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Questioning Success – The Importance of Understanding “What Went Right”

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As Marketers we spend countless hours strategizing, planning, executing, measuring and optimizing our campaigns. We like to think that when we go to market we clearly understand our objectives and have developed a very thorough and well executed plan to achieve them.

When all goes well, we look back to the root of where our plan or campaign was born from and more often than not, attribute our success to a well executed strategy and tactical plan. What I mean here is that when basking in the glory of success we subconsciously tout it as a result of our genius ability to predict the outcome before it happened because, what happened was what we wanted to happen. What do not often do is take the time to look at the lifespan of the campaign and question the many factors, be they micro or macro that may have influenced that success but instead we are content to pat ourselves on the back on move on.

Conversely when faced with failure or challenge, we spend countless hours studying “what went wrong” and look for ways ensure we do not repeat the mistakes that got us into that particular situation. We spend countless hours looking to indentify issues that have led to a particular situation and methods to correct them. Situations such as these warrant immediate attention because they can lead to monetary loses, damaged reputations and more, so of course you want to look for an immediate remedy. Additionally in the case of marketing services, these are most often the times when your client is questioning your credibility or the value of the relationship, so you want to show them that you are addressing the issues and finding a solutions.

On the flipside, when things are going well, more often than not people do not tend to be as vocal and this is often interpreted as a vote of confidence by those surrounding you. In short, what you are doing is working, so there is not as much pressure to dig into and investigate the idiosyncrasies of your campaign because the feeling is that you’re clearly in command and control of the situation.

However, are you really in control? Just because things are going right, should you not be questioning what is leading to that success? Are you really achieving success because of what you have planned or are there other factors at play?

It’s my belief that it’s imperative to always be questioning marketing success. Not only will this enable you to better understand the factors influencing your results, it will provide a framework to build upon to ensure you repeat the “success of the past” versus forgetting about it.

However, when questioning success, what factors should you consider? What are the elements that can influence the outcome of a successful and well executed strategy and tactical plan? While the possibilities are limitless, what I would like to propose six key factors, that I believe can definitively influence the success of a campaign (or failure for that matter), and help to better understand what went right.

1) Climate
No, I’m not talking about the weather, but rather the general business and political climate that we’re operating in. Climate can be influenced by legislation, indexes such as unemployment or consumer confidence, current events or even a presidential election. While these are clearly some macro factors, you should not look to deny their influence on the marketing objectives that you are trying to achieve. For example, during the course of your campaign did the unemployment rate decrease and when this occurred did you see a spike in sales or activity?

2) Category
This applies to the general business category you’re operating within, be it healthcare, IT or financial services. Business categories can be influenced by a number of factors ranging from legislation, technology, news or public perception. For example, a positive piece of legislation can completely alter an entire business category by opening up new market opportunities or shutting down a competitive threat. Therefore, marketing success can be very much influenced by factors that influence the overall business category and by acknowledging them you can better understand core drivers impacting your performance.

3) Company
It’s imperative you take a look at the organization for which you are working for. Companies are multi-dimensional, ever evolving organisms and there are many factors to them that can influence the outcome of your efforts. Items ranging from technologies to patents to products to good PR can definitively influence the marketing outcomes you are looking to achieve. Therefore, its key to make sure that you understand how the company is positioned and how it has evolved during the course of your campaign. Specifically, has the company been the recipient of very positive and noteworthy PR or has it secured a new patent during the course of your campaign? Acknowledging and understand the influence of factors driving the direction of the company is critical to understanding your success and competitive advantage.

4) Customer
We all like to think we have the target market defined from the get go, but much like companies, people change to. Just because you are being successful, to assume that those who are responding to your messaging and tactics are those who you assumed would do so is a mistake. Therefore, it’s critical to look at who is responding to your campaign, as you may find that your message has resonated with a target you did not actively consider, but now have a need for what you are offering. By recognizing this you can look to further tailor aspects of your future efforts to readily and directly capitalize on this newfound customer success.

5) Competition
Understanding the elements of the competitive landscape is critical to marketing success. While it’s always something that we consider during the planning process, how the competitive landscape evolves during the course of your campaign is critical. For example, did a key competitor go out of business or were they the recipient of negative press? These are factors that could in turn drive consumers to consider you instead of the competition, and as a result this can directly contribute to marketing success.

6) Campaign
Here is where things get to a very micro level and you need to take a look at the very specific components driving what you are doing. It’s also one area that you have definitive control over, and in my opinion it is the first place you should look. While the other factors noted previously can certainly influence marketing success, in many cases they are ruled by forces beyond our direct control. However when it comes to the campaign, this is an area directly within your control. Therefore, when questioning marketing success the following are a few key things to consider within the context of the campaign:

– Messaging
– Creative
– Media
– Measurement
– Marketing Technologies
– Marketing Levers

In short, if you see a spike in performance during the course of your campaign, you need to ask yourself “was there anything we did that may have caused this?” Did you change messaging part way through? Did you implement a marketing lever, such as day-parting a paid search campaign or canceling a key media property? Were marketing technologies such as phone tracking or Eloqua implemented? Did you move to a new measurement platform? All in all when questioning success, the campaign is the most essential place to investigate as it’s where you can directly tie your actions to the associated results, and in turn actively leverage this intelligence for immediate continued and future success.

Being on the lookout for too much success
While everyone wants to be successful, one thing we should always be cognizant of is when there is too much success. We’ve all been there, when the numbers just seem to shoot up out of nowhere, and while we want to believe we’ve hit the nail on the head, it’s imperative that this type of success be questioned as well. While it may showcase a new and unexpected opportunity, it can also be a sign of a tracking anomaly or some other kind of error. Therefore, it’s important to recognize and investigate the cause of what you see as “unwarranted” success to ensure that it’s the result of successful campaign/channel performance, not a technical or measurement error.

In the end, by questioning success the goal is to identify the issues and factors that have lead to marketing success and in many cases, accelerated performance. While understanding failure or underperformance should not be ignored, it’s key that we look to study success with equal vigor. By focusing on the positive, the key is to ensure that we look to leverage and understand what drives performance and use that knowledge as the building blocks for tomorrow’s success.

In a world where we seemingly place more emphasis on studying and understanding failure, it’s my belief that by questioning success we’ll achieve greater marketing opportunity. Why? By questioning success to plan for tomorrow, it will enable you to capitalize and build upon learnings rooted in repeating past success, instead of focusing on avoiding tactics that have lead to previous failure.

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