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Be Proud of Your Mistakes


I make my share of mistakes. Not on purpose, but sometimes things don’t work the way I want. I conduct research, understand what my customers want, and then develop marketing strategies to put my products in front of them. Some of those marketing strategies don’t pan out, some messages don’t resonate, and others don’t generate the responses I wanted.

Not success. But it is forward progress.

I failed, but that’s OK as long as I learned something from the process.

I am fortunate to work at a company that encourages, if not requires, me to take risks and test a LOT of new ideas. HouseValues was the fastest-growing technology company in Washington and the ninth-fastest growing tech company in North America in 2004. That rate of growth, measured over a five-year period, doesn’t come by only doing things we already know how to do.

Growth comes from innovation and an acceleration of new ideas and creative thinking, across the company -- with our products, with our sales and customer service organizations, and especially in our marketing. To keep growing at a continued accelerated rate, we need to reinvent how we do business on a regular basis, and find new ways to delight our customers and get our message across.

That means taking risks; calculated, educated guesses about what’s going to work. 

We test a lot, and if we do that right, we are inevitably going to fail. More than once.

But failure isn’t all bad. Sure, it doesn’t represent immediate forward progress, but the end result of testing will almost always be new ideas and new strategies that otherwise would not have been discovered without an openness to taking risks.

So failure is OK, to a point.

The key to “successful failure,” then, is three-fold: 

1) Test new ideas quickly, with minimal infrastructure. Many companies don’t test often enough in part because they want the test to go perfectly, which requires lining up many different resources for a small test -- a task that can take far longer than the test may be worth. My advice? Shoe-horn it if you need to. Mitigate risk associated with fast-tracking a test, but test quickly to see if your overall concept or message has value. If the test is positive, you can expand and build the required infrastructure to support a broader roll-out. If your test doesn’t work, it’s a good thing you didn’t waste too many people’s time with infrastructural support.

2) Evaluate success or failure, and act quickly. Know whether your test was a success or failure as soon as possible. If it was a success, scale it quickly to confirm that the idea still works. If your test was a failure, stop doing it fast. Move on to the next idea.

3) Learn and move on. If your test was a failure, don’t dwell on it and don’t cry over spilt milk! Do a quick post-mortem, even if it’s just in a meeting of one, and evaluate what went wrong, why the test was a failure, and what you would have done differently. A retest with different variables is an option, or you might decide to go an entirely different direction. Either way, figure out what you need to know and move on.

Smart companies make frequent testing a part of their culture, and that also means having a culture that is OK with failure. But in this context, and given the three keys to “successful failure” outlined above, frequent testing and occasional failures will lead to more rapid innovation and growth. 

How can you create a culture of open and acceptable testing? 

  • Keep a running list of new ideas. Conservative ideas, crazy ideas. Post them around the office to get your team thinking about even more ideas. Then think about what it would take to get those ideas tested as quickly as possible. Does it require a complete change to your product? Typically not. Could it be tested with a couple of well-placed phone calls to trusted customers who you know will give you honest feedback? Maybe. 

  • Make sure your team knows that failure is OK. Don’t create or foster an environment that discourages or punishes employees for getting things wrong now and then.

  • Reward your team for innovation. This applies to agencies as well. Is your entire in-house team, as well as any agencies you work with, thinking outside the box? Are they taking action on those out-of-the-box ideas? Maybe create a monthly award, or even some bonus money, for employees who have the courage to test something new and innovative.

  • Dedicate time to testing. We’re all busy, typically over-booked with work for strategies we already know will be successful. Make sure you set aside time for brainstorming and testing. Make it a priority for yourself and your organization.

If your company is playing it safe, and relying on what either you or others have already done successfully, you’re likely not growing as fast as you could.

Take risks. Test often. But be accountable.

Matt Heinz is senior director of marketing for HouseValues, Inc. Heinz joined HouseValues in 2002 and is responsible for managing the company’s strategic marketing direction and brand development initiatives. Heinz has more than 10 years of consumer and business-to-business marketing experience with technology, real estate and retail products. Previously, he spent five years at Microsoft where he was responsible for driving marketing and business development efforts for MSN. While at Microsoft, Heinz built several successful customer acquisition and retention programs that are still used companywide today.

