“To swear off making mistakes is very easy. All you have to do is swear off having ideas.”
A new client recently told us that one of the reasons they chose us over the competition was that we admitted our mistakes and talked about what we had learned from them. I think the reference was “I want a new website.” where I talk about our failure to apply our own process to ourselves when developing our website. The admission holds. It’s a very good lesson.
We make mistakes.
The trick, of course, is to learn—and to make process changes from that learning—so that on our next pass through that same or a similar gauntlet we exhibit more finesse.
We are and will remain a learning organization. I think some of the other hopefuls for this project lost because they depicted themselves as a knowing organization, seeking to convey the impression that they never made mistakes.
Something about our approach apparently struck a chord. I am confident we will continue to find clients who appreciate that we are a learning organization.
Admitting mistakes is, in effect, simply another way of telling the truth.
Admitting mistakes is, in effect, simply another way of telling the truth. The truth is very important in our brand philosophy. We believe it may also hold a privileged place in marketing—at least for our own marketing. Perhaps this client acquisition outcome is a small vindication of this notion.
Should you talk about your mistakes?
Has admitting mistakes helped any of our clients? Generally you don’t talk about your failures in a consumer marketing context, because that conversation has to be about customer needs. Talking about mistakes is too internally focused to be very useful.
By contrast, in a B2B context like ours, where the buying decision can be quite involved and is conducted as part of a negotiation that takes place over a period of time (sometimes months or years and often with multiple decision makers), a richer understanding of the actual offer is required. In this context, authenticity as expressed by such admissions can help a great deal.
The process will set you free.
As a marketing and advertising agency, we have a powerful and effective process that we have created to help us solve our client’s problems. But we do not have an off-the-shelf product that we have refined and honed to near perfection for any particular type of client.
Our work is not about us. We don’t have an agency design style that we can reuse and resell.
Some regard this is a weakness. As we won this pitch for a museum, not too long ago we lost another for an architecture firm. We lost despite our having completed a number of successful architecture projects. The other guys were specialists. This made it easy for the client to see the product they would ultimately get. It would be just like every other one that agency had previously delivered—not so unlike a McDonald’s hamburger in terms of predictability. Imagining exactly what they would get as a design outcome was much harder, if not impossible, with us. Our work is not about us. We don’t have an agency design style that we can reuse and resell.
Every project is different, because every client is different.
Take, for example, these two architecture projects: Pei Partnership Architects and Reversible Destiny. We are proud of both, and yet they could not be more distinct. That’s because their needs were very different. In both cases, our process was exactly the same.
It’s about you.
So we actually are saying something very true in our company vision, “Finding creative ways to help our clients make the world better.” It’s our process, but it’s your needs, your goals, your ability to make the world better that we facilitate.
That’s not a mistake.