My daughter and many of her friends went through the process of applying to university this year.
In my day, with paper applications, we applied to our top choice, a few "reach" schools (selective schools we were less likely to be accepted to) and a "safety" (one highly likely to accept us for admission). It was a pain in the butt to write to each school to get their paper admission form and type out each application individually.
Today, with information on college Web sites and electronic applications, students zip off applications quickly because most of the information is stored as electronic files. An additional application might take less than an hour to complete with cutting and pasting. Now it is not uncommon for students to apply to ten or more universities, driving up rejection rates at select schools. If all it takes is the $90 fee and a few minutes, why not apply to Harvard? Heck, you could win the lottery.
Some idea is at play for job search. It is so easy to search for openings on online job boards and company web sites and then just zap over your electronic CV even if you're not qualified. In the old days of paper it was more difficult to find out where the openings were and to actually apply required writing a cover letter, licking stamps and whatnot, so fewer people applied for positions.
The web has developed a culture of planning for failure
Our kids apply to schools they have almost no chance of getting into because it is easy. We apply for jobs that we know will attract 1,000 applications or more because it is simple to do so.
The web makes it so darned easy to try something. Therefore, today we’re planning for failure in a different way than when we operated in the paper-based offline-world.
But that same idea of planning for failure is lacking in many marketing departments
In the old days of offline marketing, we planned our "campaigns" months or even quarters ahead. It was expensive and time consuming to do a print direct mail campaign or plan a trade show exhibit. So we planned only a dozen or so initiatives in a year and expected each one to contribute a positive ROI.
But today, it is simple and free to create a YouTube video or blog post or to write an ebook in order to market a business online. Like the college application and job search markets, creating valuable information for attracting new customers is much, much easier than in the offline world.
Yet most marketers treat these online initiatives like an old offline campaign. They take time to get everything perfect. They plan months ahead, losing opportunities to communicate in real-time. They create only a dozen things online in a year rather than hundreds.
If you're like many marketers I meet, you need to do much more than you're doing now.
Marketers need to plan for failure
The problem with information on the web is that nobody knows with certainty which video or ebook will succeed, so finding success is partly a numbers game requiring investment in many ideas.
I don't know if anyone will care about this blog post. It could attract 10,000 or more readers by being tweeted by hundreds of people. A journalist at a mainstream publication could quote from it. Someone might read it and that sparks them to invite me to speak at a conference. Or it could fall flat. It could "fail." That's the game, just like those job & university applications.
You never really know which one is likely to succeed, so the more good ideas, the better.
Many attempts will be duds that won’t spark any interest; a few will generate some notice and basically pay back your investment of the time required to create them; and a handful will spread to thousands or even millions of people!
Thanks to @jessweiss for suggesting the title for this blog post.
College app image - Shutterstock / Bronson Chang
Woman with notebook image - Shutterstock / Petrenko Andriy