Why The Best Marketing Strategy Starts and Ends With Imperfection

We’ve all heard the adage “practice makes perfect,” right? As it turns out, that’s just plain wrong.

I was at lunch with a psychologist friend, and we were discussing perfection. “I’ve learned in my counseling that where humans are involved, nothing makes perfect,” he said. “Practice does not make perfect. Practice makes permanent.”

Now that’s an adage marketers can work with. How many times have we envisioned a “perfect” marketing campaign only to find flaws in the end result?

In truth, the best marketing strategy intentionally plans for less than perfect results. Prepare for mistakes – with clear “imperfection” demarcation points to dictate course corrections or pivots – because marketing campaigns today are better served with a reactive mentality versus a proactive one.

When Perfection Breaks Down

In the ’90s, I was a young vice president of corporate communications for AT&T Wireless. We were about to launch a revolutionary new service and planned a large-scale rollout announcement with a host of media and advertising options set to crescendo at the launch.

We thought we were prepared for everything. Then, our perfect plan sprung a leak.

Bloomberg Business broke the story the night before the announcement – effectively stealing our thunder. After the initial panic, our head of media relations asked one simple question: “What can we do now to make this announcement go better than we originally planned?”

She suggested using the leak to fuel effective, more extensive broadcast media coverage the next day. The adjustment resulted in millions of dollars of positive media impressions and a wildly successful campaign launch.

The Lesson I Learned

Recovering from a mishap requires experience, brains and the courage to pivot mid-step.

“Some people work so hard to get it absolutely right that they don’t have the bandwidth to do all the other things that go into making a business successful,” said Mark Cuban.

Instead of expecting a perfect result, try these four strategies that will boost your chances for success:

1. Recognize that the perfect plan requires imperfection

Your plan isn’t perfect until you build systems to account for imperfections. In athletics, the best practices involve situational decision-making drills; the same is true for marketing. Run through your plan: What could happen — good or bad — that would alter it? Could you do anything beforehand to improve the potential outcome?

Once you’ve run through the pitfalls, it’s a good idea to set early warning systems and if-then scenarios to signal appropriate times to pivot. “If this happens” warnings give marketers the courage to make “then we make this change” decisions and removes last-minute indecision from the equation.

2. Understand your audience

Smart marketers spend time considering exactly who their audience members are and what motivates them. Consider the 18- to 49-year-old demographic; what do a 49-year-old man and an 18-year-old woman have in common? A current trend in marketing is to use audience-based marketing personas as a segmenting strategy. It’s a good idea and one worth considering in every “perfect” plan.

3. Find the key to the consumer’s wallet

In our agency, we’re big fans of what we refer to as “wallet” differentiation. With this concept, you’ve found something that’s different from what your competitors are offering and that customers would gladly pay for. It’s challenging to find real wallet differentiation, but without it, your perfect plan doesn’t stand a chance.

4. Look the customer in the eye

Every plan lives and dies by the feedback you receive after the plan begins.

Study the success of your plan early in the launch and at each subsequent milestone. Don’t wait until the plan is finished because with the digital marketing analytics available today, there are plenty of ways to quickly get iterative feedback that pinpoints content engagement. Make sure you’re getting the data, running your if-then formula against it, and making proper adjustments.

In my more than 25 years in the industry, I’ve never seen a more dynamic, fluid environment for marketers than today. It may seem paradoxical, but with a volatile climate that seems virtually impossible to control, planning in marketing has never been more important. And the “perfect” marketing plan begins and ends with imperfection.

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