We must be agents of change, but there are two different ways of going about it. I’m going to present each of these types of change and when I feel they’re applicable.

The Case for Incremental Change

I am a big fan of making incremental changes. For me, the old saying, “Don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good enough” could be re-written to say “Don’t make wholesale change the enemy of incremental improvement.” For most companies I’ve served, I just fixed what needed to be fixed, rather than throwing out every word of copy, stock image and campaign piece they had.

Why do I do this? Essentially it comes down to project management. Every project has dependencies; marketing projects have oodles of them. To prevent work in one area from paralyzing some work in another area, I’ve found it helpful to break them apart. I consciously choose which changes will happen today and which will be done in phase 2, 3, etc. It is possible to pile a bunch of changes into one massive phase, but that puts so many activities on the critical path, the GANTT chart gets stretched out, resources get worn out and the project manager usually falls out of favour with everyone!

The table below shows standard marketing activities and the kind of incremental change I prefer. It also shows the wholesale way to do that activity, which I propose is riskier and costlier.

Phased-in (preferred approach) Wholesale (not recommended)
Website Change graphics OR content OR CMS Change all facets of site at the same time.
Community Building Put one person on it; grow subscribers organically by posting content that has genuine value for them. Make splashy announcement; buy lists & divert all staff and hire contractors to drive up subscribers.
Product Architecture Break down into feature-sized fact sheets; put out monthly. Conclude by compiling them into one white paper. Put 6-months into writing exhaustive white paper
Channel strategy Divert some effort from sales to partners, set a date to evaluate channel success Halt other sales avenues and bet the farm on new partners
Print collaterals Forecast when existing stock will run out. Schedule new pieces by amount of new content and when they’ll be needed. Write and print entire set all at once and throw out all old stock, no matter how much it cost.

The Case for Wholesale Change

Here’s the flipside to the case for making incremental changes. There are times when wholesale change is needed, but how do you know when? In reality, there should be ONLY one main catalyst for making wholesale change: the status quo isn’t working. If you’ve correctly identified what’s broken (the easiest situation is where everything is broken), you can usually pinpoint which direction to take to ultimately be able to fix it. Once wholesale changes start, there should be disincentives to turning back and few on-the-fly changes until all of the changes are in effect. Embarking on these changes means making trade-offs on cost, time and quality. So if you are going to revamp entire marketing programs, you should ask yourself questions like:

– Would my marketing peers agree that this needs to be done?

– Is it important enough that I’m willing to siphon budget away from other things to do it?

– Am I ready to deal with the interdependencies? You know what I mean if you’ve ever tried to switch logos, ferreting out everywhere your old logo appears.

– If going for wholesale change takes longer than the quick fix (it almost always does), what impact will it have on sales outcomes and is it worth the wait?

– Is this going to be worth the political flack needed to push it through?

If you’ve said yes to most of these, then you’ve got good reason, maybe even an obligation, to make wholesale change.

Change is the only Constant

No matter which way you go, you’ll feel better for having solid reasoning behind your decision. One last thing, don’t construe anything here as endorsing the status quo, that’s an opinion I’ll never change.