Where do unshipped marketing assets go when they die?
We imagine a place called Marketing Purgatory.
It’s a gloomy world where unused ads, landing pages and email campaigns mope around, waiting for the day they’ll finally launch.
Sadly, it’s a day that will never come.
Some of these assets were killed by zealous CEOs.
Others were banished by boardrooms.
A few died at the hands of their own creators.
Sometimes these marketing assets had it coming. Had their authors launched them into the world, they would have faced humiliation. Rejection. Failure.
But 9 times out of 10, marketing teams pointlessly send their finished work to Marketing Purgatory.
While they hold back everything that doesn’t meet their arbitrary definition of “perfect”, their competitors — who are willing to ship fast — zoom past them.
The faster you ship work, the faster you get feedback from your market. The faster you get feedback, the faster you improve. The faster you improve, the faster you grow.
It follows that teams that ship fast have a competitive advantage over their slow-shipping counterparts.
But to ship work faster, you need to adopt certain attitudes and habits.
This article offers those attitudes and habits so you can build a process for getting assets to market with minimal friction and without needless delays.
You might already have a process for brainstorming, writing, recording, editing and designing content.
Why not have an equally strong process for getting that content to market?
Here are 7 marketing tips to help you develop such a process.
Marketing Tip #1: We will embrace imperfection
“Perfection” is a figment of marketers’ imaginations.
There’s no version of your homepage that makes everyone in your organization swoon and every visitor convert.
And even if there was, it would stop being “perfect” the moment your market dynamics shift or when new employees join your company.
Product teams know this well. They never try to launch the final version of a product. They prioritize updates for the next release and save everything else for the following sprint.
This mindset frees you to ship — and learn — faster.
Of course, not all marketing decisions carry the same level of risk.
Making big changes to your pricing page? The stakes are high. If you muck it up, you could kill your business’s lifeline.
Waffling over an Oxford comma in your newsletter? There are no stakes. (Unless you consider pissing off some grammar nerd “stakes”.)
When we argue you should ship faster, we don’t mean you should dive off every cliff without checking the water level first.
Instead, we argue that you should consider the level of risk involved and allocate your time appropriately.
This might seem obvious, but how often do we end up spending the same amount of time on two different landing pages, even though one gets 10x the traffic?
When you’re in the weeds, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that some assets are more valuable than others.
The same thing happens when we put too many options in front of ourselves.
Hick’s Law describes the effect of having way too many options in front of you to choose from.
More options = more complexity = more difficult decisions.
Think about how our parents (or grandparents) watched tv:
→ Turn on TV (3 seconds)
→ Decide which of the 3 available channels you want (10 seconds)
→ See what hijinks Wally & the Beaver get into
Now think about how different that is from how we watch TV:
→ Turn on TV (3 seconds)
→ Decide between Hulu, Netflix, Disney+, HBOMax, Peacock, YouTubeTV, etc. (10 minutes)
→ Scroll through a universe of content to land on a 20 minute episode (30 minutes)
→ Play that same episode of the Office you’ve seen 28 times and spend the whole time scrolling Reddit anyway
We’re cursed with FOBO (fear-of-a-better-option) in our personal and professional lives.
And it’s up to us as marketers not to let FOBO stop us from shipping our work.
Some decisions are worth days of internal debate and cost-benefit analysis. But most only deserve about 15 minutes of your team’s time.
While the large, comfortable incumbents in your space probably spend hours debating no- and low-stakes decisions, speed-to-decision is a competitive advantage you can build to outperform them.
If you’re working on your website, make sure you can roll back any changes in case performance tanks.
But when stakes are low — and they often are — ask yourself, “what’s the ROI of spending more time on this?” The difference between 99% there and 100% there probably won’t be reflected on your balance sheet.
Camille Trent, Director of Content & Community at PeerSignal.org, says:
“Once you prove you can spike growth with something you created fairly quickly, it gives you the confidence to keep moving fast.”
Stacking small wins doesn’t require you to be “perfect” at all.
Repeat after us: “Perfect is impossible”.
Trying to reach perfection is not worth weeks or months of your team’s time.
Accepting that you’re never done is the first step to becoming a badass shipper of great work.
Marketing Tip #2: We will take extreme ownership of our work
It’s heartbreaking when great marketing gets steamrolled by leadership, sales or product teams to become — let’s be honest — worse.
Unfortunately, many marketing teams are frequently overruled by other functions when they should be leading the creative effort.
We suspect some teams secretly like how this dynamic lets them off the hook. If someone else kills all your ideas, you’ll never have to risk failure or blame.
The marketer who says, “the CEO will never let us do that,” really means:
“I’m happy to pretend it’s someone else’s fault we never try anything cool.”
In our experience, we’ve seen that top-performing marketers aren’t scared of being a little…territorial.
Ingrain the habit of advocating for your work.
When you share your work with others, explain the reasoning behind your decisions. Whenever possible, tell them what data informed your work.
