When we think of marketing fails we think of the major foot-in-mouth ad moments by large brands. Giants wildly offending audiences and coming off as tone-deaf to the world around them.

Big fails like Dove’s ad to celebrate all body shapes … by making Dove soap bottles shaped … um … differently.
The Pepsi / Kendell Jenner ad naively echoing the Black Lives Matter movement …

McDonald’s ad using a child’s bereavement of his deceased father to sell Filet-O-Fish sandwiches …
They all leave us with the same thought: what the fu%# were they thinking? Campaigns like these involve millions of dollars in expert human capital combined with a long-thought-out campaign strategy, deep content message review, and a sophisticated production process. And they still happen.

How Does This Still Happen?

The reality is that it happens so easily-and more often than one would imagine. The important message is that these failures aren’t the ones marketers should really be paying attention to. Through their iconic brand, prolific exposure, and massive budgets, these ads are simply the public tip of a “marketing iceberg” that floats in a sea of the overwhelming competition to be heard. These missteps are barely blips in their brand timeline. They’ll move past this. What’s below the surface is overwhelming competition that leads many brands, smaller and with less budget, tripping over themselves, but largely unnoticed. They don’t suffer the same public humility and criticism as the large brands. However, their brand’s bottom line is hit just as hard. Relatively speaking, probably even harder, and their path to recovery is much more difficult.

Skewed Perspective (AKA You Are Not Your Customer)

Marketers stand “too close to the elephant” in their self-absorption. It’s simple, really, when you think about it. They’re the cheer squad from their company’s position: it doesn’t get any more “paid to be loyal” than that. And they’re blinded by their ambition; not the actual brand. They want to 1) be successful and 2) be a part of a larger world movement. This disposition creates a false sense of awareness. We must win-we will win. Let’s shove this deep message into a generic box: it is great, our brand is great, we are great. Everyone will share the same romanticism and enthusiasm for our brand, because that’s what the world wants. Right?
But wait. That might be what the world ultimately wants, but right now the customer is just looking for soap, soda, and a sandwich. Is the marketer’s actual brand position aligned with serious social issues and major life events? No. It’s passion for their career mistaken for passion for their brand. If it wasn’t part of your brand position and DNA before, you can’t paint over what’s there now with something else. And in the overcrowded 21st century Information Revolution, the massive marketing iceberg floating around lost, brands are getting ignored, criticized and devalued. Eaten up in a digital conversation that is human and not at all about consumer marketing. They want a seat at a table to which they don’t belong.

Humans + Data = Smarter Marketing

There’s good news though. Marketers can still do their jobs and do them well. It requires a new approach to bridging the gap between your brand and the technology your brand uses to communicate. Ironically, the same sea marketers are lost in contains the solutions to finding their place in the dialogue: human intelligence through MarTech and proper data management. How much human intelligence do brands have access to (lots)? How much are they actually using to interact with customers (some)? How much are they using to evolve their brand’s values and public disposition (very little)?
It’s not that brands have to stay away from the “adults’ table” of world events. They just actually have to be adults about it: well-read, patient, listening, polite and thoughtful. Knowing when and how to engage in the conversation and when to listen is key. Remember honestly what your brand authentically stands for and apply the right technology to maturing your brand’s course. Be the right voice, in the right conversation, at the right time.

Getting from A to B to Whatever’s Next

The difficulty is that there are thousands of platforms to choose from. A new sensation or idea in digital marketing seems to follow every few months into an already overly siloed and expensive architecture, making actually orchestrating a brand first approach difficult. It’s hard enough to prioritize goals and objectives with a shifting audience. It’s nearly impossible to build a roadmap to your goals when the terrain is continuously shifting beneath your feet. Especially when you’re too close to the elephant. Pulling back and getting the view from a different elevation can provide dramatic insights. Those insights are compounded further when combined with experts that know the terrain ahead and your business. They can see where your most successful opportunities to engage are likely to emerge, point to what to tackle first, what lies down the road, and can plan your path to meet your customers there. It’s something we call Customer Engagement Optimization and it’s the next step for brands.

Learn more about our unique approach to branding in our ebook, The Five Gates of Branding.

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