Before the internet and the advent of digital marketing, mistakes were a big deal. Even small ones came with huge costs. That’s because everything you sent to customers had to be printed and to make the printing more affordable, you printed in large quantities. If you made a mistake, you only had two options: live with it or throw everything out and reprint it.
Because mistakes were so expensive, there was a big emphasis on being technically correct. The result was an approach to sales and marketing that was highly accurate – but boring. Having no room for mistakes meant you had very little room for creativity.
Since printing and distributing materials was so expensive, there was also a tendency to take a one size fits all approach. If you could use the same mailers for architects and builders, or for clients in California and Texas, you could trim the cost of your marketing campaign.
Every company’s goal was to have one piece of literature that would work for every type of customer they were trying to reach. It was never a great solution – the value proposition that speaks to distributors won’t resonate with contractors. But squaring that circle seemed easier than getting approval to double, triple, or 10x your printing costs.
Thankfully, things have changed significantly since then.
Fast forward to the present day. With every company using digital marketing and selling online, the cost of mistakes has shrunk close to zero.
Yes, you could make a mistake about the performance of a product and this could be very costly. But for the most part, there’s a generous margin for error.
Writing an email with a compelling subject line will perform much better than sending one with a safe but boring subject line. And if the subject line doesn’t strike a chord with customers, that’s fine – you can try a new approach next time. Companies can and should be constantly experimenting and testing subject lines to find the ones that get the best results.
The same goes for your company’s homepage and the calls to action on your site. Built World companies often approach a new website like it was a stack of catalogs fresh off the presses. When it’s done, it’s done. That’s what you’re dealing with and it’s too late to change it now. Except it’s not. Your website can be changed quickly and at minimal cost, which means there’s no reason not to continually improve it.
Even direct mail companies that are still working in print will iterate this way. Each of them has a mailer that gets the best results. Perhaps it gets a 2.5% response rate, so it becomes their template. But the better direct mail companies won’t be satisfied with that. They’ll constantly test new marketing ideas with the goal of beating that control mailer. Most of the time, the results aren’t all that impressive. The experimental mailers barely crack 2% so they toss the idea and go back to the drawing board. But they keep trying because eventually they’ll design a mailer that gets a 3% response rate or better. When that happens, it becomes their new control mailer and they get to work trying to beat that one.
You can look at most of those experimental mailers as failures. The company would’ve had better results if they had just sent out another batch of their standard mailer. But each of those failed experiments brings them closer to creating a better control mailer and being able to expect a higher response rate. The mistake isn’t sending out an experimental mailer that gets a response rate below 2% – the mistake would be settling for the 2.5% they get from the control mailer instead of trying to push past it and improving their performance.
This is what I want you to take away from this article: testing different subject lines, homepage headers and calls to action doesn’t cost anything.
Yes, someone has to come up with the idea, but you don’t actually have to pay anyone to try out that idea. You don’t have to pay a fee to Google when you experiment with your SEO and you don’t have to cut a check to Salesforce because you decided to A/B test some subject lines.
Salespeople are used to this. They have to think on their feet and constantly adapt to their situation. It’s marketing that needs to catch up. We’re no longer printing large orders of marketing materials, so there’s no reason for the marketing team to be afraid of making mistakes. If anything, they should be afraid of playing it safe.
Unfortunately, there’s still a stigma against failure in the Built World. Most companies only want to discuss their wins. But if you want to improve, you have to get comfortable making mistakes and learning from them.
Trying new ideas is the only way to make big breakthroughs. There will be mistakes and failures along the way, but it will never be boring. And that’s a good thing, because boring marketing will never get the customer’s attention.