Defining Failure

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Not enough people come to our website. No one comments on this Blog. There are not enough people following us on Twitter. We need to find a way to get more people to our Facebook Page.

All of those (and there are many more where those came from) are common complaints, gripes and general worries you hear every day from Marketers. It’s easy to look at what the competition is doing and think that you’re failing when you compare the two. The truth is, you can only fail if you had an initial strategy and defined goals and metrics prior to doing anything at all.

The real truth is that most brands don’t really have any set definition for what, exactly, failure is. Marketers panic by simply comparing themselves to others instead of benchmarking themselves against their own key performance indicators.

Yes, there are many times when our own KPIs are a little off, or the market shifts, or we were simply a little too enthusiastic when we created our goals in the first place. All of those are easy to adjust and navigate. The real problems and stresses are compounded when things are being done with no rhyme or reason. Before today, having several thousand people following you on Twitter with a significant amount of people retweeting your content and engaged in both community and conversation was enough. But now, Ashton Kutcher has one million followers.

If Twitter was always just a numbers game to see how many people you can get to follow you, all bets are off. Monday is going to roll around and you’re going to get a phone call from the CEO asking why Ashton Kutcher can get one million people to follow him and why your brilliant brand can’t.

The real way to to fail at anything and everything in the online channels is to base what you’re doing on the sheer volume of traffic. That’s one of the fundamental issues with everything that happened on Oprah today as she introduced Twitter to the rest of the world.

Success is looking at who is taking part in your conversation, and what the engagement is based on what the overall strategy was for getting involved in the first place. Failure is not ignoring these platforms. Failure is not having a solid strategy in place, and then falling victim to the "how come there aren’t that many people following us?" traditional mass media mindset.


  1. Excellent blog.
    What would be the best approach to formulate a solid strategy to market a business using twitter, facebook and a web site?
    I am asking a web developer with no high level marketing background.

  2. failure is being motivate by your ego… facing death who cares how many visitors or popular you are… how many of you are really doing something about the real challenges we are facing… and I’m certainly not talking about brand… think green think about the impact you have on life and how you create something positive… sorry i had to get this out of my system…

  3. Ha – Similar thought patterns here.
    Wrote a blog post today because I find the reactions provoked and the conversations stimulated by both the Susan Boyle video and the Dominos fiasco this week each, in their own way, far more meaningful than the race to 1M followers or Oprah’s first tweet.
    Any Marketing effort that has a measurable impact should have goals in place to ultimately measure against. The goals should make sense for the business and the intended use of the marketing vehicles, e.g. shopping cart conversions on an e-commerce site. Anyone who has been using and deriving value from Web Analytics gets it (just ask Avinash).
    Yes, Social Media is a bit different and the analytics data unique – it is still measurable and thus can meet a goal.
    1M twitter followers, because I can, is not really a meaningful goal – more like a game to mix celebrity popularity with new media popularity and see what happens. What is @aplusk going to do with 1M+ followers?
    Dominos beginning to carefully monitor and measure social media to counter the damage inflicted this week via carefully engaging the audience – with a goal of lowering the negative brand mentions, sounds more like a plan to me.

  4. This is an interesting post.
    One of the most amazing things to me is how many marketers don’t really understand strategy, or when they do, don’t employ it.
    Critical mass is definitely not a measure of success. Online marketers, especially in the media front, have focused on ‘pure volume’ as their pure message. Missing the true beauty of having a quality niche community.
    While the masses continue to migrate to the next big thing, the real strategists are making it.
    Seth Godin had an excellent post about being a warm up band for a major show. They come in, get everyone going, and are forgotten. They’re not the main act.
    The translation on this; how does the warm up band get big? Not by blowing away people before the main show, rather by building a strong niche following.
    Online marketing is much like this. The wins are rarely made a bold swift moves. Rather, they are played out over time, like the Obama campaign. A series of well executed events, summing to a goal with a strategy to guide.
    Personally, I strive to bring value to those the trust me by reading my blog. Professionally, I want to be a Rockstar. I know that if I continue to provide prescient insight, intelligent controversy and focus on educating my audience, I will be rewarded for my investment.
    As you said, volume focused marketers’ fail. Thus, many of the online TV networks can’t make money. They buy fake traffic, selling crap back to the world. Of course they fail.
    Interestingly enough, the reward for taking your time and doing it right…

  5. Very interesting post Mitch. Many get lost in the quantity over quality value.
    I would say that out of all the blog posts that you put up here, this is one that really stands out in what really matters when valuing online marketing.

  6. It can almost be summed up like this:
    the traditional mass media success model: getting your message in front of as many people as possible.
    the new media failure model: just getting your message in front of as many people as possible.
    The truth is some marketers still believe that their products and services are so superior that all they have to do is get enough people to see it.
    While the branding aspect of that is still sound, there are other opportunities that are being left at the table.

  7. I’m convinced that there is so much content out there “adding value” that we’re soon going to be revisiting what true value is for each of us individually. When people realize the senselessness of obtaining a large number of followers without a true intention, they will refocus on real, meaningful relationships with people who love you so much because you treated them so well and helped them so much that they will recommend your service, product, or thought. By the way, I understand that the CNN/Ashton Kutcher twitter competition was to bring attention to World Malaria Day on April 25. I wonder what happened first, though: “I want to be the first to reach 1 Million followers on twitter.” or “I want people to buy mosquito nets to combat malaria, how can I do that?” What do you think?

  8. I saw a comment quoting Seth Godin and I am going to do the same. This question reminds me of his book The Dip. If you’re confident in your strategy, push through the dip to get to the other side. But quitting is not failure. Sticking with something that won’t deliver the ROI is.

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