Perfectionism: The Marketer’s Enemy

When you consider your work, is perfection your goal?

It’s easy to get obsessed with this idea of bigger and better. Good to great. Great to awesome. Awesome to perfect. You can see how it’s easy to get wrapped up in.

Perfectionism says, “Anything less than perfect is unacceptable.”

That makes me cringe, and it probably does you too. But regardless of definition, it’s easy for perfectionism to sneak in under the guise of greatness or growth or improvement.

Just look around. “Perfect” is a trait that our society touts. We praise business leaders like Steve Jobs (love him!) and Martha Stewart–widely known as perfectionists–and seek to be as detailed and excellence-driven as their enterprises are. Social media only heightens this pursuit of perfect, doesn’t it?

The reality, though, is that true perfectionism is dangerous. It’s linked to higher levels of anxiety, workaholism, depression, and even suicide.

Studies show that many of our culture’s “high achievers” have perfectionistic tendencies. The proclivity toward perfectionism can be in our DNA or a learned behavior, and it shows up in distinct ways in each of us. While these high achievers often enjoy great success, it frequently comes at the expense of an appropriate work-life balance and mental/emotional health.

So, I’m left questioning the line here. I–like most of you–want to produce excellent work, but I’d like to do so while maintaining my sanity, protecting time for my family, and not being overly critical.

In theory, done > perfect. Yes. It’s said a lot, and I agree. But when done = poor, we have a problem with the equation.

So here’s where I’ve landed: excellence should be the standard–but without tipping the scales toward perfectionism. It’s a balance we’ll have to forever keep in check. I firmly believe we can pay attention to detail, strive for greatness, and always be improving (all the reasons that leaders like Jobs are praised), while not falling into the trap of “anything less than perfection is unacceptable.”

Because the truth is, that trap is a devastating one. And professionally, it’s perhaps most devastating in marketing, among all industries.

Perfectionism kills good marketing. Here are four reasons why:

Ain’t nobody got time for perfect.

Perfectionism often comes out in long, careful thought processes–which too easily lead to procrastination and paralysis. Digital marketing has zero allowance for this. Best practices require quick turnarounds. Real-time data means real-time tweaks. Whether it’s landing page changes or social media messaging edits, smart marketing means continual adjustments to reach maximum audience engagement. The speed of analysis and amendment leaves no room for perfection.

It takes a village.

The marketing that we do here at CCA takes a team to execute. It involves many distinct skill sets: copywriter, designer, developer. You get it: lots of people. And a single standard of perfection put on numerous people is immediately a disaster. In integrating many distinct understandings of “perfect” into one product or one process, you end up with tense fear of error, micromanagement, and endless critique. “Imperfect” work is devalued, and individual confidence is undermined.

You can’t do it all.

The nature of marketing is that there’s always more that can be done. One more ad campaign, one more tweet, one more endorsement, one more freebie giveaway. When you’re never truly done, the inner perfectionist has no rest. The cycle of “it’s never done” will eat you alive if you let it (believe me, I’ve been there!). That’s where the power of “good enough” (or “great enough!”) comes in. It’s important to choose the very best strategies for a campaign and rock them–without focusing on everything else that “should” have been done.

It’s an innovative art–not a science.

While there are plenty of formulas and frameworks built into strong marketing, it’s an art–not a science–at its core. Creative and strategic innovation is the name of the game. There’s simply no space for perfectionism beside creativity, especially when that creativity is built around the behavior of unpredictable humans. To strive for “perfect” marketing all the time is to take the artist and the innovator out of the marketer and the heart out of the consumer. And what’s more, truly innovative marketing requires risk, which means you have to be comfortable with making a mistake every now and then.

Creativity and innovation leave no space for perfectionism. Click To Tweet

Here are a few ways I keep perfectionism in check:

  • Set goals based on realistic metrics
  • Invite my family and close friends to call me out
  • Ask my clients and my staff for feedback
  • Discuss what “great” looks like and set expectations around that standard
  • Model “good enough” and grace with my team
  • Acknowledge and honor authentic effort, regardless of outcome

At the end of the day, “perfect” marketing is not a thing. To aim for that is to fail. What should we strive to be instead? Strategic. Innovative. Creative. Thoughtful. Knowledgeable. Competitive. That’s what wins.