Deadlines are killing your marketing

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Doug Kessler

19. 03. 2019 | 5 min read

Deadlines are killing your marketing

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The life of a marketer is bound by deadlines.

We make promises to our stakeholders and we work hard to keep them. To deliver ‘on time’.

But isn’t it strange that the only promise we invariably make on every project is the one about delivery date?

We don’t make promises about business impact or quality—those are fuzzy. Hard to measure.

We don’t promise that the thing we’re doing will be the best of its kind in the world. Or that it will be beautifully crafted. Or deeply resonant for the target audience.

If we aim for these things at all (most don’t), we put them under ‘goals’ but not ‘promises’.

We only promise it will be on time.

And we bust our butts (and everyone else’s on the team) to stick to the deadline at all costs.

Even if those costs include sacrificing ‘hard’ values like quality, business impact and brand contribution (not to mention the ‘soft’ ones like fun, joy, truth, craft and beauty—snowflakey values that, ironically, are the ones that most reliably lead to business impact).

It seems that all we marketers want to be able to say is that we delivered on time. What we delivered is a distant second.

Think about that for a moment. I will too.

Done: It’s fucking insane.

In fact, it’s an obsessive-compulsive treadmill of crazy.

Because, once that thing is done—once the deadline has been met—not a single person gives a shit about the fact that it was done on time.

We’re on to the next deadline.

And that thing we did? It’s out there now, speaking for our brand, representing the company. Our customers are investing their time in it (if we’ve succeeded in getting them to that point—a task that gets harder and harder as we prioritize deadlines over value).

On the list of things our customers want from our content, ‘making the deadline’ comes a few notches below the thing that comes dead last.

But it’s still the one thing we all agree to pursue—invariably at the expense of all the other things.

Our deadline obsession is an unsurprising by-product of the world of accountability, marketing plans and editorial calendars. Those are good things.

But surely we can see that over-indexing on deadlines virtually guarantees that even great, talented, motivated teams will achieve mediocrity far more often than greatness. On-time mediocrity. But still mediocrity.

The challenge facing every marketing team is clear: to carve out time for greatness in our deadline-obsessed world.

To protect at least one or two projects from the deadening hand of the deadline, letting it take as long as it takes to be great.

Let’s not blame our stakeholders here. It’s not their fault. Of course they want on-time delivery. But would they want it every time if they knew that it would—with certainty—come at the expense of real impact?

And wouldn’t they accept a later deadline if the result led to more impact?

If we did give our stakeholders a choice, they might choose quality over timeliness at least a few times.

“We can do this by February 3rd and it will be good. Or we can make it great and it will take longer. I’m not even sure how much longer, right now. But it will be much, much better. Your call.”

That’s a rare conversation but not a crazy one.

Why aren’t we doing it already?

Because deadlines are such clear milestones. They’re far easier to measure than business impact or quality. There’s zero subjectivity to a deadline.

But that’s not the only reason.

The other reason we don’t fight for more time is that we’re not confident about how we’ll turn that added time into a better product. We’re not sure it will be better.

Why? Because we’ve never tried it.

We’ve never given ourselves the time to discover the value of time.

And no one wants to fight for that extra week or month only to bring back the same, tired product.

Slow marketing: time to kill a deadline

Maybe it’s time to find out how much better we can be when we give ourselves the time to apply the full talents of our teams.

To stop complaining about time pressure and call our own bluff.

To give the writer an extra week to talk to six more customers.

To give the designers and developers the time to explore new possibilities, research different approaches and come back with something they’re genuinely excited about.

To let the whole team press ‘pause’ because the product just doesn’t feel exciting or different or fresh.

To kill a thing we promised to deliver, going back to the stakeholders to explain why (and why Plan B will be later… but better).

As a busy agency, Velocity is trapped in the same deadline cycles as everyone else. We have not cracked this.

But every once in a while, we see the value of the relaxed or non-existent deadline. The value of time.

And the evidence is strong: the relationship between time and quality may not be strictly linear, but it’s damn close.

We do better work when we have the time to do what we know how to do. And we do worse work when we’re under pressure to ship today.

As marketers, our collective challenge is to find ways to slow down the clock on at least a few, important projects. To argue for more time and to use that time well.

To prove to ourselves and our stakeholders that time, invested in the service of the audience (the customer), will pay dividends.

And that, while making our deadlines is important, making our deadlines at all costs… is far too high a price.

More inspiration on slow marketing:

Re-Thinking ASAP: The Magic In Going Slow At Just The Right Moments by Ann Handley. Ann has been evangelizing her cool AsAP (as slow as possible) concept for a while. And it makes so much sense.

Slow Your Marketing Down by Sarah Greesonbach on the Content Marketing Institute blog gathers data about the value of slowing down and suggests five ways to go benefit from going slower.

Back in 2012, Tad Hargrave, the ‘Marketing for Hippies’ blogger wrote an excellent post called Slow Marketing. He applies the principles of the Slow Food movement to marketing. And it holds up.


Published in:

  • deadlines

  • marketing deadlines

  • slow marketing

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  1. Louise Wright


    April 3rd, 2019

    “Obsessive compulsive treadmill of crazy…” genius phrase. Great article, thanks gang 🙂

    1. Doug Kessler

      April 5th, 2019

      Thanks, Louise!

  2. Ann Handley


    April 18th, 2019

    I really enjoyed this. And I agree with it 100%.

    1. Doug Kessler

      April 24th, 2019

      Thanks, Ann! Goot a run… copy v1 is due in eight minutes…

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