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Why Did My Inbound Program Fail? A Recipe for Marketing Nirvana

Working in marketing agencies, it’s not uncommon to hear variants of this article’s title uttered by clients and prospects on a regular basis. You could, indeed, swap out the word “inbound” for almost anything else:

  1. Why did my SEO program fail?

  2. Why hasn’t PPC worked for my business?

  3. Twitter is rubbish, I’m never using that again

  4. And so on…

Digital marketing is particularly prone to this reaction given how new everything is and the constant evolution of channels and media with which to choose from when promoting a business, service or product.

And not unlike the experience of wandering into a supermarket and choosing a yoghurt (try it, there are thousands of them and seemingly more coming out all the time), there are a number of criteria that will come into play when choosing what we want.

Crucially, these are the same criteria that will have a huge bearing on whether we will be satisfied by the outcome.

  1. Experience – what have I tried before that is similar to this. Did I like it? Did it leave me feeling good?

  2. Expectation – what am I expecting to happen? What are my criteria for being happy with this?

  3. Presentation – is it clear what I’m about to try? Do I like the look of it? Does it feel right?

  4. Accountability – what if I try something new and I don’t like it? What will the producer do to make me happy if I’m not satisfied?

The “Yoghurt Mindset”

What happens before something is even tried, or a relationship is even started will always have an inexorable link to the satisfaction of the outcome. The success of your inbound marketing campaign has been decided before it has even begun.

But unlike with an unfortunately flavoured yoghurt, where the reaction is revulsion and a refund, we can be a little smarter with these criteria when it comes to digital marketing:


Your reaction to a positive or negative experience will go a long way to dictating the quality of your future experiences. If this were an American sitcom, we’d call it “emotional baggage”.

Fortunately, it is not.

Rather than letting a negative experience with a digital marketing agency or a specific channel or promotional type swear you off it for life, do the analysis. Why didn’t it work? Were there communication issues with the agency? Could the ad have been stronger? What if I’d used a different landing page?

There are many variables that can lead to success or failure, so make sure you understand why something hasn’t worked as you would have liked before swearing it off for good.


By setting clear expectations at the start of a project, you will have a much clearer basis upon which to judge success or failure at the end of it. If you were expecting Twitter to drive 100 new sales when your agency was using it for “brand value”, you were going to be disappointed before you even began.

Set clear targets and forecasts for every new campaign that you undertake. If they are multi-channel campaigns, ensure expectations are set for each. These can be tweaked based on real world performance, but go into it with clear expectations as to what will be achieved that are agreed by everyone involved.


I can’t tell you the number of sales proposals I’ve seen over the years that even I, the poor soul responsible for delivering them, didn’t understand. If what is being proposed cannot be understood at some level by every stakeholder within the organisation, it is impossible to set clear expectations for success.

Digital marketers can be the kings of spin and present proposals in a way that is unnecessarily confusing for everyone involved. If you find yourself scratching your head at something just ask yourself, what are the ultimate goals the business demands from this proposal and how will this enable us to achieve them? If the answer isn’t clear, the proposal isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.


The traditional agency model dictates that all of the risk is borne by the client. But in an age of complete transparency of performance and results, you should be demanding more. Digital marketing strategy should be designed to drive business success and metrics should be defined to understand the role marketing will play in achieving this.

If the agency is making promises of outcomes but sharing none of the risk attached to hitting those metrics, then this is setting the path for ultimate disappointment.

Ensure that your agency has something in place to hold them accountable for the promises they are making before a contract is signed.

Strong Foundations

I’m proud to say that these are the foundations upon which we created Fresh Source Digital. Experience has taught us that the success and failure of campaigns and relationships can ultimately hinge on what is promised up front and that initial clarity and communication can be the catalysts for overall success.

We look forward to sharing our full proposition with you once the website is complete in January. We think you’re going to like it. If you’d like to talk to us before then, you can find our details on the contact page.

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