Fail Up: A 5 Step Plan to Recover from a Marketing Mistake

Written by Kristen Goodin

This past Friday, my team and I attended Leadercast right here in Gainesville, FL. To call the day “inspirational” would be an understatement. Speakers from different industries, backgrounds, and experiences came together to talk about leadership and how to be powered by purpose. But there was one topic discussed that I didn’t expect.

One of the speakers was Suzy Welch, a best-selling business writer (among other accolades). Her speech was something I wasn’t expecting at such a motivational and inspirational event: she discussed her 3 favorite mistakes. You read that right.

Mistakes? How could mistakes possibly mean leadership? Leaders are supposed to know everything and never make any mistakes at all! … Right?

Well, we’ve seen recently in the news about big companies making big mistakes and how that can deal a brutal blow to a brand image (Pepsi and United Airlines anyone?).

The reality is, we are going to make mistakes. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. Even the best-laid plans and intentions can go the wrong way. It’s a fact of life.

So how do you recover from those mistakes? How can you protect yourself, your brand, your image, and your employees from an unexpected mishap? The more you understand that mistakes will happen, the more you will recognize the opportunity they offer.

1) Change How You View Failure

How does the word “failure” make you feel? Anxious? Scared? Depressed?

It doesn’t have to feel that way.

Failure is a part of life. We all experience failure, it is a part of the human experience. When we understand this simple life truth, it makes it a lot easier to bear.

Now, there are two ways to deal with failure:

Cry, eat the nearest carb, and never go outside again.


Understand that failure just means you need to change your strategy, learn more, and/or GROW as a person.

I’m not going to sugar coat it. Failure isn’t fun, but it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. Failure is a valuable teacher if we treat it as such.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” – Winston Churchill.

The key to crafting a positive mindset around failure is to treat mistakes as opportunities. In terms of your business, viewing a mistake as a growing opportunity can help you bounce back.

2) Apologize Quickly and Take Ownership

When something goes wrong, it’s easy to want to point the blame to circumstances and other people. But the first and most important thing you can do when a mistake happens is to take ownership of it.

A swift, carefully crafted apology can mean everything to restoring your brand image. It doesn’t mean that you need to tell the whole world, but for those who will suffer from the direct result, it’s important that they hear the news from you first.

Taking ownership is a blow to the ego for sure, but it is the defining factor of what separates the companies who recover from a bad PR situation and those who don’t. When you take ownership of a mistake, you build trust. You won’t lose respect, if anything it will show that you will never shirk responsibility.

Another curious thing happens when you take ownership as a leader: your team will have the same attitude. As a leader, you also need to create an environment where it’s also safe for your employees to own up when they fail. The best leaders step up to accept responsibility for the failures of their employees, but that doesn’t mean that they shoulder unjust blame. They set an example for their employees to accept responsibility for their particular mistakes and give them the opportunity to make amends.

When you take ownership of a problem, you say to the world that you value integrity, transparency, and trust.

3) Analyze What Went Wrong

As soon as you can, assess the collateral damage and do what you need to do to prevent any further damage from happening. This can be issuing a corporate apology or reaching out to clients or customers individually and working to restore their trust.

Then, ask yourself the hard question: What happened?

The 5 Why’s problem-solving technique can help to determine exactly what went wrong. While it is easy to spot the result of a problem or mistake from the outset, you may be surprised by some of the gaps you find in your processes that resulted in the failure.

This part is painful because it means taking a good hard look at your lapses in judgment or the small mistakes that led up to the big one. But this part is crucial. It will keep you from making the same mistake again in the future and help you learn from this mistake.

With that being said, we have some suggestions of things to watch out for when you analyze the mistake:

  • Don’t Jump to Conclusions – Obviously, there will bea lot of emotion surrounding the situation. It is in our nature to jump to conclusions, but we must resist the urge so that we can proceed with calm, rational thinking.
  • Don’t Overreact – The sunk cost fallacy can be expensive and dangerous. Paul Schoemaker, the research director for the Mack Center for Technological Innovation at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and co-author of the book Brilliant Mistakes, states, “people tend to overreact to repair the damage of their mistakes. They make an asymmetric evaluation of gains and losses so that losses loom much larger than gains. As a result, they may be tempted to hide their mistakes, or even worse, continue down paths that have proven unproductive.”

Know What You’re Marketing With the Five Whys

Know What You’re Marketing With the Five Whys

The Five Why’s problem-solving technique can help you develop a marketing strategy that is powerful, purposeful, and comprehensive.

4) Plan Your New Strategy

So, now that you’ve asked yourself the hard questions, it’s time to develop a new plan to restore your brand image and recover from the mistake. What did you learn from your questions and answers? How are you going to apply that knowledge to your new strategy?

Here are some things to consider:

  • Your Buyer Personas – Before you put anything else out there for the world to see, you want to take some time to review your buyer personas. Is your messaging still relevant to them? Have you missed a buyer persona that you may not have realized? You may want to start from scratch and do your buyer persona research all over again.
  • Your Channels – Are you using the best channels to communicate your message? Did the meaning behind your message get lost because of the way it was communicated? You can save yourself precious time and money by crafting your message to suit the channels that your buyer personas are listening to.
  • Your Message – It’s important to carefully craft your message when you get back in the game. When your brand suffers a slip-up, it takes a while to restore your brand with positive messaging and to change your image to your customers. The most important thing is to keep messaging positive and consistent.



The Importance of Researching Your Buyer Persona

Check out our blog post about the importance of researching your buyer personas so that you are attracting great and qualified customers.

5) Move On and Exceed Expectations

Ok, you’ve analyzed what went wrong, you’ve made a plan to make sure it never happens again… What’s next?

Now, it’s time to just let go and move on.

As a leader, you have to move confidently forward with the knowledge that yes, mistakes happen. But true failure only happens when you give up and stop learning. Time will pass, people will change, and you will have the opportunity to exceed expectations in your next project.

Life is a beautiful teacher. Every mistake is an opportunity to grow as individuals, grow our businesses, and grow our relationships.

So take what you’ve learned, take your next step confidently, and fail up.

Kristen Goodin

Kristen strives to make every interaction a memorable one, and excels at strengthening brand identity in an increasingly digital world. As an Inbound Marketing Executive, she works with our clients to communicate and connect with their customers, and build meaningful relationships that last.