Planning to Fail in 2016: The Benefit of Premortems for Your Marketing Strategy

Business.com / Sales / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Why it is important to fail and to create a marketing strategy that anticipates the worst and prepares for the best.

Failure. It’s what we most seek to avoid, but sometimes it’s inevitable.

Learning from failure is a quality of highly successful people.

Better yet, effective marketers and positive thinkers plan ahead for failure.

Establishing a premortem for 2016 marketing projects puts you ahead of your potential failures.

If you anticipate the worst, you are automatically prepared for the best. Poking holes in your own strategies strengthens them to withstand possible mistakes.

Related Article: Into the Crystal Ball: 4 Online Marketing Predictions for 2016

The premortem process takes time and effort, but in the long run, any company is better for using this exercise. Working through what is also called prospective hindsight early in the year gives your team the best outline for how to achieve goals - big and small. It’s time to learn about how to discover premortems, implement them into your strategy and build your success.

4 Step Treatment Before the Marketing Autopsy

When a patient receives a fatal diagnosis, doctors prescribe treatment to heal the problem rather than waiting for an autopsy to see what caused the death. A marketing strategy should be the same; predicting risks beforehand sets up a team to avoid them or treat them when they arise.

  1. Begin your premortem exercise by bringing together your team in one room shortly after presenting a plan.

  2. Then, ask everyone to write down every idea of potential causes of failure. Encourage team members to think outside the typical realm of marketing strategy.

  3. Go beyond things like budget, reach and company-controlled aspects. Things such as public perception, a volatile market or even government regulations can have an unexpected but great affect on marketing.

  4. Once all of these “outside-of-the-box” ideas have been presented, the project manager can assess input. Sometimes, team members bring an idea to the table that no one else had considered, such as time constraints or the practicality of a plan. Addressing these factors before your plan is actually put into motion can ensure that it is optimized to generate the best outcomes possible.

Fresh Perspective

If gaining ideas about probable failure is proving difficult for a marketing team, bring in a fresh perspective.Mining the thoughts of company executives, sales people, and even finance or IT professionals can produce ideas from brains not focused on the ROI of marketing automation or how many Twitter followers the company has.

These new voices bring value to both the business and your premortem exercise. Their knowledge about different areas of the organization, particularly their different relationships with customers, is a good place to gain new opinions and concepts of failure. A misstep in the mind of a sales person might inspire a marketing opportunity.

A deficiency in the budget might be glaringly obvious to the finance team, but not to the marketers. No team is alone in what it does, so it’s wise to draw upon the resources of diverse individuals and groups with different concerns.

Using Your Mistakes

Now that you’ve established your premortems, you can apply them to your plan for success. When military forces are devising a strategy for a mission, they outline backup plans for every possible mistake. Putting these alternate plays in the playbook allows soldiers to react quickly with a well of information to keep them safe.

Marketing is not usually a life or death situation, but the same principles apply. The premortems act as a backbone of laying out substitute plans. In a sense, they are the points in a navigation system that recalculate your route to the destination of accomplishment if you take a wrong turn.

If one campaign goes over budget, you’ll have to cut back on another one. If customer reception of a certain material is negative or aggressive, you can rebound with a reframing of the language. If the data that drives a certain strategy was wrong or didn’t deliver, you can salvage the strategy with your own knowledge about customers and their needs.

You can’t anticipate everything that might go wrong, but attempting to do so gives you the advantage of knowing how to deal with failure - and even the unexpected.

Related Article: Mobile First: 4 Must-Know Marketing Trends for Small Business

Wisdom and Enlightenment

The philosopher and poet Lao Tzu said, “Knowing others is wisdom. Knowing yourself is enlightenment”, and knowing both is the strongest defense against making mistakes.

These ideals are true to both life and marketing, and applying them to premortems provides a comprehensive view of what could go wrong this year and how to prevent, mitigate or remedy it.

In 1989. researchers found that prospective hindsight increases the ability to correctly identify reasons for future outcomes by 30 percent. Psychologists have also seen that decision making is positively influenced by looking back at the future.  

So premortem philosophy not only works when developing a marketing strategy, but also slowly infiltrates your thinking and the way you make choices. Are you ready to forecast failure to harness the potential of working smarter toward your goals?

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