‘Failure is a nightmare without reflection’: Zoopla’s CMO on learning from mistakes

Zoopla’s CMO suggests marketers can learn a lot when things don’t go to plan, but that “preparation and reflection” are essential to ensure mistakes aren’t repeated.

FailureFailure tends to be talked about in a negative light. And people often feel, especially early on in their career, that getting things wrong will adversely affect their career prospects.

But Zoopla CMO Gary Bramall suggests that’s not necessarily the case. As long as marketers understand why something hasn’t worked and they don’t make the same mistake again, then it should be treated as a learning exercise.

He references a book called ‘Win or Learn’ by John Kavanagh, the trainer of mixed martial artist Conor McGregor.

“It’s a really interesting book around the art of preparation and reflection,” he says. “Without reflection and preparation failure can be a nightmare, but if you can reflect and learn, then if something goes wrong it isn’t a problem.”

From a leader’s standpoint, he says the only time he gets frustrated with his team if something goes wrong is if they haven’t prepared thoroughly enough.

Why failure helps create better marketers

“If people have done things half-heartedly that’s where the frustration comes from for me as a manager. That’s where we need to push boundaries for people to take more responsibility and accountability,” he suggests.

Digital marketing allows leaders to measure, test and learn like never before, which means a degree of failure should be present in everything, Bramall says, but it’s the percentage of failure that’s important. If it’s too high, “that’s when it becomes a problem,” he adds.

He therefore says it is incumbent on leaders to create a “safe environment for failure”.

“If an environment is safe, meaning reflection and learnings are embraced, and failure isn’t repeated then that’s a really powerful thing. Modern leaders really need to embrace that. If you don’t then you won’t get the top output from your team,” he argues.

Without reflection and preparation failure can be a nightmare, but if you can reflect and learn, then if something goes wrong it isn’t a problem.

Gary Bramall, Zoopla

Bramall operates a 70-20-10 model, which is designed to allow marketers to take some calculated risks while focusing the majority of their time on things that have been tried and tested.

So, 70% of the work his team does should be built around things they’ve done before and are almost certain of the outcome. Then 20% is dedicated to things they might have tested a variation of in the past, so it’s not proven to succeed, but success will be within a range.

“And then 10% of what they do should be the bat shit crazy, hail Mary stuff,” he says. “Nine out of 10 of [those projects] will miss, but for the one that works, it has a halo effect.

“If people are doing crazy stuff for 70% of the time then that’s quite risky for a business. But the more risky shots you take and the more you score, the more I’m open to you taking those shots. You win the privilege to risk more if you score more.”

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