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positioningResponsible Marketing

Fail to plan? Plan to fail.

By October 7, 2008July 23rd, 20202 Comments

Fail to plan? Plan to fail.

Since 1997 we’ve met with a lot of startups.

Some become clients. Some don’t.

Sometimes, it’s because we aren’t the right fit for them, or vice-versa.

With startups we always want to learn if they are interested in Responsible Marketing or Drive-by Marketing as quickly as possible.

In 2005, I met with a startup that needed some help getting their company off the ground.

After a review of their situation, we proposed a responsible approach: Do a modest amount of planning to better understand where their prospects go for their information, develop positioning and deploy some simple outreach strategies in the appropriate places.

Their response?

Jump straight to “test marketing” without doing any groundwork. To them, “test marketing” meant deploying a bunch of postcards and seeing what happened.

Here’s the response I sent:

I understand. I’d love to work with you, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t voice my concern: Test marketing makes a lot of sense, but usually not before you have done the base level of planning we recommended.

Marketing (even test marketing) without a plan is like building a skyscraper without a blueprint, operating without x-rays, or going to court without deposing any witnesses. You might succeed, but it leaves way too much up to luck.

What’s more, you may blow some of your chances with some of your best prospects. Send them something that isn’t relevant enough and they may ignore you when you send them something that might have normally garnered their attention.

We’re media-neutral and discipline neutral, but we’re very biased toward strategy (it’s our #2 company value, right under “we do everything with absolute integrity.”)

I’ve attached a sneak preview of an ad that will be running in the Puget Sound Business Journal within the next few months. I’ve also attached an article I wrote for Media, Inc. that ran last month on the topic. I think you’ll see that this is something we feel very strongly about.

I can tell the train has already left the station so the one thing I will strongly recommend you consider: Don’t send to your whole list. Send a series of no less than 3 different mailers to 5-10% of your list instead. See how they respond before you talk to thousands of prospects. When you have a winner, send to the rest of the list.

That way, at least you won’t burn opportunities.

I’ll sign off here. If/when you decide it’s time to take the next step, we can do the necessary planning and can handle the entire marketing campaign for you – Advertising, DM, PR, brochures/handouts, web, whatever.

Best of luck to you.


I never received a response, but I know this is one of the many startups that didn’t make it—their domain name is now for sale.

The causes for new business failure are many, but this is an area that a little planning would have gone a long way.

There’s a simple pattern that has become evident after meeting with so many startups that have so many dreams:

Companies that do Responsible Marketing often succeed.
Companies that don’t, seldom do.

Responsible Marketing quickly filters bad ideas from good. It leaves little up to chance, and reduces the variables that can’t be controlled.

What’s the greatest startup success story you’ve ever seen? How about the greatest failure?

Comment below to weigh in.

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Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Ed Healy says:

    Holding your best prospects in reserve until you have had time to more finely tune your presentation / service / product? That’s a great idea, and something I’m doing myself for a new business I’m working on.

    I understand why it is hard for people to do this, though. They are excited and want to share their ‘great widget’ with the people they feel will enjoy or benefit from it most. Alas, they usually jump too soon – and miss the boat. For a start-up, that means they probably drown, trying to catch up.

    (forgive the idiomatic response – I couldn’t help myself)

  • Alanna says:

    I think the “social media press release” is the new postcard blitz.

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