Fast vs Cheap vs Great: A Treatise for Impossible Expectations

Fast vs Cheap vs Great: A Treatise for Impossible Expectations

There’s a Venn diagram floating around the creative marketing world that’s famous among graphic designers (pictured above). The joke is that you can only ask for two, and the one you don’t pick will burn you in the end. The joke plays with the notion of standards vs expectations—a notion that slaps entrepreneurs and business owners in the face time and time again.

Many industries have their own standards dealing with a similar dichotomy of expectations vs reality, and many of them are completely unspoken. The most obvious example would be a dollar store: While there are more expensive, higher-quality variants of virtually every product they carry, they don’t even bother to offer you the ‘Great’ set, as the standard in the bargain store industry is to focus on cheapness and convenience.

As I’ve learned all-too-well dealing with contractors on a regular basis for varying components of projects and campaigns, these untold compromises appear all over the place, and it’s extremely important to learn the golden rule of hiring, delegating, and sub-contracting:

There's no such thing as "perfect".There’s No Such Thing as Perfect

I’m a copywriter, editor, and AdWords PPC guy. Those are my trade skills—however, I’m not running Precision Impact as a freelance web marketer; I’m running it as a full-service agency. That means I need to work with not only graphic designers, printers, web developers, social media specialists, and others whose expertise falls outside of my wheelhouse, but it means that I’ve also had to develop a stable of fellow writers, editors, and AdWords PPC experts, not only to handle overflow, but to have a variety of styles and fields of expertise to match each client’s needs.

In other words, not everybody does things like I do. And therein lie two problems:

A meticulously arranged desktop1. Our standards are a bit ridiculous at times.

As business owners, we have a level of dedication to our craft and our business that you just wouldn’t see from an employee or a contractor. And I don’t say this to toot our horn, rather as a problem that we need to address: When something echoes within our own wheelhouse, we tend to set our expectations excessively high. And not just with employees and subcontractors; we tend to be so critical of our own work that, were a boss to hold us to the same expectations in a company that weren’t our own, we would likely have flipped the table and walked out by now.

Personally, I’ve long-since come to accept the fact that this is going to exempt me from hiring inexpensive creatives (which drives up my price point). There are content mills all across the third world where you can get mediocre copy for prices at which I can’t even begin to compete.

Even still, I find it important to approach quality control with the understanding that my writers are all vetted, skilled, and trustworthy—not students submitting to a writing workshop. As an employer (or contractor), I need to trust in the reason why I work with them in the first place.

This lesson applies across the board. Everybody knows someone with a ‘slave-driving boss horror story’.  And I guarantee that, at the core of each of those stories (well, except for the ones that have to do with legitimate HR issues), you will find one common thread: A boss that cares deeply and wholeheartedly about their business, and unreasonably expects their employees to do the same.

In other words: Make sure they’re doing what you pay them to do, but don’t expect them to care as much as you do. After all, your business is your baby, not theirs.

The right job requires the right tools2. Our style and standards aren’t always appropriate to the task.

I have a very particular writing style. As my SEO program informs me in caution-yellow on every article I post, I tend to write copy with a certain degree of difficulty. (As of the current draft, it is informing me that “The copy scores 52.6 in the Flesch Reading Ease test, which is considered fairly difficult to read. Try to make shorter sentences to improve readability.”) And while I can adjust my style to match different brands and audiences, my ‘default mode’ is most effective to a particular audience.

Thankfully, my target audience consists of freelancers, entrepreneurs, business owners, and C-level managers—all of whom tend to have an above-average level of reading comprehension.

However, as my old Trump article would attest, big words don’t always sell. When you’re trying to reach an extremely broad audience, particularly with B2C writing in support of an ‘impulse-buy’ product, long articles and fancy-pants language can actually be a detriment. After all, nobody in the market for a slap-chop will want to wade through a 1,500-word treatise on the importance of ‘mouth-feel’ in contemporary cuisine.

Coming to terms with the notion that your way not necessarily being the only way is a common problem faced by entrepreneurs, particularly when growing or diversifying their business. You need to be open to the unique value that each worker, manager, partner, or contractor can bring to the table, and understand how to effectively use their strengths to complement your own.

