But What If It Fails?

(originally posted on the Lithium Lithosphere at http://lithosphere.lithium.com/t5/Social-Customers-Matter/But-What-If-It-Fails/ba-p/33725)

I recently attended the annual Forrester Consumer Forum in Chicago. And, in usual fashion, I came away with a new outlook on my digital creativity.  Oh, I wasn’t in a rut… well, maybe a little.  And, considering the oodles of free time on my hands between 8am to 10pm, I figured I needed a fix beyond more caffeine on what I could do next.

As I was halfway thru the first day, lessons of an older time began to surface out of every conference session—starting, in fact, with the very first keynote.  James McQuivey, Ph.D. ,  Vice President and Principal Analyst at Forrester, relayed a story about an idea he proposed at an internal research meeting.   An idea that others perceived might not be successful.   Yes, a potential failure.

McQuivey pushed to have an iPad application created.  That certainly wasn’t a new idea.  The entire research team wanted the application, as there’s a general feeling that Forrester clients want easier access to published research on mobile devices and tablets.  The issue was—it had to be more complete…the mobile app team wanted more time, more features, and they needed proper resources to get the app ready.  McQuivey argued, just “get an application out that shows you the last 10 papers you’ve downloaded” (“Yes!” I replied to myself).

But, “No”.  The push-back:  Holy cow…what if doesn’t work?  What if no one likes it?  Read = what if my project is a failure?  McQuivey’s key point was “don’t try to get it perfect, get it out there and learn”.

In today’s hyper-sensitive, time-intensive world, who the heck has time for less than perfect?  Some might even call your project a failure.  It’s not comforting to put ourselves in a position of losing responsibility or even our jobs due to lack of performance, particularly when it may be an external/customer-facing program.  However, it’s a fairly well-known fact that great wins have often come as a result of learning from early losses.

There have been numerous articles on this topic.  One of the most popular articles was in BusinessWeek a few years ago called “Fail Fast, Fail Cheap”, by Doug Hall.  Mr. Hall states, “I am not encouraging you to fail. Rather, I am stating the fundamental truth that you can’t know the answers before you start. It’s foolish to assume you know things that it’s not possible to know.”

We’re not talking about “Enron”-type failures.  Like positioning your entire company’s market value on non-existent assets.  I’m talking about taking that leap into a major initiative to figure out what will work and what won’t.  After all, the worst that will happen is that you’re marketing at the same rate as anyone else.  If I don’t try, you know you can’t get ahead, and you’re limiting your ability to innovate.

THE QR PILOT

At the Forum, Lithium also staffed a booth on the exhibit floor.  We knew that this event would produce a steady stream of great visitors, and it did.  But, along with our sponsorship of the event, we also had an insert included in attendee materials.  So, we came up with the idea of handing out one of our most popular tchotchkes – the “Nation Builder” t-shirts in our favorite pan-tones.

To promote the t-shirt give-away, we included a QR Code on the ad insert (sample in orange).  If you scan the QR Code, it initiates an email with a pre-populated, subject line – “Reserve My T-Shirt, I am a size <enter size>.”

Upon clicking send, the email would go to marketing@lithium.com, and we would be able to identify the exhibit hall visitor using their email address.  The technology worked great.  And, while it would be quite tough to call this a raging success (there were less than 1% of the attendees that scanned and sent us an email), I wouldn’t call it a failure either.  Since there were a few responders, we can now walk away with a clear data point on whether or not this “works” or is even remotely useful for the attendees.

Thus, for every new idea or campaign, we can learn that:

  1. Finding the right way may be by first seeing the wrong way.
  2. A small success can be turned into a big success.
  3. A limited failure may end some ridiculous, time-sucking conversation that’s taken place over the last six months which can finally be put to grave (i.e. you can state this in the meeting without hurting anyone’s feelings—we tried it, it sucked, let’s move on.)
  4. You can make good ground on a major initiative and save the company thousands by not biting off more than you can chew.

THE OPPORTUNITY

If you have that inkling to launch that mobile initiative, create a new conversation lounge for your premier customers, build that partner network, the blog, the iTunes app, the event, the knowledgebase, or the customer experience you’ve stared at, talked about, but haven’t lifted, let’s give it a whirl—with the right dosage and expediency.

Oh, and you could fail and be successful simultaneously, which will always be better than not trying at all.

Warm wishes for your 2012 planning session and new customer experience ideas.  I’m off to flag down my CMO and see if my new campaign will reap a “you’re nuts!” response.  Then, possibly, I’ll know I’m on the right track.