Before Microsoft, Heinz led a team of marketing professionals at Weber Shandwick, a global PR firm, working on accounts for several technology and real estate clients. Heinz has also held marketing positions with The Boeing Company, The Seattle Mariners and the Washington State Attorney General’s office. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Washington.

How gender-focused UGC met branding metrics for X-Rated Vodka
According to a study conducted by Leichtman Research Group early last year, two thirds of the adults who view YouTube and other user-generated content sites are males between the ages of 18 and 35. The results seem to indicate that brands targeting women should not use UGC to drive their campaigns and market share. But SKYY Spirits, an adult beverage company, challenged this presumption with its latest campaign for its new X-Rated Fusion Liqueur and X-Rated Vodka. During MindComet's work on the campaign, SKYY purchased the X-Rated brand from DMI.

UGC -- used in conjunction with a viral or refer-a-friend marketing campaign -- can become a tremendously effective and cost-efficient method to increase brand awareness and consumer base. While email offers the opportunity for brands to control brand impressions and stay connected to consumers, adding a UGC call-to-action engages consumers. When SKYY wanted to increase awareness and drive new consumers to its new X-Rated liquor targeted toward women, it asked MindComet to design an email campaign with a UGC component.

With SKYY's target market for its X-rated line being professional women of legal drinking age, the campaign started with media buys in InStyle Magazine, and online ad buys with Lucky Magazine and Oxygen. To generate awareness of the new brand, SKYY began its email campaign in conjunction with a newsletter and weekly sweepstakes. The X-rated landing page offered consumers three points of contact with the brand, asking where consumers learned of the brand, providing an offer to sign up for the brand's "Drink Pink" newsletter and solicitation for new drink recipes.  

Once an email address was entered into the landing page, subscribers received a double opt-in message to confirm their desire to receive information from SKYY, including the Drink Pink Newsletter. The recipe promotion on the X-Rated site, which contained a similar double opt-in format, challenged women to come up with original drink recipes using the X-Rated line. Authors of winning recipes received a "pink package" that included pink nail polish, lip gloss and cocktail glasses, and publication of their recipe in the Drink Pink Newsletter:

Within one month of the redesigned website launch, the X-Rated brands received enough traffic to garner 774 double opt-in subscribers. The first message, Welcome to the Drink Pink Weekly, had an open rate of 47.97 percent, with a clickthrough rate of 52.04 percent. The high clickthrough rate can be attributed to consumers' strong interest in participating in the sweepstakes. In 18 weeks, sweepstake's participation grew more than 200 percent. 

The campaign kept women coming back with the lure of the recipe contest, eventually creating a database of more than 2,300 subscribers. The X-Rated site sent more than 30,000 individual messages, with an average open rate of 42.93 percent. By asking consumers to develop a recipe, offline, SKYY pushed consumers to engage with the brand. By closely defining its direct campaign objective -- to build an evangelical consumer email list -- SKYY met its larger goal of increasing brand awareness.

The site design and email creative is simple and distinctive, and embraces the X-Rated branding of a glamorous, sophisticated and sexy pink-hued spirit. SKYY's UGC email success enabled the brand to leverage its relationship with brand loyalists for future promotions.

SPEEDtv uses fan-brand alignment to generate fan site content
The professional sports market, with its various media networks and advertisers, has embraced UGC in its advertising and on sports websites with great success. It's probably axiomatic that passionate, biased, maybe crazed, sports fans lend themselves to UGC campaigns. Moreover, fans of one team "calling out" or challenging other teams and fans creates a UGC dialog. When that dialog is created, what UGC enables is nothing short of great advertising; advertising that can embrace and assert brand identity, increase brand awareness, create a dialog between consumers and product, and convert new consumers. 

Providing fans greater access to sports through the web teams can solidify their base while leagues, networks and sponsors can effectively target their ads. Fans can watch entire games, blog and generate their own UGC ads for their favorite sports team, an advertising boon for those who run the websites.

