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Curing Asia’s Allergy to Failure

"Fail fast" might be the mantra in Silicon Valley, but fear of failure in Asia is preventing brands from testing out the most effective marketing initiatives.

(originally published in ClickZAsia)

The marketing manager for a global brand headquartered in Asia says, "We need to do a proof of concept. We need to experiment. And it must be successful so we can show management it works so they will provide more funding." 

In contrast, a director with Asia-wide responsibilities at a multinational company says, "This is a pilot program. It must not fail or we all lose our jobs." 
Although these are anecdotal evidence of fear of failure, many marketers in Asia are under pressure to choose modest success over the risk of wasting money or hitting a dead end.
The mantra of Silicon Valley, which is a hotbed of innovation, is, "Fail quickly, fail cheap, fail often." 
Marketing guru Seth Godin, said, "This is the only way to learn what works and what doesn’t."
"In order to succeed you must fail, so that you know what not to do the next time," said the writer Anthony J. D’Angelo.
These comments are all wise advice, but there are also compelling technological reasons for marketers in Asia to embrace failure now.
Digital marketing provides tremendous opportunities for must-fail approaches. It’s now possible to experiment and fail in fast and cheap ways that don’t require betting the whole budget on the outcome.
In fact, the machine learning that directs so much of modern marketing is a systemized approach to trying various options, and investing in the ones that work and dropping the ones that don’t. Here are some examples:

  • Programmatic ad buying directs media budgets to strategies that work, and the lowest cost per click (CPC). Early in the process, the cost per click often rises seemly out of control, before the algorithm kicks in and delivers lower CPCs. 
  • Email marketing provides low-risk ways to test creative approaches. Send out 1,000 emails of each of two versions of the communication, and see which one gets the highest open rates. 
     
  • Create multiple landing pages on your website, and make different offers to different consumers, and see which delivers the greatest engagement and conversion. 
     
  • Do search engine marketing (SEM) campaigns using keywords you’ve never tried before. Small amounts of budget will quickly show you if you are on to new traffic-drivers, or duds. 

These are all ways to embrace failure as ways to rule out the wrong way forward, and focus your marketing efforts.

There are indications that some of the more progressive marketers in Asia are beginning to embrace the test-and-learn approach.
One example is the profusion of apps and software being produced in China. The developers move extremely quickly and cheaply, creating new code and platforms at a pace that multinational corporations weighted down by bureaucracy and procedure just can’t meet.
Many of these projects die, but the cost is low and the opportunity for the next project is high, so they just regroup and continue.
An early stage WeChat-based marketing company based in Shanghai had to pivot its entire business when technology and customer behaviors changed (as they do rapidly in China) and emerged from failure with a new viable model. More established companies in the region are also testing multiple approaches, not all of which are necessarily going to be as successful as others.
Cathay Pacific’s current Life Well Traveled campaign is an example.
Cathay Pacific has created a microsite with numerous explorations of what Life Well Traveled means, including native advertising, long-form videos, and Instagram-like travel posts.
It’s understood the brand and its agency are looking at the results to see what works best across the various tactics.
Now is the time to seize the opportunity that data, analytics, platforms, and technology provide to cure the Asian allergy to failure.

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