to stand out.

This means you need to be prepared that not everything you attempt is going to be a success – try to think of it as a VC investment model. Let’s say you back 10 companies, you don’t expect that all of them will be the next Facebook. You might get 4-5 failures, a few average results – but it’s those 1 or 2 big wins that really makes a difference!

Apply the same thinking to your digital marketing campaigns – celebrate the successes to build momentum, whilst learning from the failures to put them right next time and you’ll be standing out from the crowd in no time!

What’s your approach to innovation and managing the fear of failure?

Image sources: www.goodreads.com

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About Kevin Gibbons

Kevin is the UK Managing Director of BlueGlass Interactive. Kevin is well-known within the search industry, having been involved in online marketing for the last 10 years.

4 thoughts on “Why a Fear of Failure Might be Holding Back Your Marketing Success

  1. Nicely written, Kevin. The only comment I’d make is that one of my former MDs told me he never tried to be the innovator; he would let his competitors try something and then sit back and watch to see if he thought it was successful or not. He would then simply follow their good ideas, thereby minimising his exposure to risk, whilst only losing some of the initial profit his competitors might have picked up. It was his own business, though, so his own outlay and his own turnover and margin he was worried about. I don’t suppose an agency can take the approach – “We’re not going to try anything novel; we’ll just do the usual and nick any good ideas your competitors have come up with.”

    1. Thanks Matt – that’s definitely a clever approach. I guess the issue is what if the competitor gets it right and it’s a huge success, first mover advantage might be too strong and you just end up playing catch-up again.

      Certainly like the idea of placing the risk on your competitors though!

  2. Yes, marketing has a massive increasing pressure that was
    feared by marketers.

    This post inspires marketers not to fear failure. As we
    know, most successful marketers in the world failed multiple times and they
    didn’t cease to try and learn from their mistakes. Let’s accept failure,
    everyone fails at something and failures are finger posts on the road to

    I left this comment on kingged.com, the content curation website and blogging community.

  3. Great post!

    You said it right, Kevin.

    People desire to achieve a success, yet they are afraid of making mistakes, getting downfalls and having failures.

    As for my own opinion, an individual will not be successful if he doesn’t experience a failure. Failure is somehow an advantage, this will teach you how to be better the next time you try something again.

    P.S. You used a great image and quotations. I really like it! 🙂


    By the way, I found this post shared on Kingged.com

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