Think BR: Failing better

Freddie Baveystock, consultant, Rufus Leonard
Freddie Baveystock, consultant, Rufus Leonard

Marketers could learn a lot from the tech brand mantra of 'fail cheap, fail fast', writes Freddie Baveystock, consultant, Rufus Leonard.

We all know the world moves pretty fast these days. Anyone with their wits about them can see this with their own eyes on a daily basis. 

For the majority of marketers, I’m sure this knowledge is the source of anxiety, excitement, insomnia, and an awful lot of chewed pens.

Why? Because many of us know in our heart of hearts that we’re working within processes and approaches that can creak a bit - particularly when it comes to meeting the quicksilver needs of the contemporary consumer and decision-maker.

It’s not really surprising when you think about it.

For decades, our industry put its collective shoulder behind the concept of marketing as investment - in building brand differentiation, market share and, ultimately, shareholder value.

The argument is not dissimilar to the one you get from pension providers: keep your contributions steady, review your strategy periodically, make the necessary adjustments, watch your pot grow.

The trouble is, that model is broken. It assumes we are living in a rational world that delivers predictable results and rewards sensible behaviour.

The reality is that we are living in a radically unpredictable world that favours the brave. 

A world in which the power of modern media can create wholly unforeseen results. Where risk-taking can pay off spectacularly and, conversely, the best-funded ‘sure things’ fall flat on their arses. 

Where, in truth, none of us really knows what lies around the corner - economically, culturally, technologically, whatever.

Understandably, as an industry we’re still figuring out how best to respond to this unstable state of affairs and asking, ‘How radical a re-think is required?’

Do we meet the increase in unpredictability with greater consumer insight and more rigorous planning?

Bigger, better, more ownable brand ideas? Adopt a more permeable approach to brand definition? Create more memorable customer experiences? Go social?

There’s no shortage of new thinking out there.

Where there is strong consensus, however, is around the need to create brands that are more nimble, adaptive and ‘always on’. 

Tech brands are the great inspiration here, of course. Google, Apple, Skype, Amazon - they’re pretty good at delivering consistency while constantly innovating, right? Who wouldn’t want a slice of that?

And alongside these behemoths lies the legion of software and app entrepreneurs who test their mettle by plunging into the market at breakneck speed.

If it starts to sink, they let it drown. If it swims, they give it wings.

What this market has revealed is that the contemporary consumer has a much higher tolerance for failure than we’ve assumed in the past.

Google has launched plenty of products - Buzz, Wave, Accelerator, Answers - that have come and gone without even beginning to dent its brand standing.

The world of marketing has a lot to learn from this ‘fail cheap, fail fast’ thinking.

Where better to try out new ideas given the availability of niche targeting, relatively inexpensive channels and trial results?

Clearly this is what Marc Pritchard, P&G’s global marketing and brand building officer, has in mind with his exhortation to ‘try new things, accept some won’t work, learn why’.

This ‘do and learn’ approach needs applying as much to the world of brand as marketing.

I want my clients to have the tools at their disposal to market their brands in fresh and innovative ways - overleaping entirely those tiresome conversations about ‘stretching’ the guidelines.

This new approach - something we call ‘Active Brand Management’ - is recognition that brand assets need continual development, that colleagues need continual engagement, and that actionable consumer insight enables you to learn from your failures.

As Samuel Beckett wrote: ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’

Freddie Baveystock, consultant, Rufus Leonard

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