What to do When Life Hands You Lemmings

Apple introduced the Macintosh personal computer in a third quarter television commercial during Super Bowl XLIII in January 1984. Playing off a George Orwell 1984 theme, it featured rows of uniformed, colorless drones. They sat mesmerized, watching as Big Brother dribbled propaganda on a large movie screen. Suddenly, a female runner chased by storm troopers entered the room. She hurled a sledgehammer against the screen, which explodes. The commercial ended with the statement, “You’ll see why 1984 won’t be like 1984.”

That commercial has been voted the best Super Bowl commercial of all time. Always stick with what works, right?

The following year, Apple decided to use Super Bowl XIX to introduce Macintosh Office. This commercial featured a long line of blindfolded business people marching across a dusty, forbidding terrain. Their only source of guidance is their hand on the shoulder of the person in front of them. One-by-one, they walk off a cliff. It has been dubbed the “Lemmings commercial” and is widely considered the worse commercial in Super Bowl history. Apple did not advertise during the Super Bowl for the next 14 years.

Have you ever had a Lemmings-like marketing experience, one whose cost was exceeded only by its complete failure to accomplish its intended purpose? Sadly, I have! I spent $10,000 developing a traditional website in the hope it would soon have my phone “ringing off the hook” with eager prospects. The vendor guaranteed a “top 3” ranking for the phrase “fractional CFO.” While it accomplished that goal, I am still waiting for the phone to ring! Very few people search that phrase, largely because they do not know what it means.

I gained three things from my personal Lemmings experience. Allow me to now swallow my pride and share the lessons learned.

1. Cut your losses!

Ego has no place in rational business decisions. Admit your mistakes, save what is left of your limited marketing budget and move on! I compounded my mistake by continuing to pay the vendor $60 a month to host the site. They provided no marketing support, no analytical data or anything to justify an additional fee. I eventually moved the site to JustHost.com, a vendor that for a low annual fee provides unlimited email and website hosting. Since I already had an account, I saved $720 per year.

2. Reevaluate your marketing goals and the tactics to achieve them.

My initial hope (it was far too naive to qualify as a goal) was that if I simply created a website, my target market would flock to it and contact me. I now realize it is unlikely businesses will retain executive management consultants solely from online relationships. That is not to say that the website cannot serve a valuable role in my marketing strategy. However, it cannot serve as the primary strategy for new business production. One of my goals is now to move promising online relationships offline. In other words, to make personal connections over a cup of coffee or phone calls. I also learned the need to help educate the business community on the existence, purpose and value of fractional CFOs. My tactics include extensive networking and event-based marketing.

3. Salvage some value from your missteps.

I grew up playing in my family’s auto recycling business (o.k., junkyard if my brother is reading this). I learned the importance of salvaging maximum value from every opportunity. In the case of my misspent marketing funds, I have uploaded the site’s video (half of its cost) to YouTube, where it may increase my Internet footprint and contribute toward my goal of consumer education. As previously mentioned, I also transferred the website to another hosting service. While this may or may not help increase brand awareness and establish my expertise, it is now essentially free!

Let me close with some simple but very practical advice. To err is human. To learn from your mistakes is good business!

© 2011 by Dale R. Schmeltzle

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