The Pointless Pursuit of Perfection

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Apologies to Lexus for abusing their tag line, since perfection in vehicles that move at death-defying speeds is, really, something worth pursuing.

But in marketing, generally speaking, it’s not only a waste of time and money, it can actually hurt you a lot more than simple imperfection. This goes for strategy, tactical efforts and execution of any marketing materials, online or off.

When I was younger and idealistic to the extreme, I would argue with clients over the smallest creative detail. Perfection was something I strove for, regardless of the fact that I never reached or could reach it according to my idealistic standards.

Fortunately for me and many of the clients I’ve worked with, experience taught me a great lesson: concentrate on what matters. God is in the details, but to paraphrase “Animal Farm,” some details are more important than others.

Sometimes clients themselves don’t realize this, especially in b2b, where the pressure to put something in front of their market can feel less acute than in consumer products–even though it actually isn’t (a topic for another day). Said clients spend so much time and effort perfecting their message and its delivery that they literally do nothing for months. How can this possibly be good for business? This dithering takes their attention away from their core business, gives competitors the chance to capture an inordinate share of mind (and in some cases, share of market), and shows a lack of appreciation overall for the law of diminishing returns.

In the 1980s, the great ad agency Chiat/Day had coffee mugs emblazoned with the words, “Good enough is not enough.” It made for a great line and encouraged a young workforce to reach higher. But the truth is, good enough is sometimes good enough. Or even more than good enough. The faster life and business move, the more that becomes true. The important thing is to be out there, talking to and with the audience, and saying something relevant.

Perhaps it’s even more germane to note that “good enough,” “great,” and “perfect” are also all subjective qualities, decidedly in the eyes of the beholder. Chiat/Day’s own “1984″ commercial for Apple almost didn’t run at all because Apple’s Board of Directors hated it. Some of them wanted to fire the agency outright after the final cut was presented. Even when it did air, as many marketing and advertising people thought it was terrible as thought it was great.

One other example, from outside marketing entirely: many early Beatles songs became objects of wonder and worship by fans and musicians alike. But John Lennon, blunt as ever, said that a lot of them were just some crap they came up with quickly to fill out whatever album they were recording at the time. (One favorite of mine, “She’s a Woman,” was written in about 15 minutes out in the hallway during a cigarette break.)

Perfect? Great? Good enough?

Pursuing perfection can cause you to overthink, overwork and generally bleed an idea dry. It’s important to have the perspective to know when to put down your metaphorical pencil.

As Chiat/Day said on behalf of another of their clients, “Just Do It.”

By: John Malecki