Given the fact that marketers are human, every marketing department — at some point — will make mistakes. Despite that inevitable part of the job, though, it is a mistake in and of itself to assume that all blunders are created equal.
The reality is some mistakes can be neutralized, but others will not easily be removed from the memory of consumers, or from the reputation of a brand. Even though mistakes are inevitable, a brief overview of some of marketing's biggest blunders reveals that huge mistakes are often avoidable.
Having a grasp of the kinds of oversight that lead to big mistakes is a key ingredient in making sure you don’t fall prey to one. Additionally, while there are some PR nightmares that companies genuinely may not have been able to avoid, a company always has control over its response to the problem.
Thus, there’s value in gleaning insight from where others messed up so that you can learn from their experience without allowing it to become one of your own experiences.
1. Dissing Loyal Customers
It’s one of the bedrocks of business: keeping customers is far more cost-effective than acquiring new ones. Research has demonstrated that raising customer retention by 5% can boost profit anywhere from 25 to 95 percent. In other words, mastering customer retention can make or break an organization’s potential for longevity.
Therefore, one of the most substantial things marketing departments can do to sabotage their customer retention rate is to fail to prioritize their relationship with their loyal customer base.
Target Misses the Mark
In 2013, in the midst of the holiday shopping season, Target was breached by hackers. The breach was so extensive — impacting 110 million customers — that the cybersecurity department at DeVry University placed it on their list of security breaches that have shaped history.
Sometimes entities are hacked and the discouragement flows from the fact that they did everything they could, and yet the hackers still got what they came for. That is not Target’s story. Instead, not only were their warnings in the system before the data was actually leaked, Target then struggled to be transparent with customers.
They first acknowledged that the data of 40 million had been stolen. They then said an additional 70 million had been compromised, and they then admitted they had missed the signs their security system had picked up.
Of course, to consumers, it sounded like they had just ignored the signs that were indeed there. In the direct aftermath their profits fell by almost 50%, and they then went on to pay $18.5 million in settlement costs.
Target failed to communicate that it values its customers and their privacy above all. Instead, they consistently downplayed the implications of the breach, which made them appear to lack transparency; it cost them dearly.
As the Harvard Business Review wrote, “Trust is not simply a nice thing to have, but a critical strategic asset.” Marketers would do well to remember that trust between customers is everything, and deception will never produce it.
2. Failing to Understand Your Target Audience
There is no area of business strategy that is not subject to the desires of the target audience, and yet even major corporations can fail to thoroughly understand the market they’re attempting to reach. Given this reality, it is paramount to continually return to the value of understanding the intended audience.
Content marketing expert Nancy Ruff writes, “There’s no point in producing content for content’s sake. The goal is to build an audience who finds your content consistently reliable and useful. Make sure you truly understand who your audience is.”
Take it from Pepsi: this point can’t be made too many times.
Pepsi’s Global Marketing Miscommunication
Pepsi first entered the Chinese market in 1985. The release came alongside a brand new marketing campaign designed just for their new market. That, at least, was the idea.
What actually happened was that Pepsi crafted a marketing campaign the same way they always had: in English. The slogan they released for their new market was, “Pepsi Brings You Back to Life.” Catchy, right? Catchy, but also problematic.
The direct translation in Chinese was, “Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back From the Grave”.
Unfortunately, in China wasn’t just weird, but also offputting. In the words of Michael Zakkour for Forbes, “This is not a good marketing strategy in a country where ancestor worship is an important part of the culture.”
When you consider the financial agency that Pepsi has, and had even in the 1980s when this marketing campaign launched, it's almost surprising that they were not more strategic about ensuring the campaign accomplished the intended end result.
However, for that very reason, it serves as a solid example that when it comes to understanding your audience, covering your bases is never an exercise in futility.
Additionally, while you may not be making global moves, you are likely targeting audiences with slight distinctions, and it's important to cater to all of them. Marketing strategists note that assessing the signals of user behavior is one of the best ways to evaluate whether or not your campaigns are hitting the mark.
If your target audience doesn’t respond as predicted, it may be that your campaign isn’t translating as hoped.
3. Changing the Tried and True
As a marketer, if you aren’t thinking ahead then you’re already behind. Prediction and anticipation of the future is everything. But sometimes in a knee-jerk attempt to remain relevant organizations change the very thing that provides the foundation of their success.
When this happens it is almost always a result of relying too much on the gut feeling within the marketing department, and not enough on what the data is actually communicating.
New Coke Synonymous With Marketing Failure
After 99 years of selling the same Coca-Cola recipe, Coke introduced a new recipe the same year Pepsi entered China, 1985. The switch was largely the Coca-Cola company’s reaction to the Pepsi Challenge, wherein a blind taste test was administered featuring Pepsi and Coke.
Unsurprisingly, every challenge administered by Pepsi found that over half of participants favored Pepsi. Certainly, Coke had been losing some amount of market shares leading up to 1985. But their new formula, unofficially dubbed New Coke, was such a massive blunder the term became synonymous with marketing failure.
While there was some initial success, ultimately the backlash was impressive. People began hoarding the old recipe and Coke’s consumer hotline was flooded with complaints every day. There were petitions and protest groups across the country.
According to The Washington Post, Roger Enrico — President of Pepsi-Cola USA — said in a full page ad, “After 87 years of going at it eyeball to eyeball, the other guy just blinked.” After just three months, it was pulled and they returned to their classic recipe.
Coke spent $4 million developing the new recipe and then $30 million was left over in unwanted product. It’s a failure that must be attributed in large part to a failure in market research.
It highlights the importance of understanding the market, and also of marketing in light of the potential risk. Qualitative project risk analysis is important, because it allows you to make objective marketing decisions based on being aware, and it keeps you from being inappropriately reactionary in your campaigns.
These stories are cautionary ones, because every marketing department can become their own worst enemy. Marketing, in essence, is the difficult job of translating the information we have, into strategies that will move the needle. It isn’t always black and white, and for that reason even the most profitable of companies fail.
As we’ve pointed out before, “Successful content marketing campaigns don’t just happen on their own, but they can (and do!) happen. When you know your content marketing funnel, know your customer and know how to keep your message fresh and engaging, you can set the stage for a successful content marketing campaign that delivers the kind of results you need.”
Marketing fails shouldn’t paralyze us from moving forward. Instead, they should be motivation to approach the work with humbleness and thoughtfulness. Seeing the risk makes marketers more informed, and the work more rewarding.
Krishna Patel is a Digital Marketing Executive at Acquire and Jagat Media. She is also a blogger and writing about Digital Marketing and its new updates. She believes and always keeps trying to do something new. When Krishna steps out of office, she loves to spend time with loved ones. Feel free to follow Krishna on Twitter and LinkedIn.