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That Moment When You Realize You're Too Smart For Your Own Good

At Digital Pudding, we pride ourselves on smart and accountable marketing. And fast marketing, too, but that’s not what this is about. I’m going to go into what happens when we’re too smart for our own good.

And it does happen. A lot. Too much probably. Why? Who knows. When you’re out there trying to forge an identity as a reputable player in a sea of sharks, you might overshare a bit to prove you’re still a worthy participant. But being too smart for your own good can get you eaten alive if you’re not careful. At least, that’s what’s happened to us.

When You Think You’re The Smartest Person in the Room

We dedicate a lot of time to planning at our company. It’s part of our marketing as problem solving approach. First, we have to think about what the actual problems are, which are not always the ones the client thinks he has. Then we have to theorize solutions that are workable for everyone, measuring the results as best we can.

When you have a reputation for smart and thoughtful marketing, clients depend on you to be smart and thoughtful. And perfect. You also have to be perfect. Because those missed opportunities become easy fodder for second guessing and finger pointing if things blow up, or even if they just fall short of expectations.

Even with all our planning and strategy, we miss things. It’s natural. Mistakes are made. Spots are left blind. Clients might have been right all along and we just came in and did our little marketing dance for no reason. It happens. But it shouldn’t happen to us. Not with the brand we’ve developed.

However, what’s done is done and there’s nothing you can do with it but learn. The sting of being too smart for your own good stays with you, scaring you into doing better next time, so as to avoid a repeat performance.

When Others Undercut You

Here’s the flip side. What happens when all that planning, turned over into the hands of the client, ends up as the foundation for the strategy that they execute with another firm? We’re not entirely sure, even though it definitely happens to us from time to time.

It’s extremely deflating when you work so hard to think through business challenges, employing the best minds you have and applying them to the problems your potential client faces, only to have the client “take your ideas under advisement,” either executing them on their own or, worse, hiring a competitor to do it for them. Then, you see the result of your superior planning with awful execution and wonder what could have been.

We take steps to mitigate this internally but you’ll never stop the flow of ideas from your company into the hands of your competition. It’s actually a huge industry problem. So we try to stay a step ahead, outthinking as best we can for as long as we can, without discouragement from all those plans that got away.

After all, we were right on with our thinking. The client liked the strategy if they ultimately put it in action. For whatever reason (money, politics, other silly barriers that can totally be overcome in the future) we didn’t win the business. But we will next time. We just have to keep holding ourselves to that high mindfulness standard, even though we can be too smart for our own good.

When It Costs You Money and Clients

Many advertising agencies, especially the smaller local ones like us, will simply take orders from a client. Yes, sir. No, sir. That’s a great campaign idea, sir. Sure, it’ll cost this much, sir. We don’t. And it can and has cost us big time.

Because we’re dedicated to that smart and accountable marketing, we don’t want to sign off on any campaign we don’t believe will be successful. So, when all indicators show that it’s not the time nor the place to get into an advertising program that the client wants, we push back citing our wealth of experience and predictive knowledge.

Now, you probably know this, but clients don’t like to be told they’re wrong. Best case, you’re seen as insightful. Worst case, you’re arrogant. You get accused of being misguided, aloof, or out of touch with “the way we do business.”

While we try to show proof for our work, sometimes that proof is mistaken for unwarranted criticism. It can rub some people the wrong way, and when it does, those clients leave for yes men who are all too happy to cash checks for subpar work.

This may be more of a delivery problem than anything. However, it shows that all the evidence-based reasoning in the world won’t save you from being too smart for your own good.

When It All Works Out

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. Sometimes when you’re too smart for your own good, it’s exactly what you needed to do. Smart marketing is bold. It takes chances. It comes from nowhere. It’s meticulous in its planning and execution. It needs intelligence to work. And when it does work, it’s all that much more satisfying.

There’s a reason we do what we do. In fact, there are a whole bunch of them. And the number one reason is that we want to create marketing and advertising that’s held to a higher standard. How do you elevate an entire industry that fights tooth and nail to keep every single dollar they can scrounge? By working harder, smarter and more transparent than the competition. That’s our battle plan, anyway.

Sometimes it falls apart when you’re too smart for your own good. And sometimes, you bring the right amount of brains to the party. Forget the losses and move forward. Someone will always appreciate (and reward) the correct balance of brilliance.

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