CRITICAL MARKETING MISTAKES – OVERSTATING YOUR CAPABILITIES AND UNDERESTIMATING THE COMPETITION – PART 2
Poor marketing practices negate achievement of favorable business results and undermine the role of marketing. This article deals with two errors that go hand-in-hand, overstating your brand and organization’s capabilities and underestimating the competition. This is the second installment in a series dealing with how to avoid these errors.
Prepare for Failure
Back in our military aviation days, close to 50-years ago, we were taught to “plan for success but prepare for failure.” This was based on Murphy’s Law: “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong”. So, we were trained and stayed alert for things to go wrong such as engine failure on take-off and landing, two highly critical events as they are difficult to recover from if not caught early. And, if not caught early, will lead to the aircraft crashing and exploding into a ball of fire (with the pilot and crew in the aircraft). This can ruin your entire day, and life.
Marketers, particularly in preparation for launching new products, do not consider Murphy’s Law. They blithely ignore or are unwilling to consider the many things that might go wrong. Predictably they are surprised when things do go wrong. In practice they actually miss what is going wrong when it goes wrong, until it is too late or not at all, only to be impacted by the crash – failing to achieve forecast due to factors that might have been foreseen.
Anticipating and planning for failure is essential if it is to be avoided, or quickly remedied before it spins out of control.
The way to prepare for failure is to identify those places where the brand is likely to fail and where the impact is meaningful. We like to use, and recommend use of, the Premortem. We’re all familiar with the Postmortem. It occurs following death to ascertain the causes. In this case the marketing team identifies where failure may occur before it strikes and damages, or destroys, the brand. On take-off it could be engine failure, fire or a bird strike that cripples one or more engines. Consider Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger’s successful landing of US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River following the loss of both engines due to a bird strike. Thanks to his and his crews actions all 155 souls on board were saved. For the marketer it could be failure to gain a specified level of access, sufficient manufacturing supply, quality issues, competitive oppositioning, etc.
- Start the Premortem by identifying all the things that might go wrong. Einstein was noted (beyond E= mc2, whatever that means) for his “visualized thought experiments.” Conduct one with your team to visualize everything from pre-launch through year-one, or from last quarter of the current year and into the next planned year, that could go wrong. It is also wise to study past launches to identify what, if anything, went wrong with them. These are not typically rare occurrences but will more than likely point out weaknesses within the organization that need to be addressed, or shored-up, if they are not to be repeated.
- Weigh the likelihood of occurring and potential impact of each. One may use a simple 3-point scale where: “3” means it is very likely to happen and have significant impact; “2” is somewhat likely to happen and modest impact; and “1” is not very likely to happen and no perceptible impact. If something is rated a “1” or “2” for likelihood but a “3” for impact, then one better be prepared for it. The likelihood that Canadian Geese would collide with Flight 1549 was not very likely to happen but, if so, the impact could prove disastrous. If an item measures “3” for likelihood and impact, then get all appropriate hands-on-deck to prepare for this one! A good way to identify those that warrant a “3” for impact is to identify “what keeps you up at night?” Is it failing to get FDA approval for the label you are seeking? Is it that the sales force call pattern is not aligned with the target-customer segment you need to win? Is it the looming specter of receiving a black-box warning from the FDA? Is it insufficient share-of-voice (SOV) versus competition? What!?!
- Next identify potential actions you might take in the event an impact item occurs and choose the most appropriate one.
Using Captain Sully’s incident, while piloting US Airways Flight 1549, as an example here’s how it might look (note in this case there isn’t one action but many “sequential” actions, and procedures, that he and his crew had to take):
Prepare for Failure
What could go wrong?
|Likelihood – Occurrence||Likelihood – Impact||
Bird strike on take-off with engine failure(s)
1. Fly the aircraft (many an aircraft has crashed as the pilot attended to the emergency but ignored flying the aircraft)
2. Identify the situation (what do I have here – what’s working and what’s not?)
3. Take decisive action (based upon the appraisal of facts coupled with proven practices)
4. Talk (i.e., notify and prepare crew and passengers for action)
In a business enterprise reporting may precede actually taking-action, as approval may be needed. However, when reporting to senior management the marketer should recommend specific actions and the basis for the recommendation. Don’t make it your recommendation alone but gain the experience and insights of those most familiar with the subject under investigation (e.g., sales, manufacturing, regulatory, etc.). Unlike the Flight 1549 incident the marketer is planning how to respond to a foreseen occurrence, not reacting in the moment.
The OODA Loop
Another approach to the Premortem is the OODA loop. This is an acronym for Observe, Orient, Decide and Act. It was developed by John Richard Boyd, an Air Force fighter pilot and military strategist. Observe what ills have struck other brands, in your company and those of competition. Orient is about understanding the implications for these occurrences and maneuvering into position to deal with the situation. Decide is about pursuing a specific action to remedy or avoid the situation. Act is to follow-through with execution. This can be reduced to Observe – Act, when one has the experience and the foresight to prepare for what might go bump in the night.
The Premortem and OODA loop are sound practices for avoiding the mistakes of overstating your capabilities and underestimating the competition. We’ll be back in two-weeks to share more solutions.
Until then, best wishes,
Richard Czerniawski and Mike Maloney