It’s like the famous copy machine study conducted by Ellen Langer at Harvard in the 1970s — the one Robert Cialdini explains in Influence.
In the study, a researcher would approach people waiting in line to use a copy machine and ask to skip ahead.
The researchers phrased the request in 3 different ways:
- Request with no reason: “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine?”
- Request with a good reason: “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush?”
- Request with a bad reason: “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make copies?”
Regarding that last request:
Everyone in line for the Xerox machine needs to make copies. That’s what the Xerox machine is for.
So how did line-waiters respond to these requests?
When the researcher provided no reason to skip ahead, only 60% of line-waiters agreed.
When the researcher provided a good reason to skip ahead — that they were in a rush — that percentage increased to 94%.
Here’s the fun part.
When the researcher provided a bad reason — that they simply needed to make copies — 93% of line-waiters agreed.
Cialdini put it like this:
“When we ask someone to do us a favor we will be more successful if we provide a reason. People like to have reasons for what they do.”
And as the study showed, those reasons don’t exactly need to be bulletproof.
(We’ll show you a tactical way to get buy-in from stakeholders when we get to Proclamation #6)
And when it comes time for other teams to weigh in, you need to take control of the feedback process.
If you email your CEO a homepage design with the word “thoughts?”, bad feedback is coming your way. And you deserve it.
You left the door open, so don’t complain when the mosquitos fly in.
So along with your new mindset of “extreme ownership”, you can start building the habit of structuring the feedback process.
Here are 3 questions you can use to shape incoming feedback:
1) Do you find any sections of this content confusing from our end users’ perspective? If so, how would you go about making it more understandable? Please be specific.
2) Are there any elements of this content that you believe don’t support [YOUR COMPANY]’s underlying product positioning, brand identity, or customer needs? Please be specific.
3) Are there any sections you believe don’t add value and/or could be deleted? If so, why?
There’s a massive difference between being unapproachable and defending your work to achieve the best possible end product. When other departments realize they better come to the table with a thoughtful rationale to be able to give you feedback, the dialogue becomes far more productive.
Follow this advice, and never again will you have to hear another reviewer say, “Can you make it pop a little more?”
Marketing Tip #3: We will put our audience’s needs above our personal preferences
If we showed you 100 A/B tests, how many times would you correctly predict the winner?
According to some fascinating data analyzed by Jakub Linkowski, the answer might be closer to 60.
The good news is that we’re slightly more accurate than a coin flip.
The bad news is that we’re slightly more accurate than a coin flip.
But surely seasoned copywriters and conversion rate optimization professionals are much better at predicting success, right? Right?!
It turns out that our personal preferences don’t predict marketing performance.
So if veteran marketers can’t accurately predict what’s going to work, certainly the CEO won’t be any better. And the CEO’s spouse, brother-in-law and basset hound can’t really help us either.
Here’s what we as marketers need to remind ourselves and those who are giving us feedback:
Our audience’s preferences matter far more than our own.
Our audience decides what to read. What to click. What to watch. What to buy.
Marketing Tip #4: We will define everyone’s roles
You’ve heard the saying, “too many cooks spoil the broth.”
Marketing assets are like broth. When too many people are involved, the product tends to spoil.
Define everyone’s roles in advance.
One of the most popular frameworks for assigning project roles is the DACI, which stands for:
The Driver is responsible for driving the project forward and hitting deadlines. The project should have exactly one Driver.
The Approver is the person who has final say on what gets shipped. The Approver’s job is to sign off on high-quality work. The Approver may consult with other stakeholders, but ultimately, the project should have exactly one Approver.
The Contributors are the people who are involved in creating the work. Contributors often include copywriters, designers and developers. Aim to limit Contributors to the smallest number needed to do great work.
The Informed are the stakeholders who need to be aware of what’s happening. For example, someone in a Sales leadership role may need to know when your website messaging changes so they can prep salespeople.
As we mentioned for contributors, you should aim to keep this group to the smallest possible number.
Product teams have the MVP: the minimum viable product.
Marketing teams should have an MVNOC: the minimum-viable-number-of-collaborators (say that 10 times fast).
In software development, there’s a concept known as Brooks’s Law (no relation to any authors).
Brooks’s Law states that adding collaborators to a late software project only makes it later.
There are many theories as to why this happens, but to keep it simple: more collaborators means more complexity. And complexity slows you down.
Of course, collaboration is good and necessary. We’re not advocating that a team of 1 is better than a team of 5.
Instead, we suggest being deeply mindful when you decide how many cooks get to touch the broth.
Marketing Tip #5: We will align stakeholders early and often
There’s a concept in cybersecurity called “shifting left”.
Here’s the gist:
Before you ship software, you have to make sure it’s secure. Otherwise, you might make some hackers really happy.
So before teams release software, they test it for security vulnerabilities.
The problem is, if you wait until the last second to test, any vulnerabilities you find could be really hard to fix. You might have to undo and redo a ton of work. It’s like building a whole house only to find out the foundation is riddled with termites.
