Failing Forward: Keeping Up With the Social Landscape

PUBLISHED: 7/22/2020

The digital landscape has never been known for its stagnance. For many brands, keeping up with shifting consumer behaviors and technology can feel challenging at best, especially in a market as volatile as this. Even something as small as testing a new ad placement can feel scary. No one wants to spend money on something that doesn’t work. But learning is invaluable, which is why failure really isn’t such a bad thing after all. It’s our strategic response to failure that matters.


Move in Steps

Innovation is important from every angle. Just because it isn’t broken doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be improved. Of course, it’s completely understandable to be concerned about such things as production costs for testing new creatives, ad formats, and placements. But there are inexpensive, efficient applications, such as Canva or Adobe Spark, and even native social media tools that look beyond traditional creative approaches to build solid content that can work. Once a testing phase has proven some success, spending on higher-quality production feels more comfortable. 


Be Agile

Using more efficient tools also allows for faster failure when necessary. The digital landscape evolves rapidly and topics of interest are fleeting. In order to stay relevant, brands have to get comfortable acting with agility. As Daniel Newman writes, “If you have to fail 499 times before you get it right, would you want to take three years to fail or 10 months?” Oftentimes, brands don’t have 10 months to get it right or they’ve already missed the mark.


So what happens when you DO fail? 


Assess and Shift Quickly

First, take fear off the table. When something doesn’t work, take the time to debrief without pointing fingers, and learn more about what didn’t work so the same mistakes aren’t repeated. Maybe something went wrong with the process along the way and it may be worth another try, or perhaps the idea didn’t work altogether. Either way, there are important takeaways from every failure that will fuel your efforts to move forward.


Owning Your Failure

If the failure happens publicly, transparency is necessary—both inside the workplace and in the eye of the consumer. In either case, people are most likely to forgive and forget if trust has been established, and the most enduring way to build trust is to show honesty and humility. Digital consumers are more savvy than ever and they’re along for the ride, too.


Rise Like the Phoenix

We all fail sometimes, but the point is to learn and grow from that failure. To do that, it's important to revisit what led up to the failure and brainstorm ways to correct or prevent it from happening again. Everyone could benefit from some extra brainstorming. Besides, it’s impossible to try to adapt or build new ideas if they don’t exist. Keep ideas alive, like they are living and breathing, because there is always opportunity to mold or adapt older ideas to build on. Start each session with a goal to solve for and spend time working on solutions. Remember: no ideas are too wild and the group should be supportive and build on other’s ideas, ensuring each person is heard one conversation at a time.


Then, try, and try again. As John Maxwell advises, “Fail early, fail often, but always fail forward,” and remember that there is a difference between preventable failures and failures that are smart and keep you moving, learning, and growing.