The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray

Our organization has a multitude of business components – a premier partner business with major brands, an affiliate partner business, a series of mobile apps, products and services, a card-link program to earn points, and our own MasterCard credit card. Individuals who participate in our partner businesses earn points with us once they register to be part of the program. 

Earlier this year, we decided that we wanted to make a large and concentrated effort to increase the number of participants of one of our premier partner businesses in a very large urban market.  An acquisition for our group is relatively simple and straightforward. As long as someone has both an account with our premier partner and an account with us, they earn points that can be used to purchase items on our platform. 

The plan for increasing this particular urban market involved a large, intricately layered, multi-channel approach to be launched around a major holiday. A local activation plan involved “hiding” over a thousand branded wallets around the urban area, each containing real dollar bills along with information on our partnering program and the specific premier partnership in order to drive buzz and create viral and organic content. This effort was to be supported through additional investment in professional influencer marketing to help get the word out and generate more buzz. Additionally, internal channel support through geo-targeted emails, mobile push notifications, and SMS messaging, in addition to social posts that were both from our organic channels and paid social, were also part of the plan. 

The strategy made sense, and it was backed by multiple reports and data sources that made both the timing and investment an easy sell. However, the handoff between strategy and implementation turned out to be nearly disastrous.

Despite months of planning, the timing of the initiation of the various campaign components was misaligned. The emails, mobile push, and SMS campaigns making the urban residents, who were the targets of the campaign, aware of the wallet campaign was scheduled to deploy 10 days before the wallets were “hidden.” Instead, they deployed a day after the campaign was already underway and wallets were already “hidden”, though residents had no idea they were out and around the city to be “discovered” by them. 

The timing error was due to too many cooks in the kitchen. Although this campaign was specific to a single premier partner, numerous teams representing other partners became involved. The result of the involvement of numerous teams slowed down the entire process as the original message was altered and added to and then passed to other teams to respond to one another. Each additional group wanted to add more verbiage and explanations to introduce other products and services that it was interested in marketing. By the time the messages went out to highlight the one specific partnership of the original strategy, other partner and product messaging had also found their way in, deemphasizing and convoluting the original message, making it overly complex and hard to follow. The original, simple focus on one partner morphed into a message that was long and unclear. It made for a bad consumer experience, and potentially hurt our ability to reuse some of our influencers in the future since it’s in their best interest to avoid serving their followers long and difficult messaging. 

To make matters worse -- although unrelated to the multitude of teams needing to be involved in campaign creation -- multiple different technical and analytics teams were involved in the most important aspects of the campaign – tracking and reporting on results and impact. Similar to the campaign creation process, the technical and analytics teams were unable to properly work together and resolve differences. Instead of producing immediate insights into the campaign, allowing us to immediately respond, results were not available until a week after the campaign went live.

There were many lessons learned from this campaign. First, a breakdown at one point can lead to failure in multiple areas. Second, the addition of too many teams or groups to a project can hamper a project or task in a multitude of ways, even if given the extraordinary amount of lead-time this campaign was given. And third, the ability to be agile, especially with campaigns that involve several moving parts and require a particular order and sequence of how components need to be executed, cannot be overstated. Problems will arise, but those that can be agile will typically be better positioned to deal with issues and still find ways to be successful.

Still, the campaign wasn’t a total disaster and we were able to salvage some of it. We were eventually able to extrapolate lift within the region and cross reference that lift with the timing of other campaigns. We were also subsequently able to correct the messaging on follow-up campaigns and compare the lift we witnessed between the longer non-ideal campaign vs. the better calibrated and ideal messaging campaigns. This analysis showed aspects of success and helped us understand what elements had a significant impact on user acquisition, and how to better calibrate campaigns in the area moving forward.