“The first director I had at Second City said, ‘You have to learn to love the bomb,’ and I didn’t know what he meant for a very long time. …But there’s a buzz to failing and not dying.”
- Stephen Colbert
So the wine blogger scholarship contest, the one where if enough people submitted applications you could receive $1000, received fewer than 20 submissions. It was, by any accounting, a failure.
I’ve been unpacking the reasons why I think the scholarship is full of fail, and thought I’d share.
I’m no stranger to failure; many things I’ve attempted while building the Capozzi brand have ended in ways I either didn’t anticipate, or were well short of my expectations.
My ill-fated foray into Second Life springs to mind instantly. We spent 5K or so building an island that ended up being at turns either completely uninhabited, or overrun with dildo-waving furries bent on turning my vineyard island into the digital equivalent of Gomorrah. So, like the smiting smiter that I am, I smote the fetid, gangrenous evil that lurked therein. With a vengeance. FAIL.
Moral: If you’re going to attempt to leverage new media strategies, limit your investment until you have measurable, projectable results.
Then there’s the whole custom crush debacle. Yes, we should have wine on the market right now. In fact we should have had wine on the market for almost a year at this point. But, since the compliance person in charge of the custom crush facilities permitting “lost track” of my permit app, we are still without sale-able wine. My lack of oversight was a huge contributer here. Ass-uming and all that. FAIL.
Moral: Keep your friends close, and your consultants closer.
And because we are without sale-able wine, folks who sent in shirt photos are still waiting for their free samples. The free sample thing I don’t feel so bad about, actually. They were free shirts, after all – and the samples will come. But still: FAIL.
Moral: Free buys you lots of goodwill and patience. But for how long?
To recap: I offered hundreds of dollars for a single blog post, literally about an hour and a half of a blogger’s time. I offered this cash reward during what the media keeps claiming is one of the most severe recessions since the 30′s. I also created a rewards structure that incented people to share and encourage others to submit an entry, so that the cash reward would increase. And I gave folks a month to write their post. Then I extended the deadline an extra 10 days.
The results: More traffic to the blog than ever. Lots of buzz on Twitter. Numerous emails seeking clarification. And, ultimately, less than 10 eligible entries.
(There were more, but shockingly, a couple bloggers for whom I have enormous respect didn’t properly follow directions. Crazy!)
So what went wrong?
A number of things, actually. Among them:
* The most obvious is that I was competing for attention with Murphy Goode. They rolled out their YouTube campaign a couple days before I launched the contest and I’m certain their well-earned buzz drowned out my message somewhat.
* There was yet another worthy scholarship, this one for the Wine Blogger Conference, that launched soon after mine. This surely added some confusion among potential entrants. Even one of my judges contacted me asking if the two were one and the same!
But these are reasons, not excuses. I pride myself (perhaps mistakenly, perhaps not) on being a good marketer. A busy, crowded marketplace is a challenge to be overcome, not an excuse for failure. Which leaves me with this:
* The scholarship was simply not remarkable enough.
It didn’t spread like it should, and even when people knew about it (and plenty did) they didn’t choose to participate. I think I know why.
First, I called it a scholarship. Huge mistake! No one enters scholarships! I’m joking (a little), but millions in scholarships will go unclaimed this year, just like they did every year before it.
Second, it required wine bloggers to write about a subject they didn’t necessarily want to write about. Sure it was about wine, but it was about an aspect of wine that I found interesting, not one that they did. Most bloggers, myself included, have a blog for the very reason that they want to express themselves without constrains, on their own terms. The genius of the Murphy Goode contest is that they asked applicants to talk about themselves, which everyone loves to do!
In the end, limited participation has doomed what I thought would become a yearly event. Something like it may take its place in the future, but it will be in a vastly different form. Happily I had learned from my Second Life experience and limited my exposure in the event of a failure by way of the contest’s structure. Still: FAIL.
Moral: To be remarkable, you must align your marketing with the core desires of your audience. Contrary to popular belief, getting a stack of money is not a core desire.
It’s become a cliche, but people are far too afraid of failure. The trick is to fail quickly, and/or to limit your inevitable future failures to a manageable size. That’s where the learning happens.
To those that did enter: I’ll be sending your submissions to the judges for review later this week and the winner will be announced shortly after. Thanks for entering!