Business runs in cycles, both in economic cycles and in the cycle of ideas. Back when I was working in product development, a hot trend was the idea of making correctible decisions, rather than perfect decisions. This morphed into “making your mistakes early,” so you could learn from them during the beginning of the development process, when you still had a chance to adjust.

Now, some years later, this same concept has currency again, only this time it is known by a different moniker: “fail fast.” You can see this in the attempted reworking of the drug development process: Let’s figure out early which drug candidates have high toxicity, the thinking goes, and shunt them over to the oncology programs before we put too much money into their development.

Making correctible decisions, making mistakes early, failing fast – all of these share a common theme, and all can be translated into the marketing arena. The common theme hinges around accelerating the point at which a solution encounters the real world to determine (through real-world feedback rather than theory) what issues the solution does address, and what issues it doesn’t yet address.

So what does it mean to fail fast in marketing? One implication involves finding ways to conduct research with users, early and often. Technology helps enable this research. Internet panels, Facebook pages, LinkedIn groups, YouTube videos – all of these are methods to get content in front of users so that you can get feedback.

But technology is only the answer if the question is: HOW do we get our communications in front of users in order to ask for feedback? The much more important question is: WHAT do you do with the information you receive?

Which brings to mind the quote by David Ogilvy: “I notice increasing reluctance on the part of marketing executives to use judgment; they are coming to rely too much on research, and they use it as a drunkard uses a lamp post for support, rather than for illumination.”

Judgment and interpretation are crucial. Allowing a small number of lowest common denominator responses to limit your marketing strategy, that indeed is the fastest way to failure.