Case in point: SPEEDtv. With the tremendous success of its UGC spots for its show "PINKS," Fox Television, SPEED's parent company, asked MindComet to develop a UGC-oriented racing website and advertising campaign. SPEEDtv's website "MyRaceDay" features two different UGC outlets. 

The first, the FanCam, enables fans to submit their own videos and commentary about the NASCAR series and their favorite drivers. As an added incentive, SPEEDtv broadcasts the best FanCam films live on race day. Scott Michaud, MindComet's senior account director for Fox Television explains that the real bonus of this type of approach is that the FanCam UGC spots exploit some of the "problems" of UGC with good effect. "It uses fan-bias, trend toward exaggeration, to further SPEEDtv's own marketing agenda and at the same time provides a communication outlet to racing fans," he says.

The second UGC website feature is the FanCam photo gallery, a collection of stills taken by fans on race day. The MyRaceDay site provides a gallery to submit and view all photo submissions. Both types of UGC video and still photography are excellent fodder for future viral videos and future ad spots. 

As evidenced by the large number of fan video and photos, fans are coming back to the MyRaceDay site with great frequency. The MyRaceDay website and UGC content illustrate that successful UGC marketing means knowing your brand. Fans of NASCAR are already aware of the SPEEDtv brand. To drive evangelism, SPEEDtv turned the cameras over to its consumers. The website reflects familiar SPEEDtv and NASCAR series branding, with easy to navigate designs and clear calls-to-action. Every component of MyRaceDay integrates user-generated content, thereby building a true racing community and clear branding.


StudentCity uses UGC to drive 30 percent increase in travel bookings
Marketers fear the openness of UGC because they believe it will compromise their brand's identity. StudentCity is a good example of how companies can use UGC to build a relationship with consumers by way of social media.

Seeking to distinguish itself from its competitors, StudentCity.com, an online travel site for students seeking spring break adventures, decided upon a website redesign that includes social components and user-generated content. In addition to improving communication portals between the travel vendor and students and between the students themselves, StudentCity wanted to leverage student-generated content to share the "experience" of taking a StudentCity.com trip, thereby aligning the StudentCity brand with positive and actual travel experiences.

When booking a trip with StudentCity.com, users are sent an invitation to join its online travel community. The UGC portion of the community site provides students a forum in which to post their spring break photos and videos instantly from camera phones and other mobile devices, create blogs, chat in forums with other like-minded spring-breakers, and write reviews of their spring break experience with StudentCity. Travel reviews enable new users to make informed vacation decisions based on the growing catalog of spring break trip reviews, photo galleries and blogs.

StudentCity is another example of brand knowledge leading to good UGC campaigns. By recognizing that students trust their friends' opinions over any other source, StudentCity opened up student UGC to its travelers, enabling them to spread the word. The UGC portion of the StudentCity site creates a strong online brand presence signifying StudentCity's market leadership while creating brand equity. User reviews and interactive travel data helped push bookings 30 percent in the first year. By delivering a unique branding experience for each user through managed email communications, social networking and generation and consumption of UGC, StudentCity distinguishes itself among its competitors.

Each of the examples cited here follows the general rules for UGC with striking results. By defining each campaigns' direct objective -- build an email list, provide a forum for fans to express themselves, create a student travel opinion and social networking database -- each brand was able to measure performance and achieve campaign goals. Keeping messaging, creative and calls-to-action simplistic with multiple opportunities to engage with the brands and other consumers resulted in higher response rates. 

UGC dialog can brand very effectively when designed and executed strategically and creatively, and always with the consumer and consumer interactivity in mind. Importantly, each campaign herein illustrates brand knowledge. By creating UGC opportunities that directly appeal to the brand's audience, each campaign leads to consumer/brand engagement. And that's what branding in UGC is all about. 

Tara Lambersonis VP of marketing, MindComet. Read full bio.

Matt Heinz is senior director of marketing for Verdiem, a green technology company dedicated to reducing the carbon footprint of every IT device worldwide. Matt has more than 10 years of consumer and B2B marketing experience with technology, real...

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