“Shifting security left” means testing for vulnerabilities early and often in the development process. So you don’t have to redo all your work every time you find a security bug. You fix issues as they arise.
The same idea applies to marketing.
It’s far less costly to kill an idea when it’s just an idea than it is to kill written, edited and designed assets.
To minimize any major project re-work, it pays to lay each project phase block-by-block using briefs, outlines and wireframes.
Briefs → thinking & strategy:
The goal of the brief is to ensure the project is firmly rooted in business strategy.
Here it’s important to answer questions like:
– What’s our positioning?
– Are we targeting a particular customer segment?
– How is this different from everything in our market?
– What’s our unique angle when talking about our product?
– What about this campaign is unique to our company?
– How much does our audience already know about our brand / product / category?
Outlines → structure & ideas:
Outlines are where you can document the raw ideas that need to be communicated.
This is where you write down what you’re going to say before you’ve figured out how you’re going to say it.
We recommend getting stakeholders to approve your outlines before you start executing. By the time the feedback stage rolls around, the conversation will be more focused on surface-level & stylistic edits, rather than structural changes, which take far more time.
Here’s an example:
“Hey team! Before moving forward, I’d like to get your signoff on the ideas we’ll be communicating on the new product page. Please let me know if you think there are any major messages that need to be changed, added or removed before we start drafting.
– Message 1
– Message 2
– Message 3
Low-fi wireframes / designs → execution & creative:
We’re big fans of using wireframes and low-fi designs because it gives everyone a sense of what the content or copy will ultimately look like. This is especially helpful when working with designers, because they’re not left guessing which blocks of text go where.
Low-fi means you’re not worrying about colors or typography. Instead you’re focused on the copy and its layout.
Take this example for SaaS sales tool Yesware, from wireframe to finished copy:
When stakeholders are in the loop throughout the project, you’re less likely to run into last-minute problems where all your hard work goes to waste. Or Marketing Purgatory.
Marketing Tip #6: We will seek commitment, not consensus
In 2004 it came out that Jeff Bezos outlawed PowerPoint slide decks during corporate Amazon meetings in favor of something radically different.
Instead, each meeting starts with attendees sitting and silently reading a “6-page, narratively structured memo” for the first 30 minutes.
The goal of each memo is to:
– Create the context for a thoughtful discussion
– Get to the truth and critical thinking as quickly as possible
– Force the author to clarify their own thinking before bringing it to the team
And, well, it’s pretty safe to say that this different style of management thinking worked out well for Amazon.
We recommend the Project Contributor create a “Strategy Explanation”. This could be a video or a written summary that explains the “why” behind the content. The explainer could be 10 minutes or 5 minutes but it needs to answer the questions:
– How does this content accomplish our main goals?
– How does this align with our current brand / style?
– Why were certain decisions made over others?
Simply answer these questions and you’ve significantly lowered the likelihood of internal bottlenecks and ill-advised feedback.
When every project stakeholder is aligned on committing to a strategy, rather than consensus on what we “like” — the feedback and shipping phases become faster and more productive at the same time.
Think of it like warming up before a workout.
If you don’t have time to warm up, you don’t have time to exercise.
Because oftentimes the warm up is what separates the elite performers from the runners up.
Some even call Michael Phelps’s insane pre-race warm up routine the reason for all those gold medals. (Though we concede his freakishly amphibious body might have played a role.)
Likewise with Bezos, who mandated “meeting warmups” to avoid unfruitful discussions.
Marketing Tip #7: We will not be overly-reliant on other teams
This may be one of the quickest wins on this list: removing cross-functional dependencies.
It’s hard to ship fast when it takes 6 weeks for your in-house developers to build you that landing page.
Ian Adams, who leads Marketing at Yesware, dealt with this problem in his early days at the company:
“Before I took over, our main website was all custom code and our blog used WordPress. Any changes we needed to make required a web developer.
Every month, Marketing and Product were both requesting changes, which created a backlog. The best case scenario meant we had to wait 4–6 weeks to get a new change made.
Ian removed the bottleneck by switching to a no-code website builder:
“I recommend moving to technology that enables entry level roles to make Marketing changes. This will radically speed up release cycles. When we moved our website to Webflow, we were no longer reliant on a web developer. We could make same-day changes for smaller projects and complete big rock projects in less than 4 weeks.”
Think: Where are your biggest bottlenecks?
Now think: What resources — human or technological — can you use to remove them?
If your in-house developers slow you down, can you outsource the work to a third party? Or switch to a no-code tool like Ian did?
The Business Bottom Liners:
- Show your work, ship your assets, and let the market give you the feedback to make it better. The work is never done, and it’s freeing to tattoo that mindset on the inside of your skull.
- There are no hard and fast rules or prescriptive universal tactics. That’s why you should use this guide as a foundation to build a process that works for you.
- Ingraining these habits requires zero extra budget. Instead, it requires you to unlearn the “big expensive campaign” mindset and instead opt to be agile instead.