4 CMOs share their advice on embracing failure

We asked four marketing leaders their advice on coping with failure and why it's core to innovation

‘Failure’ is a term that is seemingly in vogue, but are marketing leaders truly embracing what it stands for? We asked 4 Aussie CMOs to share how failure fits in their team’s innovation and development mindset.

Understand your performance

Barni Evans, marketing director, Sportsbet

Call me cynical, but failure seems like a topic that’s been refreshed with rhetoric just to give consultants something to talk about at conferences. Fail fast; don’t fear failure; if you’re not taking risks, you’re not doing your job; blah, blah, blah.

This is really about a simpler principle that predates most of us: Understand your performance so you can do more of what works, and less of what doesn’t. And the critical word is Understand.

We’re all striving for marginal advantage. That prompts us to take risks, half of which won’t pay off. If you study your performance, you should get better at taking risks. This isn’t just about failure. It’s just as important to understand success.

My teams are ruthless in understanding their performance. They get paranoid that good results might just have been due to extraneous factors. When things don’t work, they publicise the facts and encourage stakeholders to help diagnose the problem.

They invest almost all their time measuring, debating, challenging, and almost zero time trying to make their work look successful.

They’ll use as many sources as they can find, whether they be hard or soft, empirical or anecdotal, internal or external. This is where the best marketers excel. They’ll take all the data, evaluate it dispassionately – then stick their neck out and have a firm opinion.

For example: ‘It worked because of X, Y and Z and we’re gonna divert cash from elsewhere to do more of it’. Or: ‘It tanked because we stuffed up the execution – so we’re gonna give it one more try – then move on’.

And the great thing about these people? You trust them. You give them autonomy. You believe their analysis. Eventually you get to the holy grail: In the absence of perfect data, you’re willing to back their judgment. How’s that for failure?

Let ideas grow and develop

Ed Smith, executive director sales and marketing, Foxtel

I haven’t heard failure is in vogue; that’s kind of funny. I’ll tell you what I loved about working at News Corp and what I see at Foxtel also. They are entrepreneurial companies – we take risks, we push the boundaries and if things don’t always work out like you plan or like you hope, that’s the nature of risk. But we’re not scared to fail, so as long as we ‘fail fast’, we learn, we adapt and we improve.

‘Courageous’ is one of our values and we don’t just talk about it, we live it. But we’re not loose. We set clear objectives, we explore the ways, proven and new ideas, to hit our objectives. We balance our risk with what we know and what we think might work better. We research where we can to reduce risk or build on our ideas. Most importantly, we take time to properly review and see if we achieved the results we wanted and why, what worked, what didn’t, and what would we have done differently.

Most of us can remember our worst failures; they seem to stick in our minds more than our successes or average performances. So it’s important failures are part of personal and corporate learning experiences and that we build and improve through them, not ignore and fear them. We won’t grow and learn as much as we can if we don’t accept failure.

As a leader, I’ve had to learn that my way or idea isn’t the only or even best way to do something. I’ve had to learn to let ideas grow and develop and that something better may eventuate.

I’m still working on my leadership, creating an environment that lets ideas grow, lets people do things their way and where we can innovate and explore new and better ways of doing things.

Up next: Cricket Australia, Macquarie Telecom CMOs

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