If Your Message Works, Don’t Tinker With It

Al Ries published a great article in AdAge yesterday talking how a perfectly good message and value proposition can be ruined by too much “tinkering”.  The essence of his point is that when companies have a great message that’s working, there is always pressure to abandon that for something that sounds fresher.  He says:

Common sense says that marketing messages have to constantly change in order to stay in tune with the times.

Marketing sense says that’s nonsense. The way to build a brand is with a consistent message over an extended period of time.

….They tinker with new ideas when they should be hammering the ideas that already exist in consumers’ minds. Once a brand is established with a clearly defined marketing position, the brand’s owner should ask a fundamental question before making any significant changes.

Why tinker with success?

I see this a lot.  There is an almost irresistible urge to change the core messaging as often as we roll out new campaigns.   The reality is that often we are changing course just when the message is starting to resonate with the market and we lose the momentum we just started to build.

Why do we do it?  Because we get bored.  Because we have seen it so many times it’s hard for us to believe that the entire world hasn’t seen it (even when our budgets are microscopic, interestingly enough).

The reality is that we aren’t getting our messages in front of customers as much as we think we are (particularly when we are talking about small companies with limited budgets) and even if we were, if it’s resonating, why would we want to mess with it?

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25 thoughts on “If Your Message Works, Don’t Tinker With It”

  1. April, great post. I couldn’t agree more. I can’t count the times I’ve seen organizations “nail” their positioning, messaging and have there channel focused and someone says, “what do you think about changing what works?”

    Are you crazy?! – Please back away from the messaging that works and focus on something that needs attention.

    Jim

    1. Hi Jim,
      Thanks for the comment. It’s so true! The urge to start messing with something that shouldn’t be messed with is always there for some reason. We need to be reminded to step away and, like you said, focus on the other things that are screaming for our attention.
      April

  2. Great post about human nature. We can be our own worst enemies.

    There was a sign on a bulletin board (remember those) at one of the first companies I worked at. It read, “There is no greater urge in man, than to edit someone else’s work.”

    Before long, ‘edit’ had been crossed out and ‘improve’ written over it. Then ‘man’ was changed to ‘people.’

    In about a month’s time, you couldn’t see the original content for all the edits.

    A humorous story but a poignant illustration of your point. Sometimes we can’t help ourselves.

  3. What are some examples of companies who continue to reap success from messaging that they established a long time ago? What about examples of companies who always take the risk of changing up their image and succeeding?

    As a startup founder, I am just trying to establish that message that works initially, so tinkering with success doesn’t come to play just yet. Great job with all your posts April, I am a fan and I learn a lot from them. Thank you for doing it.

    1. Hi Ricky,
      At the companies I’ve worked at we made it a rule not the switch up the messaging more than once every 2 years, and frankly, even then we didn’t change it much. There were always new things we were talking about under our core messages (new trends, technology, etc) but the basics of who we were, what we did and why you should buy from us didn’t change that much.
      April

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