Lessons Learned Through Marketing Failures

By Madison Taylor
June 1, 2021
Women writing on white board in business meeting

You know what they say about the best-laid plans. Sometimes, you can do everything right, from conception to execution, and your marketing work will still miss the mark or fall completely flat.

The silver lining is that you can learn a lot from your mistakes. Sometimes our failures are our best teachers, granting additional insight into which strategies and techniques are most effective or changing our impression of our audiences. In this series, we’ll be exploring some of the most common mistakes that marketers make and what lessons can be taken away from them.

The Importance of Market Research

Market research should be one of the first steps that any marketing department or agency undertakes before launching a campaign.When conducting market research you’re trying to get the lay of the land — who your customers are, what problems are most pressing, how your competitors are already addressing these problems, and which approaches are going to resonate best with your customers.

Market research will help you improve communication by determining the target audience for your messaging. It will reveal new opportunities, identifying gaps in the market or unaddressed pain points. It will also keep your risk down, giving you a rough idea of the likely success of your campaigns before you sink significant money or effort into them.

Why Companies Fail at Market Research

Despite the importance of proper research, many companies and marketers tend to skip this step entirely. The main reason for this oversight is confidence — marketers and business leaders assume they already know what they need to know about their audiences. Another reason is time and effort. It’s not easy to conduct research thoroughly, and marketers are easy to see quick results.

But markets, customers, and behavior are always shifting. Your customers’ attitudes might not have shifted much from six months ago, but they’ll change over time. If you’re not conducting research consistently, you’ll lose track of what they value. You might also miss a significant social event that changes consumer attitudes practically overnight. Increasingly customers care about social issues, and they want the companies they patronize to care too.

Significant Failures of Market Research

There’s no shortage of market research failures through marketing history. Here are a few of the most famous.

Starbucks Mazagran

Most of us don’t remember hearing about Mazagran, a coffee-flavored carbonated soda found in grocery stores in the 90s. The product flopped terribly and was pulled off shelves within a year. Starbucks gets partial credit for the Mazagran launch. Their research told them that their customers wanted a cold, grab-and-go version of coffee that was more convenient than a hot cup but wasn’t an energy drink. What they didn’t realize at the time was that their customers didn’t want their coffee to feel like a soda. When Starbucks tried again with refrigerated products like their Doubleshot cans, Frappuccinos in bottles, and single-serve cold brew, they started a trend that’s still growing exponentially.

3D TVs

When James Cameron’s Avatar launched in 2009 and rapidly became the highest-grossing movie of all time, TV manufacturers thought they had spotted a trend. Electronics manufacturers like Samsung, LG, and Sony immediately rushed 3D TVs to market, only to find that no one wanted them.

In their eagerness to capitalize on a trend, these companies failed to dig deeper into Avatar’s success. First of all, the movie had been tailor-made for 3D theaters — Cameron even invented a brand-new system of 3D filming just so he could make the movie the way he wanted. When traditionally shot movies tried to retroactively enable 3D, they seriously missed the mark. Second, many customers didn’t actually like watching 3D movies, since as many as a quarter of audience members reported nausea, headaches, or dizziness. And finally, there was simply nothing to watch. 3D shooting is far more expensive than a traditional camera, so customers found themselves with 3D screens showing 2D TV, movies, and sports.

Learning From Your Mistakes

If you’ve ever launched a campaign without doing your research, you probably noticed right away that it wasn’t being received as well as you had hoped. In the best cases, the campaign simply falls flat and doesn’t bring in any new attention. In the worst cases, your campaign might generate significant negative publicity, like Pepsi’s notoriously tone-deaf Kylie Jenner commercial.

In either case, you can’t simply rinse your hands of the failed campaign and move on. Take the time to take stock of what you got wrong and why. Did you skip the research phase because you were in a hurry? Did you ask the wrong people? Did you ask the wrong questions? Make a plan to ensure that the same mistakes aren’t repeated.

Listen to what people are telling you, too. Social media gives us the means to listen to our audiences better than ever before, so make an effort to scroll through comments and tweets to understand exactly what went wrong.

Not every marketing campaign can be a winner, but the least we can do is to learn from the ones that don’t hit their target. By constantly learning and adapting, we’ll get better at producing marketing that’s useful, informative, and successful.