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Marketing: When to Let Go and Try Something Different

Aspiring writers are often advised to “kill your darlings.” This bit of wisdom, originally attributed to English writer Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, reminds writers that no matter how proud they may be of an idea, word or section of prose, if it isn’t contributing effectively to the story as a whole, it’s better to let it go. Many marketers could benefit from this advice as well.

When we’re brainstorming marketing campaign ideas, it’s easy to get attached to a concept, whether or not it will work in reality. It could be a clever headline. Or a unique experiential event. Or a video with viral potential. Whatever it is, it’s a brilliant idea in theory, and you and your team fall in love with it.

Sometimes our “darlings” prove to be every bit as great in practice as they are in our minds. Sometimes they still work in our favor, even if they don’t get exactly the results we hoped for. But sometimes our darlings just aren’t all they were cracked up to be, and it’s time to let go. 

How do you know when an idea just wasn’t meant to be — even when you really wanted it to work? And what do you do next?

Measure Results (Accurately)

When you’re excited about an idea, it can be tempting to just assume it will work, and cut corners when it comes to tracking results. Whether that means forgoing metrics entirely, only checking them when it’s obvious something is amiss, or interpreting them in a way that favors your idea, giving in to these temptations will only hurt you in the long term.

Treat your darlings with the same, appropriate level of skepticism that you would apply to any campaign effort. That way you’ll know for sure that the potential you imagined holds up in the real world. And, before you implement your darlings, consider whether past data you’ve gathered from other campaigns could provide valuable insights that might increase your chances of success.

Modify As Needed

If the results of your idea weren’t what you expected or analysis from past campaigns suggests the idea might not work, “killing” it may be more drastic than necessary. Maybe it’s the right approach, but directed toward the wrong audience. Maybe it’s a great concept, but the timing is off. Maybe the creative is on track, but the call to action needs a few tweaks.

Before you give up on your darlings, consider if they just need to be refined to better achieve your goals. With some strategic A/B testing, you can often anticipate minor adjustments before you launch a full-scale campaign.

Learn From Experience

While some ideas just need a bit of finessing, other ideas may simply not be the right fit for your marketing goals. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are bad ideas — just that implementing them won’t serve your best interests. If that’s the case, resist the urge to double down. The best thing to do is let the idea go and learn what you can from the experience.

If a headline you love totally flopped with your audience, you are now all the wiser about the preferences of those you are trying to reach. If your event was poorly attended and got nothing but bad reviews from those who came, chances are there are some important takeaways from the criticism that will help you get better results in the future.

Bottom line is, it doesn’t matter how good you think your idea is — it matters whether your audience responds to it in a way that supports your overall goals. Knowing when to kill your darlings helps ensure your time and dollars are spent on the efforts that will deliver the greatest possible return on investment.