Nobody expects their direct mail campaign to fail. Not really. So it can be pretty disheartening to discover that the ROI for your latest mail-out is somewhat less than impressive. And this is especially true if you feel you did everything right:

  • you figured out exactly who your buyers are,
  • tweaked your targeting, and
  • took advantage of the most engaging copy and design tactics you could find

Still, this particular campaign somehow managed to fall short of your expectations. What now? Should you simply give up and assign the marketing tasks to someone else in the future?

Bypassing the Brain

First, don’t panic. Second, it’s important to remember that EVERYONE – the most successful business owners included – fails some of the time. This may or may not be your first failure, but you can be sure it won’t be your last.

Failing is a natural part of every business venture, whether we like it or not. But as marketing professionals, while we can’t always control the outcome of our efforts 100% of the time, we can get better at learning to handle what doesn’t work so we can turn our losses into wins.

Before we can learn from what went wrong, we have to understand what failing really is from a psychological perspective. As far as the brain is concerned:

Failing to accomplish a task or activity successfully is an opportunity for learning how to better protect ourselves going forward.

How do you feel when you crunch the numbers and discover that only a tiny percentage of direct mail recipients responded to your carefully crafted call-to-action? Probably not very good.

Any time we experience negative emotions related to something we’ve done, our brains are hard-wired to compel us to avoid a repeat performance. When it comes to the way we interpret negative feelings, there’s often not a lot of distinction between emotional pain and physical. And the last thing our brains want is for us to continue to expose ourselves to something with the potential to harm us.

Letting Reality Rule

Once you understand what the brain is up to, it can be a lot easier to jump back on the proverbial horse that threw you. Learning from our mistakes is often more about learning to overrule our own instinctive reactions to an outcome than it is about anything else.

With this new insight in mind, take another look at the campaign that flopped and try to be a little more impartial in your thinking. Did you forget to add a deadline to your offer? Or maybe the timing of your mail-out wasn’t quite right. Whatever the case may be, it’s your ability to look at failures in as objective a light as possible that ultimately turns them into successes.

Remember, the only time a fail is really a fail is when we let it distort the way we look at our own skills and abilities. If you let it, your brain will be quite happy to convince you that you’ll never reach your ROI objectives, but the reality is that your goals remain just as attainable on the 100th attempt as they were on the first.