‘Fail-Fast’ is a software development mantra that has slowly permeated into other areas of the commercial world. However, it doesn’t translate to mainstream marketing – yet. The term is bandied around a good deal these days but basically refers to a project management style where, instead of excessive pre-planning, an idea is quickly put into practice and monitored closely. The focus is on the continuous examination of performance and smart, speedy reaction to the marketplace. In light of poor results, the aim is to iterate, change direction (sometimes euphemistically known as ‘pivoting’) or kill off the project altogether. Thereby preventing long, drawn-out 'zombie' projects that suck up valuable resources before anyone notices they have joined the walking dead. Crucially, to work effectively Fail-Fast requires an environment of constant, real-time feedback loops - which is exactly what you get when launching new initiatives, for example applications, onto the web or into purely digital media. However, most brand marketing environments don’t look anything like this. They remain approximations of what might be happening, in contrast to networked and digital media that show what is actually happening. For instance, in the UK, the audience, cost and efficacy of TV advertising is determined by the British Audience Research Board (BARB) and its Television Measurement Service which is a panel composed of 5,100 homes. Far from being a software-driven mirror of actual events, BARB's panel doesn’t measure...
...many aspects of today's TV environment. Viewers' behaviour such as fast forwarding or rewinding live or recorded content goes unseen, leaving too many data blind spots for Fail-Fast to work.
Over time, this is all likely to change as an increasing range of media, including TV, is drawn into the networked world. Such developments will extend the crucial data rich environments and live feedback loops that make Fail-Fast thrive. Increasingly perfect market information will allow computing power to deliver different TV ads to different people depending upon their individual behaviour - just as occurs online today. The long-held dreams of brand owners everywhere, such as personalised TV commercials and more complete audience information, can then become a reality. (Not something everyone is happy about).
In the meantime many companies and brands are trying to work around the gaps. For example, in categories where the point-of-sale is only a click away, TV commercials can be judged partly on their ability to drive online traffic and lifetime value. A client of mine said he rejected any BARB-based audience figures and preferred to negotiate with media owners on the ability of the TV programme to deliver traffic to his website because that was his only retail outlet. He wasn't quite operating a Fail-Fast approach but he had created a feedback loop based on his own data that meant he could Fail a little Faster.
Within the sphere of media and marketing, clients and brands are struggling to meet their long-term requirements for business value - be that sales, loyalty, differentiation or share – due to more fluid, unpredictable networked media environments. Such concerns can make Fail-Fast can sound like an enticing, albeit contrarian, starting point. However, to be really effective, the approach requires a near perfect level of data about the marketplace. Until mainstream media is more fully drawn into the networked environment and greater levels of consumer activity are tracked in real-time, the required Big Data and essential feedback loops simply won't exist. Which means, for the moment, outside of digital, Fail-Fast is more likely to just mean Fast-Fail.