A Tale of Marketing Halloween Horrors

Marketing Automation


This spooky Halloween tale is not for the faint of heart (in terms of marketing disasters, that is). Legend has it that this is based on a true story…

One mid-October day as the wind-blown leaves of Autumn collected along the sidewalks of the metropolis, marketers from Amazing Brand were heading to work early to get ready to launch their annual Halloween-a-thon campaign. The team had made all of the usual preparations and just needed to finalize their orange and black content that had been carefully laid out in all of the usual rigor.

Igor, who was newly promoted to VP of Marketing, was excited to have his first chance to lead the team in executing the renowned Halloween-a-thon campaign. He sat at his desk carefully reviewing all of the creatives and campaign flows that would put the company in the black for the rest of the year. This year was particularly unique because the campaign had grown so large in recent year that the team was considering moving to a new marketing automation platform. Albeit they never quite made the move…

Igor planning

Everything was on track and running smoothly. It had been a busy year, with tons of planning sessions for this one campaign. Igor had gathered all of the right players and despite the decision to forego investing in a new platform, he had effectively prevented the last-minute rush that they had experienced in previous years. Igor had leveraged historical skills in campaign management through detailed spreadsheets, color-coded deliverables, and timelines for the marketing team.

Igor reflected, “Sure, it’s time for Amazing Brand to graduate to some of the newer techniques for automating our campaigns, but with a team like ours, we’ve got this thing on lockdown.” He smiled to himself as he thought about how his current practices were driving anticipated increases that would likely set him on a path to promotion sometime next year. Things were looking good!

At 3pm, Igor would stand in front of the entire team to rally everyone for the official launch that would go out at 10am the next morning. He smiled as he envisioned a room full of clapping and cheering. This would be the perfect Halloween.

Something’s Brewing in the Cauldron

Meanwhile, Fran Stein, Amazing Brand’s GVP of Marketing, was having a long morning in the executive boardroom. As they were discussing the projections for the final quarter of the year, the board had once again questioned the company’s dependence on the annual Halloween-a-thon campaign to put the company in the black. Last year had been full of last-minute changes and it sure seemed like a lot was riding on this one marketing push. They demanded more.

Fran knew that adding a second annual push would require more resources than she had available and the board was always reluctant to add marketing staff, questioning the returns of each program. Thumbing through Igor’s print-outs, Fran struggled to make sense of the team’s current workload. “There’s always more room in the schedule…where’s Igor?!?” she thought to herself. “We must pull out all stops this year! I have just the plan!!!”

The Perfect Halloween…Disaster

“Igor! Igor! We’ve got to talk!”

Fran came striding into Igor’s office…she was on a mission. He was just about to give her an update about his fully-loaded project status from the open spreadsheet on his screen when Fran cut him off.

“Igor…we’ve got too much riding on this year’s Halloween-a-thon” said Fran as Igor nodded in agreement. “We need to add a second major campaign push.”

Igor knew where she was going with this. They had been over it many times. To bring in more revenue, they would need to run more campaigns to generate demand from their potential and existing customers. And to prove the ROI of their efforts, they needed a way to track and measure their campaigns. This was simply impossible to accomplish on their current platform.

“Igor…” she continued “Do you remember our idea for targeting those extra audience groups this year? How long would it take to get them together?” Igor took a deep breath, walked Fran through the project spreadsheets for the hundredth time, and swallowed hard. They had talked about the two additional audience groups, which was really another 10 sub-groups in total. They had initially agreed that these were not likely to be needed since the schedule was already fully loaded—though Fran usually nodded in agreement like a deer-in-headlights since she struggled to follow all of his multi-threaded worksheets.

Ultimately, misinformed as it might have been, Igor had made the decision to put the precautionary preparations on the back burner to help his team focus their time on making the core campaign top-notch. After all, who could argue with his well-documented and over-communicated spreadsheets that showed the team being fully loaded? Didn’t they know they could always come by his desk to look at them? But Igor was beginning to regret his decision not to invest in the marketing automation platform he was evaluating, which had a top notch marketing calendar that could plan, organize, and communicate marketing plans in real-time across the organization in a single, unified view.

