Don't Drive Angry: Stepping Back from a Failed Internet Marketing Campaign

Ian Lurie

keep both hands on the wheel
You spent $150,000 on creative, ad space and some fancy-pants internet marketing strategist.
You launched the campaign and held your breath. And nothing happened.
You’ve got two options (please choose #1):

Option 1: Live and Learn

To me, no measured campaign can be a total failure.

If you didn’t have analytics in place when you launched your campaign, sorry, I can’t help you. Fire your internet marketing agency and seek therapy. Then start over.

You can glean great information from even the most depressing result:
First, make sure the campaign really failed. If something beyond your control killed the campaign you need to give it a second chance.

  1. Was there noise? Outside events – bad economic news, a snowstorm, etc. – can affect your results. We had four campaigns all flop in the same week. Later we realized that 1-2 million households in our target audience were without power due to an ice storm. We asked the publishers nicely, got a discount on a second buy, and did far better. Always check for noise.
  2. Did the publisher deliver? If you’re running banner ads, make sure the publisher really delivered. Mistakes happen.
  3. Was anything broken? A slow site, busted analytics code or other technical issues may make a successful campaign look like a disaster. But a second look might show a brighter picture.

if a t-rex rampages through downtown it could affect your campaign
Next, dig into your data and learn what you can:

  1. Where did the campaign fail? Did folks click on the ad or e-mail but then not buy? Did they get part way into your shopping cart and then give up? Or did they simply not respond at all? If one part of the campaign worked, but another failed, you can take what worked and change what didn’t. This campaign may not have sold much but you’ve increased the odds that the next one will.
  2. What did work? Did any ad, e-mail or concept get a response? Is there a pattern that you can repeat for a better campaign next time? Again, this ‘failure’ may boost the next campaign.
  3. Any seemingly unrelated results? Did phone calls jump by 100%? Dealer visits by 50%? Maybe your campaign is still a winner. Next time around you can focus on the right goal.
  4. Did you get feedback? A seemingly whiny customer may give you that one magic change that takes an awful campaign and makes it a winner next time.
  5. Did sales across the board fall? Maybe your campaign performed well, but the entire market slowed for a bit. If so, then you need to consider whether you just timed it wrong. See ‘noise’, above.
  6. Finally, is there a drip effect? Did visits increase, even if sales didn’t? Did average pageviews per visit go up? It may be that the campaign succeeded but the time to conversion is longer than you thought.

Option 2: Primal Scream Therapy

You can scream, throw things, beat up the wall, kick squirrels and then leave, muttering that you’ll never participate in any internet marketing campaign, ever again.
would you kick this little guy?
That will make you feel better for a few minutes.
But you’ll still have spent $150,000. And you’ll have nothing to show for it.
Even if your campaign was a total flop, you can learn a lot from it. Don’t miss the opportunity.
Personally, I prefer option 1. You should, too.

Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is the founder of Portent. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). Ian's recorded training for, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Ian is now an independent consultant and continues to work with the Portent team- training the agency group on all things digital. You can find him at

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  1. This is such a harsh reality for so many solopreneurs and online businesses. It’s very hard to let go of your “brain-child” that wasn’t so brainy after all ๐Ÿ™‚
    Maria ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. I just read somewhere else that the Optimist is the one who created the airplane, the Pessimist created the parachute. Depending on your outlook you can gain lots of insight from failure. It’s not all bleak.

  3. One of my favorite movies is ‘Meet the Robinsons’. It’s animated, which is neither here nor there, but the main character is a child inventor who keeps failing. The theme is Keep Moving Forward. It’s a good one.

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