Pro Tip: Cancel Campaigns Without Pity

Most marketing and sales managers are mediocre. Of course, that’s true by definition, unless you’re in Lake Wobegon. But in the case of marketing management, it means the marketing programs they run are usually only either slightly better than if they’d done nothing at all, and frequently worse.

Just about any professional marketing manager, even these mediocre ones I’m talking about, has skills. They can develop marketing materials; they know how media buying works; they negotiate effectively; they deliver campaigns that are consistent with the “brand” of their organization; and they keep those campaigns on track logistically.

But one of the things that mediocre marketing managers don’t do often enough is shut things down. That’s right. Turn off, kill, cancel or send a campaign on permanent vacation. This is so important that you should plan for it when you buy. Of course, many outlets, like Google AdWords or most ad networks, have this as a built-in feature, but if you’re actually buying media with an insertion order, you might need to negotiate an “out” within a reasonable period of time, like 48 hours.

Because when something isn’t working, it’s got to go. If it’s fundamentally not delivering value, regardless of how much you’ve already spent, more isn’t going to make it better. It’s just going to make it a more expensive mistake.

Now, don’t misunderstand me here. Some campaigns are designed to need time. Most all traditional media is this way (it should eventually show up though). And other campaigns will be off target, but not by miles. Maybe you need to get the cost down a bit or tweak the creative to get more of a lift. You can probably fix that.

I’m talking about those campaigns or ideas that are miles off: way too expensive per sale (or whatever) or just not producing response at all.

Mediocre marketing managers keep those campaigns running because they don’t understand the concept of a sunk cost, or they’ve got too much pride or ego involved in the program, or they’re not really paying attention to the results. Sometimes the latter happens because nobody in the organization above that person is paying attention either.

But you should care anyway. Imagine if doctors changed their effort level based on how much the family of a patient in emergency surgery seemed to want them to survive!

Campaigns, in a way, are theories. We develop theories by looking at what’s going on around us, but not all of our theories are going to be correct. That’s OK, but only if you’re pitiless. Face the reality of your results — the sooner the better. When the news is good, do more! When it’s bad, do none.

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