“Experience is something you don’t get until just after you need it,” comedian Steven Wright said.
To help you get experience before you need it, in our latest article we bring you stories of others’ foibles so you can learn from their mistakes.
And to start the New Year on a lighter note, these aren’t our normal, serious marketing case studies. These stories are told in the spirit of looking back and laughing. Read on for examples about a marketing agency, graphic designer and winemaking supply store.
This article was published in the MarketingSherpa email newsletter.
“Embarrassment is often the price of marketing wisdom,” Flint McGlaughlin said in Your Customer Profile: 5 powerful questions to ask about your prospect (before you design a webpage).
And while it’s important to look back and learn from your own embarrassment, this article gives you an opportunity to build your marketing wisdom from the mistakes of your peers – fellow marketing professionals and entrepreneurs.
As with every MarketingSherpa article, I received many more article pitches than we actually published. I didn’t choose the below because they were the funniest. In truth, some pitches we didn’t publish made me laugh harder than the below stories.
But I felt these humorous stories were the most insightful and would help our readers most as they charge into 2022, marketing plan in one hand, software suite in the other – ready to conquer the year, serve customers, produce results for their brands, and avoid the proverbial banana peels littering the path in front of them.
While our first story emphasizes the importance of being prepared, I thought it brought up an even deeper insight – why you need that preparation time. Whether you are an outside consultant or work internally at a brand, you must bring more value to the table than a quick internet search can provide. Information has become a commodity, but insights are infinitely valuable.
“I work remotely…this one time, a meeting with a new client was set. Being in a different time zone, the calendar marked the actual time as 9:00 a.m. The brief was shared and being the ‘expert’ I am, I dedicated myself to going through the brief from 8:30 a.m. with ready notes on how I will handle their PR (public relations).
At 8:30 a.m., I got my phone ready to start on the brief. I then see [my] calendar notifying me the meeting started at 8:00 a.m. I am 30 minutes late, so I join in; I haven’t gone through the brief.
Before I could even smile and apologize, my amazing boss, Katherine [Katherine Tuominen, CEO & Founder, Catalyst Brand Strategy], goes ahead to introduce me and asks me to go ahead and share what I have on PR. I have never been caught so off-guard and here are three great faces looking at you expecting answers Google cannot give.
I apologized for being late and explained the time zone mix-up (you can't blame the client for changing time without prior notice). I went ahead and told them to allow me to catch my breath and I can go after the next person.
My boss noticing that, since she knows I never lack anything to say, went ahead to talk about marketing plans, and from that, I gathered the brief and gave amazing PR [public relations] feedback.
Long story short, they are happy clients with an amazing brand that is now being known beyond their expectations.
Since then, I always prepare on time, read briefs as soon as I get them, I always countercheck my calendar. In fact, I became the reminder for my calendar.”
– Zuhura Miriam, Public Relations Manager, Catalyst Brand Strategy
This next story could only be considered funny in a “tragedy plus time equals comedy” sense. But it brings up another vital lesson. Our job as marketers is to be master communicators. Many words, phrases, images, songs, stories and the like have deeper meaning and representations than their face value.
There is a denotation to our marketing messages – the literal meaning. But there is also a connotation – an idea or feeling the message evokes. If we don’t understand both, we can’t be effective communicators.
“Years ago, a graphic designer friend of mine was designing a banner for a newsletter. The topic was about how people at this particular company ‘wear many hats,’ so he went online and searched for all of these different-looking hats and made this beautiful design.
He was fired.
Why? Because one of the decorative, ornamental hats he used in his design that looked like something a pimple-faced marching band kid would wear was actually some Nazi uniform helmet from World War II. My friend was gobsmacked – completely unaware of the image’s context. And the client was wildly offended.
The inherent lesson here is that history blindness makes you susceptible to unwittingly placing yourself in situations that can impact your wallet, crypto or otherwise.”
– Denise Dorman, Senior Digital Content Designer, WriteBrain Media
The next funny story comes from a marketing neophyte. Nevertheless, it includes a lesson writ large that even experienced marketers can learn from – a marketing campaign is not successful if it gets a large response, it is only successful if it gets a large response from the ideal customer.
“I’m not a marketeer, I’m a sommelier, but when I was starting my business, I didn’t have the budget to employ a professional, so I thought I’d do it myself. At the time I remember thinking ‘How hard can it be?’ and made my way to YouTube to find out what I could. I only wish that I knew then what I know now, as marketing a brand is incredibly difficult and as it turns out, the devil is in the detail and it’s the small mistakes that can make or break you.
Armed with overconfidence and unrealistic optimism, I put the mailout about my first wine tasting event together, and duly sent it out to what I thought was a limited guest list of industry professionals, inviting them to join me. To this day I don’t know what happened, or how I sent it out to every contact in my address book, but I did. And I still bitterly regret finishing the invitation with the words ‘Come one, come all, the more the merrier’ and not using an RSVP.
When the evening of the event finally rolled around, as I arrived there were more than 200 people queuing up for the event. On paper that sounds fantastic, but I’d only meant to invite 20 people, and had only brought enough wine to cater to, and for that number of guests. The event was over almost as soon as it began, as 232 people can drink a lot of wine, incredibly quickly when they’ve been waiting outside a venue for a couple of hours on a chilly April evening.
Why had so many people turned up? Because the people who had received my email took my final sentence literally and had forwarded it to everyone on their lists who they thought might be interested in attending, and everyone who received that email invitation did the same. To make matters worse, none of the industry insiders who I actually invited graced the event with their presence, as they saw the gathering crowd, and decided that it wasn’t ‘their cup of tea.’
What did I learn that night? I learned that you should always double-check everything that you write and that you should know how to create specific mailing lists and understand how to use them. But most importantly I learned that if you want to do something the right way, you should always employ a professional to do it, regardless of the cost.”
– David Bowen, CEO, Bordeaux Undiscovered
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