Why fail fast is bad advice

Every now and then, we all get involved in a conversation that's already in progress. Most people will listen and ask questions to establish context and meaning. Without comprehension, remarks can be misconstrued and advice misapplied.

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A popular piece of advice in social media is "fail fast." Or even extended to "fail fast, fail forward, fail better."

Don't believe it.

This advice makes a lot of sense to the research & development function. These are the people tasked with product innovation, experimentation, and helping bring concepts to commercialization. A great example is Sir James Dyson, an inventor who recently wrote In Praise Of Failure.

This advice doesn't make much sense in the marketing function. Why? Because these people are tasked with building customer relationships. Failure for these professionals – particularly in social media – means:

  • Being company-centric not customer-centric
  • Dishonest and disengaged communication
  • Inability to meet campaign targets and sales goals
  • Wasting resources – budget and time, in addition to opportunity cost

Marketers who fail usually get fired. This isn't some structural injustice that needs to change – it means that poor performance gets what it deserves.

Does this mean companies shouldn't experiment with emerging technology and new opportunities? Not at all. Smart marketers plan investments similar to financial asset allocation, where growth opportunities are strategically layered into a strategic plan.

Here's what fail fast really means, as written by venture capitalist Mark Suster:

Fail fast = quit and give up easy = spaghetti against the wall = no clear strategy going into your business = no ability / willingness to try and pivot as market conditions change = easy way out = today’s management mantra that will be laughed at in 10 years. 

Fail fast if you want – but just be aware of who's recommending it. Personally, I prefer helping brands succeed instead.

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