Strong opinions, somewhat weakly held

We finally have a dedicated, in-house AdWords pro. With algorithms, monitoring, and tools, each of which change regularly, it’s a full-time job to do it right. (We’re using Hubspot too; I’ll let you know how that goes.)

Part of a successful AdWords campaign is perfecting the landing page — the place you go when you click the ad. The landing page is tuned to match the ad text, not only to entice potential customers but also because your AdWord placement depends on the relevance of its content.

So our AdWords pro has been giving us advice on the messaging for the landing pages. Specifically, he’s been asking us to change our marketing message that has worked so well for us on the web, in print, at tradeshows, and in demos.

I don’t have a problem with criticism — the purpose of our software is to generate criticism — but do we allow an “outsider” with no context to change our proven text?

Maybe so. A fundamental tenent of Smart Bear and my life in general is to have strong opinions, weakly held. This phrase, promulgated by Paul Saffo and echoed by many others, summarizes the attitude that conviction, while necessary for action, must be tempered with a constant search for disproof. Being wishy-washy is an impediment to inspiring people, working towards a goal, and getting things done, but turning a blind eye to contrary evidence is irresponsible and even dishonest.

With this in mind, a stranger unencumbered by our history and biases might provide the insight we need to disprove some marketing assumptions and freshen our content! New perspectives add depth. We can only improve; we shouldn’t cling to ideas just because they’re venerable.

Or maybe not. Ted Matthews argues that branding doesn’t work unless you stick to your guns. New hires are quick to suggest change without understanding the battle that went into the decision. It’s just like wanting to rewrite an application because of a little ugly code. Our messaging was honed by field tests, listening to customers, and hours of debate; how can we allow everything to change because of new person with almost no understanding of our product, customers, or competitors?

The way to reconcile these two forces is to see that “weakly” in “weakly held” can be modified depending on the origin of the original opinion.

On one end of the spectrum, some opinions were made without consideration. Why do we have a “Resources” web page separate from an “External Articles” page? No reason, it just ended up like that. So if someone else has a different idea and some rationale behind it, make the change.

On the other end, some opinions — like our marketing messages — were forged with a great deal of consideration. Everyone in the office (and beyond) brainstormed ideas, vetoed concepts, defended theories, and crafted phrases over many years. We’ve gone through iterations, measuring success objectively (e.g. AdWords conversion rates) and subjectively (e.g. reactions when giving talks at conferences).

This kind of opinion shouldn’t be changed flippantly. If it deserved this much consideration before, it deserves the same consideration now. Perhaps more.

Still I disagree with Ted. You can’t use “branding” as a shield against good ideas no matter how entrenched the old ones. But when the existing ideas are proven, when great works have molded them, new ideas should be challenged with proportionally high standards.

Be ready to change with reason, but don’t change for no reason.

Do you have an example of where “Strong opinions weakly held” applied (or should have applied)?  Leave a comment!

13 responses to “Strong opinions, somewhat weakly held”

  1. Thanks Betty. I noticed you’re starting a blog about foreclosures. Is this a new business venture or are you already an expert?

    Sounds like a good business to be in right now…

  2. Thanks! I’m fascinated and impressed with what you’re doing with spiritual guidance. It’s logical that it would affect both personal and business life.

  3. Great article Jason! The topic touches a nerve because I’m thinking a lot about branding lately as we rebrand Macadamian.

    I think you can agree with Ted and your AdWords pro at the same time. Ted is right – you can be your own worst enemy when it comes to your brand. You will get sick of the message long before your customers do – you’re immersed in it every day. The desire to keep a message "fresh" kills many a good campaign long before it’s reached saturation.

    Your AdWords pro is right too. AdWords helps you capture niche customers, with particular needs, and you need to be able to speak to them. If you want to capture that segment or satisfy that niche need, you may need to deviate from your main message. Adwords is a funny animal – small changes in the ad or in the landing page can have big effects in your response rate, so you need to be open to experimenting. Try it out! The beauty of AdWords is If it doesn’t work, or ends up carrying you in a direction you’re not comfortable with, you can chalk it up to experimentation and try something different, and you’ll probably only have spent a few hundred quid.

    Let me know how it goes.

    And by the way, I love the strong opinions loosely held – I’ll keep that in mind.

  4. @Matt: Thanks for the kind words. I like your point about how Adwords is the perfect place for mass-experimentation, whereas "changing all our messaging" is another story. And indeed the former should influence the latter once you have something proven.

    We are doing exactly that. However you still need a pinch of salt because e.g. what works in a 25-word slogan on a search-result page might not be right for a full-page magazine ad. On the other hand, what works in a 25-word slogan might indeed be the perfect "h1" title for our website!

    Also I think perhaps branding can be taken too far. It’s one thing to use the same logo, font, and colors everywhere — that’s sensible. But do you have to repeat the same text everywhere? I think not. The text should reflect not only the medium but the audience — ads in different places should have different content!

    Anyway thanks for the insights! P.S. I’ve been meaning to write about your spiral-bound-about-us brochure. Do you still have one of those electronically or a scan of the cover or something?

  5. Whether to find a theme which was not discussed on one on this a blog?And that we communicate only on blog themes, and other themes are not present.
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  6. Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.

  7. I agree; branding will only get you so far and even that’s AFTER you’ve earned a name for yourself through superior products and customer service. You can’t advertise crap and expect that to get you where you want to go.

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