I hate to make mistakes.
Even more than that, I hate to be wrong.
I’ll sometimes freeze at making a decision because I don’t want to make the wrong one.
I bet many of you reading this get stuck the same way (if not, please share how you decide to . . . decide).
As I’ve been writing this series, I started worrying about making mistakes. What if I miss something important? What if I’m wrong?
I’ve “what if’d” myself into turning what should have been a 3 to 4 month project into 16 months and counting (though I can see the finish line in the near distance now).
The thing is this: in marketing that you’re going to be wrong – make mistakes – often.
If you’re trying new ideas regularly (you should be); you’re going to be wrong more often than by playing it safe.
Mistakes are inevitable.
That’s OK. Not every mistake is going to be a failure. It’s a hoary cliche, but mistakes are learning opportunities.
One Marketing Mistake You CAN Avoid Now
As I type this (March 31, 2020), COVID19 is ripping through this country. Don’t newsjack this unless you have something to offer.
Too many marketers attempt to glom on to whatever is in the news. Sometimes it works, often it’s just annoying, pathetic, and/or stupid.
Unless you are offering something of real value in this time to create authentic connections with people, don’t attempt to use the current pandemic to gain attention.
AIIM, where my wife works and where I once did, has been a virtual company for nearly two years now. Various employees have telecommuted (I actually think I was the first) for 20 years. AIIM staff are offering work-from-home tips and suggestions for their community.
A number of people and companies with online education and training products are opening them up for free or at a deep discount. Some are kind of ham-handed with it, but the one’s I’ve seen are at least offering value.
I’ve seen other companies just use the hashtag to push crap. One’s helpful, the other makes you look like a tone-deaf douche. Don’t be a tone-deaf douchebag.
Three Common Mistakes You’ll Make
I can’t think of any company or marketer who hasn’t made at least one of these mistakes (I’m batting 1.000 on these).
Typos and grammar errors. I came into editing sideways and with most of my grammar knowledge based on reading widely and Schoolhouse Rock (Conjunction Junction, what’s your function?). I’ve made plenty of grammatical errors over the years.
As an editor, the plus side is that if you make the same error consistently, you can just call it “house style.”
Kidding. Kinda. Pick a style guide (I like Chicago) and stick to it. Most of us, being human, will still screw up the occasional dependent clause punctuation (and I have terminal brainlock on effect/affect), but that’s just life.
As for typos, I hate making them, but no longer beat myself up about it. Sometimes your going to make the your/you’re booboo. Google Docs (where I usually write these days) and Word are getting better at catching those mistakes, but it’ll still happen. I consistently miss the “i” when I type “doing” – no idea why.
Pedantic grammar asshats will come out of the woodwork and point out your mistakes. Thank them and then move on with your day. You can find grammar mistakes and typos in most books and every newspaper – take solace that even those tightly edited works can get it wrong.
Oh, and if you’re one of those people who insists on correcting typos on social media: don’t do that.
Sending to the wrong list. I made a couple thousand dollar mistake once and faxed the DOC.1 newsletter to the wrong list. (Yes, half of my job as assistant editor for inform was writing and sending DOC.1, via fax, in 1996/97. I don’t think email exceeded fax subscriptions until 1999/2000).
It remains a top 3 “I suck at this work thing” moment. No idea how I managed it. I know that in HubSpot, it’s easy to miss and click the list above or below the one you want to send (ALWAYS DOUBLECHECK!). This is also why clear naming conventions for lists are a good thing.
I know I’ve received the wrong email from companies. Or one sent prematurely.
Of course, do your best to make sure this DOESN’T happen. When/if it does, apologize as soon as you realize you made the mistake, call yourself a doofus, and be prepared to respond to the inevitable few perpetually cranky customers. Kill them with kindness.
Courtesy of The Wayback Machine, a reminder of how bad the Internet looked in the late 1990s, here’s a link to the digital version of DOC.1 (the first one I took completely over as luck would have it). We charged $50/year to deliver via fax, which went at least through 2000.
