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March 9, 2009

A Case for Marketing Experimentation: Making Failure Work For You

Remember Roy Hobbs – Any baseball fan that likes movies should know the name Roy Hobbs, the fictional character played by Robert Redford in “The Natural.” Hobbs at nineteen years old is one of those athletes whose easy grace and athleticism, makes him a natural, but his career takes a fifteen-year detour due to a youthful indiscretion and some bad luck. Eventually, at the end of his failed career, Hobbs finds success and redemption. This story transcends sport and becomes an allegory for life, and yes, even business.

Failure Versus Success

Our earliest memories of failure are formed in school. Nobody wants to fail and repeat a grade – the social stigma is far too high a price to pay. As adults we are more used to the prospect of not always meeting our expectations. Even successful baseball players who hit 300, fail seven out of ten times. And in business the sales-to-traffic, or sales-to-call ratio is generally fairly low.

We all know what success is: it’s meeting goals and expectations based on how we define them. But do we learn from success? In most cases no. In fact success establishes the status quo, ingrains conventional wisdom, stifles innovation and creativity, and promotes the repetition of the same methods, technologies, and ideas that have always been used, even when those methods no longer work.

Standing Still Is Not An Option

Don’t get me wrong, success is vital to staying in business and prospering, but it does have a dark side. In a business climate that moves ever faster each day, standing still is not an option.

And what about failure? Obviously going bankrupt is bad, that kind of failure we can all live without. But not all failure has such dire consequences. Most failures are simply a matter of not achieving the results we expected from our investment of time, money, and effort.

As negative as failure is, it does have a positive side, as long as that failure does not become irreparable. What failure does do is teach us how to improve, it forces us to change, and most importantly, it demands that we experiment with new ideas, methods, and techniques.

A Case for Marketing Experimentation

Marketing is one of those nebulous words that has fallen through the cracks of common usage, it has somehow lost its meaning. It is used to describe everything from sales to advertising without any distinct place in the business vernacular, or in the average entrepreneurs’ collective conceptual understanding.

I think it is important to give marketing a precise definition, if for no other reason than to provide us with an achievable purpose for spending money on promoting what we do.

According to Harvard Business School’s emeritus professor of marketing Theodore C Levitt as presented in, marketing is summarized as “Šthe entire business process as consisting of a tightly integrated effort to discover, create, arouse, and satisfy customer needs.”

It’s no wonder the word is used to describe almost anything remotely related to doing business. As far as a textbook definition goes it’s fine, but from a practical, day-to-day business process point-of-view, it lacks concrete implementable direction.

Experimentation Versus Research

And what makes this kind of definition even more obscure is that it leaves out the most important element, communication, and instead inadvertently stresses the most misused, research.

Without effective communication we have no way of getting noticed, or of being heard, which to my mind is the central issue in business success. And research, the current golden calf of the digital age, is to quote David Ogilvy, “Šused like a lamp post for support rather than illumination.”

Marketing – The Process of Communicating Your Brand Story

So let’s redefine marketing so it can direct us to some more meaningful approach to improving our businesses. Let’s view marketing as the process of defining, creating, and communicating your brand story.

Part of the problem is we live in a seemingly rational world, but we are selling our products, services, and ideas to a decidedly emotional audience. This discrepancy between how we think things should be decided, and how we as human beings actually make decisions, is difficult for most people to wrap their heads around.

The Key to Human Nature

Is there a bridge between the rational world and the emotional-being; one that can direct us to a method of communication that convinces and persuades an audience to accept, remember, and respond to our marketing communication? The answer is yes.

The key to human nature is cognition, as defined as, ‘the act of understanding through thought, experience, and sensation.’ We do, and decide things based on our understanding of the world we live in, and how we perceive our place within it.

From that perspective, our decisions are perfectly rational; but our perception and understanding of that world is decidedly emotional. Our world-view is based on how we interpret our experiences, filtered through our sensory perception. And therein lies the bridge between the two seemingly opposite perspectives. Marketing is the process of shaping that interpretation to meet our business goals.

Shaping Perception

How then do we shape perception? The answer lies in our ability to deliver a powerful, meaningful experience to an audience; one that leaves a lasting impression, moulds opinion, imprints recognition, and establishes confidence and trust within the context of a defined business purpose.

This is the goal of marketing, a useful, meaningful objective that informs how we communicate to our interested publics. All the tools to do this are readily available to those who use the Web as their primary means of marketing communication.

The business website is the most adaptable and economical communication vehicle ever invented. It allows us to employ words, pictures, sound, video, and human interaction to connect, engage, excite, inform, and entertain in an attempt to persuade.

Are you going to get it right every time – no, but by continually fine-tuning your message, and how you deliver it, you will ultimately achieve your marketing goals. This is a workable, practical marketing process that any company can adopt.

Jerry Bader is Senior Partner at MRPwebmedia, a website design firm that specializes in Web-audio and Web-video. Visit,, and Contact at or telephone (905) 764-1246.