Seek Perfection and Ye Shall Find … Eventually

Perfection. It does exist, in certain realms. Think of the piston in an engine sized precisely to fit in its cylinder. The evolution of the shark. A hole in one (or 18 of them in a single round). The arrangement of the studs on a Lego brick. They are measurably, objectively and provably impossible to improve upon.

What about Hamlet? Mona Lisa? The Supermarine Spitfire Mk XIV? Eleanor Rigby? Compared to perfection, they fall far short. They might be loved more than loathed, but they are definitely loathed by some. Their qualities are subjective and open to debate.

That brings us to marketing. A campaign’s success can certainly be measured after it’s run its course. You can measure sales before and after it and, with external influences ruled out, measure how good it was. With digital marketing you can measure site visits, track users through the funnel and see how many convert.

But that’s after the campaign is over. All the work that goes on before it is just guesswork, albeit based on experience. Anyone who’s worked in marketing will know that sometimes the half-hearted campaigns fly while intricately scoped ones flop.

Camels and committees

Another experience anyone in marketing will have endured is rejection. You send your work to a client or superior, they come back with comments. You address the comments and re-send it, only for a different person to give their own flavour of criticism. The process continues until everyone is happy. Except you. If you compare the finished, signed-off product with your original submission, you’ll usually find that it’s probably about the same in terms of quality.

That’s not an indictment of constructive criticism, of course. We all need to be knocked off our high creative horses from time to time. (And sometimes we’re just plain wrong.) It’s more a comment on the idea that within every creative endeavour, there’s The Perfect Job just waiting to be unlocked by a few rounds of interdepartmental feedback. Inside every blog post there’s a piston, a hole in one or even a lowly Hamlet just screaming for release.

Get it published!

Risk aversion is, by nature, quite a healthy aversion to have. The risk of a campaign should be worth the potential gains should it be a success. Your Christmas TV ad is worth splashing the cash on because if done well, it’ll get people talking about your brand, win trust and make money. But for the most part, those of us writing marketing copy aren’t working on Christmas TV ads. We’re doing blog posts, product descriptions, emails, direct mail, content marketing pieces. We might be doing several dozen of each every year.

This might sound like a scandalous thing to say, but they don’t all need to be Shakespeare. They need to be analysed, processed, designed, written and sent before moving on to the next job. The “risk”, or the investment, is a few hours of team time. The return is that it will form part of a wider ongoing campaign, be it to raise awareness, to enhance the client’s position in search or whatever. Unless you do something so bad it sinks the company, any single piece of content will probably achieve its modest aims.

Even if it’s rubbish?

This is not a call to spend as little time and effort on every job as possible. That’s almost guaranteed to result in garbage. But it pays to recognise that the small parts of an overarching effort have potential ROIs that should influence the amount of time and effort that go into them. Spiralling costs through micromanaging every small piece of creative turns the risk/reward fraction on its head. It’s improper. And it’s vulgar.

Experts know what they’re doing

There’s one way to keep work as far up the perfection scale as possible. It’s hiring good people. They might charge a bit more than bad people per hour, but they combine instinct, ability and experience to get to a good place sooner. Trust good people to do good work. Appraise their output with an eye for factual wrongness or branding crimes, but be prepared to let it progress with minimal interference and move on to the next job.

The world’s best ad agencies – with all their resources, focus groups and deep analysis capabilities – still manage to launch duds from time to time. What are the chances that taking two hours to change the wording of a sentence in a blog post will be the making of your company?

Perfection is perhaps out there. It’s possibly true that given enough time, you could craft a blog post, a newsletter or a press release to make it perfect in the eyes of all who read it. But when you consider its possible benefits, you might wish you’d spent the time differently.

Image: Moon