The wonder of a blunder

We all make mistakes. Yet we often hide our mistakes or try to forget about them. But here’s the thing: making a mistake can be one of the best ways to learn. As Thomas Edison once said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” The Wizard of Menlo Park also said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

Please, don’t give up.

Edison was a prolific inventor, well known for creating the phonograph, the microphone, the light bulb, a way to keep fruit fresh…the list goes on. But he wasn’t perfect. He made mistakes. He had his blunders. And, while he certainly was intelligent, it can be argued he simply tried harder than others did to learn from his blunders along the way.

Following this thinking, we reached out to some members of the content marketing community to see if they would be willing to share a mistake they’ve made that the rest of us can learn from.

And, because our community is awesome, we got some great responses:

Allen Gannett, Founder and CEO, TrackMaven

I was a young founder…maybe 21 or 22 years old at this point, and I was about to have a meeting with one of the most successful venture capitalists (VCs) on the planet. He had come to my office wanting to hear my pitch for our Series A round of financing. I was nervous, I didn’t want to be viewed as a “kid” and I knew that this could be a big moment for the company. As we settled into the conference room, I plugged in my computer, and the TV, thanks to the pesky HDMI connection started BLASTING what I was playing on my Spotify. Thanks to universe’s karmic irony, Taylor Swift’s “22” was the song that was on at that very moment (#TeamTaylor). I turned bright red and randomly started hitting buttons on my keyboard. I got the music off (thank God) and stared into my laptop keyboard, trying to avoid eye contact.

But then, suddenly, I heard a laugh.

This bigshot-magazine-profiled VC thought it was funny. I relaxed, and the pitch continued. A few weeks later, we had a signed term sheet and a new lead investor. For me, one of the things that is so easy to forget is how our perceived weakness and vulnerabilities are also the things that make us human and relatable. No one wants to work with, invest in, or buy from a robot. As marketers, we need to realize that admitting imperfection is critical to being loved.

What did I learn? No one is perfect – and no one is you. Be yourself and be human. People will appreciate that…and you.

Matt Heinz, President, Heinz Marketing

I’ve had a tendency…in my career to try and do too much on my own without asking for help or delegating some of the work. I still to this day have to remind myself to find places where I can seek help and delegate to others. I remember once procrastinating on something for three weeks. I mentioned it to one of our VPs, who immediately took it on and had it done in two days. She was happy to do it, happy to help get it done. In many cases, successful delegation both frees me up and also empowers others to step up and contribute to our joint success.

What did I learn? Delegation doesn’t mean you aren’t able to do things, it can actually help you make sure you’re doing the rightthings and allow others to advance the cause.

Michael Brenner, CEO of Marketing Insider Group

In 2011, I was asked to build…a content marketing function for a major tech brand. I had the support of the senior leadership, but lots of resistance from my own colleagues and especially from the product teams. “How will this help us sell software?” they asked me every day. After months of internal business case development, we finally launched. The key to getting over the hump was simple: I showed the sales leadership that we didn’t rank for the most important buying-signal search terms. We were able to start publishing non-product content and we attracted search visitors. The content was being shared and engaging our readers.

But we made one huge mistake and it took us nearly a million visitors to figure it out.

In order to appease our product marketers, we linked to product pages in about a dozen ways on every page. We had internal links. We had banners. We had calls to action everywhere. But, after a million visits, we had just a few dozen clicks on any of those links. The mistake we made was assuming that people jumped from early-buyer education to product queries. We had solved our top of funnel problem without addressing the important middle-stage of the buyer journey. So, we added a buyer’s guide here. A white paper over there. Some trend reports. A survey. And sure enough, the leads started flowing in. And the leads started to convert (eventually). By about halfway through our second year, we were getting support from sales, from product, and from across the organization. We were not just reaching and engaging, but we were also converting our traffic to leads and sales.

What did I learn? Don’t assume what you think will work is actually working. Keep evaluating and making adjustments until you see results.

Andrea Fryrear, President of Agile Sherpas

My blunder was equating professional success…with fancy titles. I thought the only thing that indicated I was doing a good job was if I kept getting promoted. Having now been through some personality tests designed to help with professional development (and some serious on-the-job learning), I’ve come to understand that I’m much happier doing work that I find meaningful than having a title that somebody else gave me.

What did I learn? Most of your life will be spent at work. Do things that are meaningful to you and let someone else worry about titles.

Amanda Todorovich, Senior Director of Content Marketing, Cleveland Clinic

My blunder: Not bringing internal experts to the table soon enough. I’m a content strategy and creative type. I can’t look at the code of a site and know if it’s good or bad.

A few years ago, I hired an agency to help my team launch a new site quickly, but it didn’t take long after launch for me to realize things weren’t quite right. I really needed someone to “look under the hood” and tell me what was wrong. I approached one of our developers in another department to help me get the facts and hold the agency accountable.

Now, our team has ongoing internal development support, and that same guy I approached a few years ago is at the table with any agency partner from the very beginning of any new project to help us define requirements and think through the technical aspects of the work. My mistake was in not approaching him sooner and trusting what the agency was telling me a little too much.

What did I learn? Content is only as good as the user experience, and technology is an equal partner to creativity.

Kelly Hungerford, Digital Strategy and Marketing Operations Consultant

One of the biggest blunders I’ve made in the past is something I am fiercely passionate about today: asking why, and not being afraid to say no.

Once upon a time, I was asked to take on the creation of the blog for the company. I was also asked specifically not to “bother” the technology team with this, but instead to work on it independently as a freelancer. I accepted, figuring that l could get a quick win under my belt in a short amount of time. But there was one catch – my gut was screaming “red flag, red flag!” I knew nothing about blogging but, then again, how complex could it be?

Fast-forward a few weeks, and I had a fully developed prototype to show the team. Needless to say, when I pulled back the curtain, the dev team wasn’t amused, nor were they receptive to my side project. They thought it was lame (why a prototype when we have Blogger?) I just made things 100x more complex for them and added a heap of tasks to their future workload and daily routine.

What did I learn? 1. Together we’re better and silos are for fools (don’t be that fool!). 2. If someone asks you to work in isolation, question why. 3. When your gut feeling says no, stop and listen. 4. Communicate to everyone, all of the time. It helps surface weak spots and allows people to challenge your ideas. 3. Technology and Marketing are BFFs. If you aren’t close to your tech team, now is a good time to drop by and say hi.

Doug Kessler, Creative Director and Co-founder, Velocity Partners

I blunder weekly (if not daily) but one of my biggest was thinking we had to create content to promote a fantastic offer our client had packaged up. We had our ‘content marketer’ hats on, so we thought every problem had to be solved using content.

In the end, we simply created an inefficient and unnecessary step in what should have been a straightforward program. Our content path was out-performed by simple ads that stated the offer. D’oh!

What did I learn? Not everything in marketing is content marketing…and that’s okay. If a great offer already exists for the client/product/service, lead with that.

Do you have a blunder that’s helped you learn a valuable lesson? Feel free to share in the comments below. And, if you want to hear more from this group of content pros, you can catch all of them, and many more, at Content Marketing World 2018, September 4-7 in Cleveland.

Don’t make your own blunder, get your Game On and register today! Use code CMWBLOG to save $100 off main conference passes.