Marketing failures

Spectacular belly flops in marketing

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Me doing a belly flop: I approach the diving board with enthusiasm and commitment. I bounce high into the air, reaching the apex of my dive only to suddenly realize that I have no idea how to land it. I am falling out of control, panicking, flailing, and land flat on my belly with a loud “smack.” Ouch.

I’ve done plenty of belly flops in my life, both in the pool and metaphorically with my marketing efforts. And each time the sensation is the same. Embarrassing? Yes. Regretting it? Yes. What was I thinking? And while I learned little when diving at the pool, my marketing belly flops taught me a lot—sadly, often after some damage to my finances and my pride. Consider these whoppers.

Survey to nobody

My partner and I came up with this idea to create a brochure that would offer clients the opportunity to participate in a “research study.” We were hoping this effort would add some new clients to our caseloads. We made up the brochures and printed them out but neglected to think about whom we would send them to. To further complicate our situation, we had dated the brochure, so we had a limited time window in which to complete the “study.” At the last minute we hurriedly sent out the brochures to a dozen or so referrers we thought might be receptive. There was no discernible increase in referrals. In fact, we had no responses at all. Apparently referrers do not want to send people to be “laboratory rats” in a study. Who knew?

Reasons for failure? Not an appealing reason to call and no clear target market identified.

The unused symptom checklists

Here’s another wasteful marketing effort that was beautifully executed. We worked hard at creating a set of symptom checklists from the DSM for our most common disorders, eight in all. We spend $7,000 or $8,000 on getting them professionally designed and printed. They were beautiful. We even had them placed in the waiting room of a few large family practice medical offices. So what was the problem?

My personal physician was in one of the MD offices where these materials were placed. I would see the materials every time I visited his office . . . for years. And yet the office never seemed to run out or need resupplying.

Reason for failure? The materials were not meeting a need. If visitors to a doctors office had questions, they went to the internet.

Relationship manager failure

We made several attempts to increase clinical staff marketing efforts. One of my “favorite” failures along this line was when we took our list of existing referrers and divided the list up  in order to assign each therapist a few. Each clinician then was to manage the relationship with that referrer. None of the staff raised any objections to the idea or the process. Clinicians picked their favorite referrers, and we were off. The result? No new marketing occurred.

Reason for failure? This program provided no new motivation for action and no accountability when nothing happened.

A success that became a failure

Early in my career I tried to reach potential new clients by increasing the number of speaking engagements I did. And I made a simple brochure of speaking topics that I thought might be appealing to public groups. I then mailed them to many of my former clients with a letter saying, “I know that many of you are involved in community groups. Some of those groups might be looking for a speaker. Here is a list of topics I have done that might be of interest to your group.” It was a great success in getting speaking engagements, about a year’s worth. And yet it only marginally helped my practice grow. Why?

I was taking speaking engagements everywhere without a thought about whether the engagement was geographically close to my counseling office. I remember several speaking engagements that were over thirty minutes away. And unfortunately, some of them involved a series of talks, so I was committed for several weeks to an effort that had very little potential for drawing new clients.

Reason for failure? Lots of activity but little focus on my local area. Additionally I learned that appealing to the masses is quite labor intensive for the return. I would have been better to have pursued a group of trusted advisors. (See “Marketing favorites” for discussions on trusted advisors.)

My biggest marketing failure

There were long stretches of time when I made my most costly mistake, even more costly than the belly flops described above—I did nothing. No planning, no outreach, no maintenance of existing relationships. Why? Sometimes out of fear of making mistakes, sometimes out of lack of inspiration, sometimes out of complacency, sometimes because I thought I was “too busy,” sometimes because I was tired. But whatever the reason, doing nothing was the worst mistake of all. Belly flops would have been better. At least with a belly flop someone might have noticed the splash.

A blessing

May your stomach sting from being smacked on the water, for this shows you were trying something new. And may you make just enough mistakes to learn what you need to learn and no more.

(See “The boss’s boss, or the unrelenting business demands in the mental health practice” for more on the delusion of busyness.)

Also read:

A marketing video on a practice-wide marketing system

Rainmaker Lessons: Staying optimistic when marketing

Marketing favorites that are not a big stretch

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