Igor responded methodically as Fran had the reputation of being a bit of a mad scientist when leading the Halloween-a-thon in previous years—some people nearly quit on the spot. “Yes, we discussed them. Given our resource constraints and previous discussions, I had placed them on the back burner with our initial decision to heighten the results from the core audiences with personalized content—and with our systems, that alone wasn’t easy.”

Fran responded rapidly as if she hadn’t even heard him. Igor could see the fire in her eyes. “How quickly can we get this second campaign out the door?” asked Fran, getting up to leave with the decision already made in her mind. Igor looked out the window to see that the weather, which had been gray all morning, had ushered in some darker and foreboding storm clouds. His previously pleasant fall day seemed to be taking a turn for worse.

Igor thinking

He began to outline the steps, “There are so many pieces we’d need to manually build out…the content, the audiences…and we need to personalize messaging for each of those…all within the next 16 hours if we’re going to make the deadline…and that really doesn’t include proofs and copyedits.” But Igor could see a distant and increasingly fiery look in Fran’s eyes, one he’d seen in previous years. A slight shiver ran through his spine as Fran declared her decision as if he wasn’t even in the room…“Bring me the pieces!!!”

A small bolt of lightning flashed in the distance at the announcement and Fran departed the room with crazed focus surrounding her every step.

Sticks and Stones May Break Their Bones, But More Campaigns Could Kill Them

Igor stood nervously in front of the room as his 30-person marketing team gathered in anticipation of a positive affirmation of a job well done for this year’s Halloween-a-thon. Some were even expecting a bonus for their hard work. Outside the conference room windows, Igor could see that the clouds were growing in darkness and every-so-often flashes of lightning would outline the increasing darkness.

The team had tirelessly worked to identify their target audiences to make sure that this year’s big offer delivered on expectations. Not to mention, they had worked seven long months to develop the creatives and ad placements that would make this year even bigger than the last.

He began, clearing his throat more often than usual with anticipation of how the group would react. “Team, I want to thank you for the tremendous efforts you have put into our most important campaign this year. As a result, we have been far ahead of the typical schedule.”

Members of the audiences smiled and patted each other on the back, excited for the chance at a break and even the potential announcement of certain rewards. A feeling of shared relief stirred, having made it to the finish line despite archaic methods and tools for delivering on their advanced marketing objectives.

Unexpectedly, Igor looked down, turned away from the spot he had been standing, and paced in front of the group. “As you know, this is the most important campaign of the year and a lot is riding on our results. I’ve been asked to expand our efforts a little farther…”

A low groan moved over the room…it was like a bad dream. From somewhere in the back of the crowd, someone shrieked in fear, “There’s just no way…we don’t have the time or tools for these kinds of last-minute changes…” It was clear by the looks on their faces that the collective thought was the same. Even Igor didn’t know how they were going to accomplish this, but he knew they had to try.

Later that day…

“She’s been pacing the floor, micro-managing us” said Beth, the Email Marketing Manager.

“The whole thing is going to fall apart,” said Al, Head of Web Development. “She keeps repeating “Bring it to life!! Bring it to life!!”

“I’m really concerned that we can’t build out our segments in time” stated Justine, the Manager of Segmentation. “My team is leveraging old-school SQL queries. While we can hit go on the queries in about an hour, we won’t know until 11pm whether or not the results line up and make sense.”

Igor nodded. “We must deliver this, no matter how much of a monster we think it might turn out to be.” He pivoted—his crew was top notch and they had done such a great job up to this point. Just a few more changes and they would be home free. “Ok team, we’ve got this…let’s go through the list one more time.”

Knowing the drill, they reviewed the executables. Each knew the other was nearing the breaking point. Through Igor’s office window, they could see Fran Stein pacing the floor, lightning from the storm flashing in the background and rain beginning to hit the roof.

