Selling dreams rather than deliverables

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Atem is the Founder of Rant + Rave,  a digital storytelling company that works with content and visual design to create memorable brand experiences.

Biggest fuck up

The project in question was for a renowned consumer electronics brand, and we were tasked with launching their new line of smart home products. The stakes were exceptionally high, given the intense competition in the market and the client’s high expectations for consumer engagement and sales.

The campaign was built around the concept of “The Future is Now,” aiming to showcase how these smart home devices could revolutionise daily life. We planned an elaborate digital strategy involving influencer partnerships, social media buzz, and even a virtual reality experience that allowed consumers to step into a “smart home.” On paper, it sounded revolutionary, and internally, the team was buzzing with excitement.

However, the fallacy in our approach became apparent only after the campaign had been rolled out. Despite the initial buzz, engagement metrics began to falter, and the conversion rates were well below expectations. It was a hard pill to swallow when the client bluntly asked us, “Why isn’t this working?”

After an intense period of internal review and external consumer behaviour analysis, we realised our mistake: We had underestimated the market’s readiness for such an advanced concept. In our zeal to be cutting-edge, we overlooked the simpler aspects—like how well the target demographic understood smart home technology and whether they saw a genuine need for it in their lives.

This failure had multiple consequences. Financially, the project became a sunk cost. From a human resources standpoint, the team’s morale plummeted, affecting productivity for weeks. The client became wary of innovative approaches, opting for safer and less adventurous campaigns in the subsequent quarters. Reputationally, this episode created a temporary dent in Dare Digital’s image, affecting both client trust and our positioning in a highly competitive market.

At that moment, my feelings oscillated between remorse and desperation. Remorse for not having foreseen the pitfalls and desperation to correct the course as soon as possible. In terms of lessons, this experience became a cornerstone for my future endeavours. It taught me the invaluable skill of tempering innovation with practicality.

Since then, before embarking on any groundbreaking campaigns, I have made it mandatory to run focus group tests and extensive market research to gauge consumer readiness. We always have contingency plans in place, including adaptive strategies that can be quickly implemented if the initial approach does not yield the expected results.

Additionally, I have become an advocate for psychological safety within the team, encouraging an environment where members feel free to express their reservations or concerns about a project. Often, ground-level team members have insights that those in leadership roles may overlook.

In the end, while the immediate aftermath was undoubtedly tough, the lessons gleaned from this experience have had a long-lasting and profound impact on my approach to marketing. They shaped not only my tenure at Dare Digital but also influenced the foundational principles at Rant + Rave, emphasising the importance of data-backed strategies and open team communication.

Rant

What really irks me about the marketing industry is the prevalence of buzzword-driven strategies that lack any real substance. Too often, agencies and professionals use jargon like “disruption,” “synergy,” or “thought leadership” without fully understanding or implementing what these concepts mean in real-world scenarios. This “wanky bollocks,” as you so aptly put it, takes away from the true essence of what marketing should be: creating value for clients through meaningful connections with their audience.

The issue with this trend is that it sells dreams rather than deliverables. Clients are initially enamoured by the buzzwords but eventually become disillusioned when the expected results are not achieved. This contributes to a cycle of mistrust between agencies and clients, affecting the industry as a whole.

Useful advice

The best advice I’ve received came early in my career while working at YouGov. A mentor told me, “Always make decisions with the end goal in mind.” This piece of wisdom has been a north star guiding my strategies, campaigns, and even day-to-day operations.

It’s easy to get caught up in the nitty-gritty details of a project or become enamoured with a shiny new tool or platform. But what truly matters at the end of the day is whether or not you’re moving closer to your objective.

So here’s my actionable advice: Before diving into any project or strategy, clearly define what success looks like. Whether it’s a specific ROI, customer engagement level, or any other measurable outcome, know your target. Then, reverse engineer your strategy to ensure that every action taken is a step towards that goal. This approach helps you avoid unnecessary distractions and keeps your team aligned and motivated.

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