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The perfect problem and how to fix it

Our founder Melissa Fretwell got chatting to mentee and all round marketing hot shot Abena Dadey about how perfectionism lives in an imperfect world. This is what she had to say...

Are you the marketer who is yet to publish v51 of a blog post that “just needs a tweak”? Or maybe you’re the one with the “not quite right” social posts sitting in your drafts? The ones you’ve re-written for the third time (!). Or, are you the one who’s delaying that new graphic because “something is missing”?

If any of the above resonates with you, you might just have a case of perfectionism.

As defined by the Cambridge Dictionary, perfectionism is “the wish for everything to be correct or perfect”. Sounds great, in theory. But in practice? Hmmm…

Where does the wish to be perfect originate from? Well, this isn’t entirely clear but as with most personality traits, it appears to be the product of a nature-nurture cocktail. Some causes that are often named include parental style, a fear of failure and a lack of confidence.

Perfectionism – or smatterings of it – definitely has its place in marketing. However, it is a well-known double-edged sword that all marketers must wield with caution.

On one edge of the sword, you have the upsides which shouldn’t be overlooked. Perfectionism can inspire high-quality campaigns that perfectly align with your customers’ needs and produce stunning collateral to be remembered through the ages. There are less likely to be errors in your copy, making for a smoother experience for your readers. It can also motivate a marketer to create events that are bigger and better than ever before.

What about the other edge though? What are some of the downsides of being a Perfect Polly or Percy? Let’s dive in.

Ah, procrastination – that well known thief of time. While there is value in assessing your environment before taking action, it must be balanced with the value of striking while the iron is hot. If not, procrastination may result in you missing a chance to make an impact. Social media marketers know the value of this very well; effective and timely commentary can help keep your audiences engaged in your content. The value of striking while the iron is hot was perfectly demonstrated by the thousands of Twitter users that followed a hilarious thread from Weetabix back in 2021. Kicked off by a somewhat controversial image of Heinz Baked Beans on Weetabix (ugh!), well-known people, brands and organisations everywhere were scrambling to add their signature to the viral hilarity. In situations like this, procrastination may have prevented this thread from getting as many engagements as it did.

Creativity is something that should flow and it will often encounter its ups and downs and its rounds and rounds before it reaches its destination. In fact, that is part of the creative process. Perfectionism may lead to you ironing out this process into a neat linear format; this doesn’t always lend itself to the out-of-the-box thinking that underpins legendary campaigns such as Cadbury's Gorilla from 2007. The neat linear format doesn’t always lend itself to the day-to-day of marketing either. Just because something worked one time doesn’t mean it will work the next time. This is not a surprise as we marketers are painfully aware that our field is not an exact science. Why should we then expect a cookie-cutter formula to work marketing wonders?

It’s great if you can develop a deep expertise in an area but sometimes the quest for perfectionism can lead to some unnecessary pitfalls. If you’re keen to perfect everything before you progress, you may end up unintentionally holding yourself back because of that one small thing that you feel you can’t do. By all means, do your best to make sure you’re competent within your role but you don’t necessarily need a 10/10 proficiency across all marketing skills before progressing. Sometimes, the name of the game is simply to develop your weaknesses to a point where they don’t hold back your strengths.

You can plan as much (or as little) as you like but sometimes, you just will not get your way – the road to marketing hell is paved with good intentions after all. Some unanticipated factor will come out of the blue and derail your efforts. Take for example, this year’s ‘Support Is Everything’ sports bra campaign from Adidas. This writer thinks it was a well thought-out campaign that demonstrated the vast diversity of the world’s décolletage and therefore the importance of catering for different bosoms. However, the Advertising Standards Agency received complaints that described the advert as gratuitous. Just like that, it was “goodbye, well thought-out campaign” and probably months of planning too.

It’s a fact of life and an undeniable truth – you cannot please everyone. It doesn’t matter how hard you try, there will always be that one person who doesn’t quite get your marketing vision. It doesn’t mean that you haven’t done a good job – it just hasn’t resonated with them. After all, not everyone appreciates a gorilla that can play Phil Collins and that’s (mostly) OK. Each to their own. Trying to please everyone is a fruitless pursuit and ultimately a waste of marketing resources.

So, considering these downsides, how can marketers best manage perfectionism in their work lives? A few suggestions:

  1. Adjust your definition of failure. Failing at something could mean that you’re incompetent and unsuccessful. This is a scary thought. However, what if we choose to look at failure from a different perspective and reframe it as a learning opportunity instead? It becomes less scary and perhaps even something to be welcomed. Instead of you “failing” to achieve those click-through rates that you wanted, you are now learning about what may or may not work to increase the clicks on your CTAs.

  2. Boost your confidence. Boosting your confidence directly tackles the lack of it that often underpins perfectionism. How exactly this can be achieved will differ between each individual as everybody will need a different booster. A good place to start though is by identifying what is stopping you from going where you want to go and working on that. You can do this in your own time, possibly through self-study, or maybe you can find a fellow marketer who has the skills you want and learn from them.

  3. Remember, perfection isn’t always the prize. Aiming for polished outputs is never a bad thing in marketing so harness the benefits of perfectionism but also be kind to yourself and constantly keep in mind that being perfect isn’t always the prize. This is especially true if you’re getting anywhere near v51 of that blog post! Besides, all of that time spent reiterating one piece could actually be better spent actioning your learnings for other projects and strengthening yourself as a marketer.

  4. Surround yourself with people who can help you course-correct. Regardless of how self-motivated you are, sometimes, you just need a helpful nudge from someone else to stay on track. To increase the likelihood of getting these helpful nudges, try to surround yourself with people who are aware of your perfectionistic tendencies and can support you to manage them within marketing. This could be your manager, your colleagues or maybe a trusty mentor. Just remember to be honest about what you need so that they can help you avoid the pitfalls of perfectionism.

Be you a perfectionistic marketer or not, hopefully these tips may help you to become more comfortable in your professional practice. It’s not always natural to take on suggestions like these because it often requires you to challenge a long-established mindset – this is no easy feat. Being able to fully embrace the lessons you learn will only work to elevate you from being a good marketer to being a great one. Once you find your own golden ratio to navigate the twists and turns of both the business landscape and your own mentality, you can move one step closer to being the excellent marketer you have always been destined to be. Cheers to that! 😃

If you want to find out about more ways to get your marketing back on course, drop us a line here. We are always up for chat, no strings!

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