Sending the wrong email. Much like for the wrong list, good naming conventions will help avoid this mistake. It happens. Apologize, maybe offer something to soothe the easily agitated, and move on. Then create a checklist (think of a pilot’s checklist) of steps to take before sending each email. Include “triple check that it’s the correct email and list” in it.
Mistakes Are Great For Learning
While the mistakes I mentioned above are more of the embarrassing, whacked-on-the-nose type that you will strive to avoid forever after; there are other mistakes you’ll make throughout your entire career.
You’ll interpret the data incorrectly.
You’ll price your product wrong.
You’ll make a cultural misstep and either offend someone or simply miss the marketing mark.
Your CTA won’t convert.
Your landing page doesn’t convert.
No one downloads your ebook (or reads your blog or visits your website).
When I do something that doesn’t hit a bullseye – and maybe barely hits the target at all – I remember the title of Primus’ Greatest Hits collection: They Can’t All Be Zingers.
The great thing about all of the statistics we have these days is that we can continually learn from them and correct course.
The real mistake is thinking you’ve lost after making one.
In the halcyon days of 2000, as the promise of enterprise 2.0 tantalized with the possibility of flattened hierarchies and easily consumed streams of information, all bound together by social/collaborative technology, “fail fast” was like a religious chant.
Personally, I always preferred “take a small bit more time and do it right the first time,” but that’s not as catchy.
Sometimes though it makes sense to just give a half-baked idea a whirl to see what happens.
If it succeeds, great. Learn, adjust, and improve.
If it fails, great. Learn, adjust, and improve.
The Worst Mistake
The worst mistake is not making mistakes at all.
What I mean by that is waiting for the perfect, trying not to make any mistakes, is a recipe for a blah status quo.
Over the years, I’ve grown to like the idea of GSD and ABS (that’s “Get Shit Done” and “Always Be Shipping”). My current favorite conception of this is from Amy Hoy at Stacking the Bricks: Just Fucking Ship.
I don’t remember where I first came across each of these ideas, but they’ve helped me get beyond the “it’s gotta be perfect” mindset to sometimes good is as good as it’s going to be.
There’s a whole other blog post in those last two paragraphs, so I’m just going to wrap with a few lines from the Tao Te Ching (24th chapter):
He who clings to his work
Will create nothing that endures.
If you want to accord with the Tao,
Just do your job, then let go.
Need help avoiding most mistakes with your content marketing strategy and/or content? Drop me a line at email@example.com, reply below, or give me a call (or text, text is better, what with all the phone spam) at 301-275-7496.
About the Cheeky A-Z Guide to Content Marketing.
There are groaning shelves of books and whitepapers you can read about content and inbound marketing. What’s missing from (some) of them is the stuff between the cracks. The dirty, nuts and bolts examples of things that can go wrong and the random things that can go wonderfully well. I decided to run down the alphabet a letter at a time and highlight personal lessons learned from creating content for 25 years and from applying those content creation lessons to content marketing over the past decade-ish. I hope you enjoy.
For those who want a grammar refresher, here’s my favorite to get you started:
Good post! Where most brands also go wrong is writing without a clear idea of who the customer is. I’ve seen this time and time again – people will blog for years not even once addressing the actual challenges their buyers have.
I’ve been at both extremes and the middle on this. During my time at AIIM, I started off as editor of the magazine. Part of any magazine editing gig — especially for a pro membership organization — is to meet the audience’s needs. Over the 10 years of doing the magazine, I knew the audience; many of them personally. I wasn’t writing to a persona, I had real people in mind when putting issues together. When I moved into a community manager and then inbound role, that carried through. Who needed persona developement! When I moved to marketing for copier dealers, I struggled with persona creation and getting into the heads our clients’ customers. Got there in the end. Here, at the other extreme of AIIM, I’ve just been writing for me. Over the last month or two, I have been trying to figure out who the hell I want to reach. Upshot: currently hating personas 🙂
Great story! 🙂 Yeah inventing abstract personas is hard and often ineffective. Knowing people in person is the best way to go!