Case Study: Math is Hurting PPCCase Study: PPC And the Scourge of the Design Venn

I know there are many PPC experts who would vehemently disagree, but I would argue that AdWords PPC suffers from a major case of math.

Let me explain: AdWords has a wide spectrum of extremely objective analytical tools integrated into it. It’s a system dominated by efficiency and results. Google is extremely transparent about what works and what doesn’t, and, as such, there are a gaggle of experts who have broken down massive amounts of available data into general, statistically proven, ‘best-use’ strategies.

Landing pages need to be X size. They should feature Y colors. The call-to-action should look like Z.

In other words, by reading a few articles, you can develop a mathematically perfect landing page.

So where’s the problem?

The issue is that PPC-exclusive agencies (at least, those with whom I’ve dealt) tend to lean very heavily on their mathematical formulas. It makes sense from a certain point of view: The success of an AdWords campaign is determined by clicks and conversions, and mathematical formulas can easily be outsourced to agencies in India or the Philippines for considerably less than it would cost to have a local manage the campaign, without any decrease in campaign effectiveness. After all, math is math, regardless of language or culture.

By the mathematical logic, if you’ve got a formula that has been proven to generate clicks and conversions, and your outsourced companies can follow these without needing to employ an expensive native English speaker, then why in God’s name would you worry about doubling your price point by dolling up your content?

In other words, in the Venn diagram of the PPC world, the two competing factors are ‘Campaign Complexity’ (or how intricate your bidding strategy and campaign structure are) and ‘Ad Spend’ (or how much money you are going to spend on actual bids). Quality doesn’t even factor into it most of the time, because it doesn’t seem to matter most of the time.

The problem is that word: ‘Most’.

The mathematical approach stresses brevity, accessibility, and keyword saturation—not the depth and authority of your copy. And while that’s great in many cases, there are some industries where you need to build trust with your visitor before they buy your product, call your sales agent, schedule a consultation, or whatever else your conversion action might be.

In these high-trust industries, the integrity of your copy and the professional, on-brand design of your landing page become extremely important—and all of a sudden, the ‘low-cost high-conversion’ tactics suddenly aren’t quite so effective. Tacky use of ‘urgency colors’ can make you look cheap and gimmicky. Spelling and grammar errors can undermine your authority. Shallow promises can make you sound ‘too-good-to-be-true’, or, even worse, willfully misleading.

In other words, to be effective, there are some industries that require campaigns to deviate from some of the standard practices to be effective—which, from a math-first perspective, would be an unspeakable sin.

What does this have to do with your business?What Does This Have to Do With Your Business?

Quite a bit, actually. After all, you love your business. You want nothing but the best for it, and you expect nothing but the best from it.

But you need to realize that your expectations don’t shape reality. You need to understand how the ‘Venn compromises’ of your industry work, and acknowledge that not everybody shares your priorities. You can’t fire an employee for refusing to work a double shift, or skip their lunch, or give up their holidays, no matter how often you do these yourself.

Also understand that, just because a standard is different from yours, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s wrong. In my example, the ‘non-Great’ model of PPC is considerably more efficient and cost-effective than my personal standard of ‘quality across the board’ in many cases. And the reason why that contractor fell short was because they were applying their own cookie-cutter standards to a project that needed a different solution.

It should also be mentioned that you can certainly go above and beyond when it comes to the aspects of your business that you handle yourself, providing service that’s fast, cheap, and great—right up until the point where you burn yourself out completely and ‘flame out’ as an entrepreneur for simultaneously over-taxing your resources and under-valuing your services.

Obligatory Product Shout-Out?

Unfortunately, this post didn’t really highlight any particular service. If you have a marketing project that you want done right, feel free to shoot us a message and we’ll hook you up.

We don’t really provide mentoring per-se, but if you do find yourself struggling with issues related to expectations, I would suggest checking out some business books like The E-Myth series, or looking up a reputable business coach in your area.

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If you have any question regarding marketing, or any topic requests for a future blog post, please feel free to send me an email; I’m here to educate.

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William Hull

With a background in publishing and experience writing copy for virtually every medium, Will has dedicated himself to becoming as versatile, knowledgeable, and effective as humanly possible. His core belief of quality over quantity is the foundation upon which Precision Impact was built.

He is also unable to make a 'Penseur' pose without looking at least a bit ridiculous, as evidenced by his profile photo.
William Hull
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