Beth began, “Email sends require the audience segments to be prepped and ready by 11pm. My team is working on 10 different email layouts, since each one requires individual HTML coding to line up the proper segment to the right content.” Beth continued, “We’re also waiting on the creative team to finish up some of the graphics in order to finalize the email layouts.”

Al chimed in, “We’ll take the same creatives and upload them to individual landing pages that match each of the audiences. And we’re trying to modify the self-coded JavaScript to dynamically adjust our core website for the new audiences, but that just doesn’t seem doable in this timeline.”

Dejected, Justine gave the final update from the segmentation team, “As mentioned, we’ve got one shot at building these audiences through our current database querying process. If the queries or counts are off, the whole thing is shot. Only time will tell.”

Igor attempted to rally the team, though in the back of his mind he realized the full value of what it would have meant to have a sophisticated marketing automation platform that could scale all of their efforts. “Alright, we’re capable and if this is what Fran wants, then this is what Fran gets. For the love of marketing, we must bring this to life! Go get ‘em team!”

The team scurried off but looked back at Igor’s office as he delivered the message to Fran. It didn’t look like it was going well at all.

Justine spoke in a near whisper, “Geez! I mean we know that this was an impossible ask! We got the counts back from the audience queries at 10:45pm and they were all messed up, just not enough time to validate the data pull to support the campaign. My team is so very frustrated, everything was already setup as of this morning! If only we got approval to move forward with self-updating segmentation in the marketing automation platform we were evaluating.”

Beth agreed, “Yes, our email system is just not built for these last minute changes. Some of our folks are so new… who would have thought that Danny would unintentionally affect the code on the other messages that were already set to go out. Now we’re under the gun to get the core emails reconfigured and we’ll be lucky if this gets done! This would have been far easier with the dynamic content in some of the newer marketing automation platforms; right now it’s a completely manual process.”

Al shook his head. “Well, if it’s not bad enough that all of the emails probably won’t go out on time, we just couldn’t create that many landing pages for our website in time. This whole thing is a wash and my team is getting ready to walk out! A newer system would have allowed for automatic website personalization, which includes landing pages, without large amounts of coding.”

Moments later, the door to Igor’s office flew open, banging into the wall as Fran spoke loudly so that all could hear. “Heavy misfortunes have befallen us, but let us only cling closer to what remains!!! I expect the team to bring this monstrosity to life!!!” She stormed off down the hall towards her office.

Stepping out slowly, Igor noticed that the nameplate on his office had fallen to the floor. He bent over to pick it up and prepared to push the sticky-side back on top of the old nameplate that once belonged to Fran before his promotion. As he glanced at it, he experienced a strange feeling as it revealed Fran’s middle initial, Fran K. Stein.

Shaking off the feeling, Igor signaled for everyone on the floor to gather around. Worn out faces, frustration, and even anger poured out from each set of eyes. As the rain poured down and the storm caused the lights to flicker, some held laptops in hand, while others squeezed stress balls.

He began as steadily as possible. “Team, we must get this back on track. We must deliver on the Halloween-a-thon!”…he looked down…then up…“and we must get all of this out by tomorrow morning!”

Faces turned from downcast to distraught and angry. Someone from the marketing team cried out…“Where is this Fran Stein!!!…I’ll let her know it’s impossible!!!” The murmurs grew to a throng of voices with people rushing back to their desks to grab laptops, reports, examples, and more. It looked like someone even grabbed some duct tape. “We’ll seal her in her office!” someone cried. A few appeared to be heading to for the exits.

Just then, with a great rumble from the clouds and the rain pounding on the roof in great torrents, a great flash of lightning struck and the lights went out.

‘Til Next Spooky Season…

Did the team make the deadline? Did the creatives come together at the last minute? Did the revolt end in dramatic chaos for Dr. Fran K. Stein? On this Halloween, no one knows…

One thing’s for certain: it’s time for Amazing Brands to adopt a sophisticated marketing automation platform that can deliver on all of the requirements the team needed to improve scalability, increase consistency, reduce manual effort, and pull together the reporting that shows campaign ROI. Then again, this is Halloween and things don’t usually go according to plan.