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When Campaigns Fail: Conducting the Marketing Autopsy

So your campaign failed. You delivered a dud and now its carcass is sitting in the middle of the marketing department, embarrassing everyone who praised it or worked on it.

Probably your first instinct is to bury it and hope everyone forgets about it in, oh, say, six months or so. But you know that won’t happen. The stench of failure has a way of lingering. And just when you think everyone’s moved on, that one Debbie-downer coworker (you know who he is) will shoot down your next idea with a scathing reminder of that last idea you had.

Yep, failure can be painful. But it can also be a fast and thorough education, which means that dissecting the campaign is exactly what you need to do. Take a close look at these possible causes of death and see if any of them hit home.

You didn’t test. Your campaign was too edgy. Wait, no, it was too boring. Actually, it was too clever – it went right over the audience’s head. How do you know for sure? TEST. Remember, you’re not being asked to gamble the farm here – smart marketers have ways of finding out how their campaigns will be received. If your ad is going to offend or confuse people, find out ahead of time.

You hedged your bets. Maybe you were trying to speak to 6 different buyer personas in one ad. Maybe you weren’t sure which tone to strike or which channel to dominate, so you sent forth a muddled variety of messages that seemed completely disconnected from each other and your brand. In short, you played it so safe that your campaign ended with a whimper rather than a bang.

You stayed in your comfort zone. You expressed the same message in the same words, used the same design, and sent the campaign over that one channel you always do. So it really shouldn’t be surprising that your audience ignored it – after all, they’ve seen the exact same thing from you a hundred times before.

You were self-centered. I really hope you didn’t make a rookie move like talking just about your amazing product and company, instead of how you were going to solve your customer’s problem. (You wouldn’t do that. You didn’t do that. Right?)

The visuals were bland. Maybe the design was wrong for your brand. Maybe it was too busy or maybe it was the equivalent of your grandparents’ dining room wallpaper. Maybe you got so absorbed in the copy that you forgot to throw in any imagery at all, forcing readers to flee from the dreaded Wall of Text.

The copy was poor. Maybe the headline was a snoozer and readers skipped right over it. Maybe it was just too much text for that medium. Maybe the writing was clunky or vague about the benefits. Remember, only strong headlines and succinct customer-centric copy will grab reader eyeballs.

There was no strategy. Possibly you turned out a visually stunning, well-written asset that you predicted would pull in sales like a magnet. But if the campaign didn’t align with your business objectives, it’s not surprising it sank. No campaign is an island; each email, landing page and banner ad must connect to other assets as part of a thriving ecosystem that’s fueled by one cohesive strategy.

You used yesterday’s channels and data to shape tomorrow’s campaign. Look, you don’t have to go pack a bag for trip to the space colony, but marketers do need to be focused on the future. This industry moves fast. Buyer needs and expectations change. New channels get popular and old ones sink into dust. Maybe you architected your campaign based on what your personas wanted a year ago. That’s just not good enough these days; you need to keep your finger on the pulse if you want to craft vibrant, attention-getting campaigns.

Okay, we’re done for now. You can go back to kicking sand over your failed campaign and hoping everyone forgets about it – as long as you remember the lessons it taught you when building your next campaign.

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