May 29, 2016

Is playing it safe the biggest risk of all

The thing about bad marketing communications is that the vast majority of the time, the only risk is invisibility, blandness and anonymity. It’s often assumed that the spectrum of ‘risk’ runs from damaging to brilliant, with bland equally positioned between the two. If this were true, then it indeed may be reasonable to prefer the middle.

But in reality, it doesn’t work that way. Bad campaigns simply disappear – we neither notice nor remember them. Customers are extremely hard to alienate – it’s just not how people are. Have you ever seen an ad or a piece of marketing and been ‘alienated’ from an organisation or brand you’re currently loyal to? Just how wrong would the ad have to be? How misunderstood would you need to feel? The truth is unless it’s really offensive (and in which case, everyone involved in its creation should be fired), the chances are it will simply be ignored or not noticed at all.

In fact, the beauty of marketing is that the potential positive benefits of a great idea massively outweigh the likelihood of creating any negativity at all.

With this in mind, it makes us wonder why many marketing departments often shun great, ambitious ideas, with the familiar phrase: ‘I like it, but I don’t want to alienate my current customers’. This is ultimately code for, ‘Can I have something more ‘expected’ please?’

Great ideas tend to be presented as ‘brave’ or ‘risky’, which can be misleading and counter-productive. Even before getting the chance to alienate customers, this approach ensures many ideas never even see the light of day by scaring off marketing decision-makers.

We are firm believers in ‘being brave’ but we need to redefine the very notion of what ‘taking a risk’ or ‘being brave’ actually means. Indeed, you can argue that brands need to get things wrong from time to time in order to learn, but with marketing budgets slashed it’s harder to have that view.

So what does ‘being brave’ actually mean? Well, it can be different for every organisation. For some, a change of brand colour could be a huge step and for others, it may just be trying a new medium of marketing. For many embarking on social media as a marketing stream is hugely brave.

We think bravery is about looking at how and what your organisation communicates to your customers and looking at how you could make it stronger, louder and essentially, more memorable.

Look at what your competitors are doing and try not to think ‘We could do something like that’ but ‘We could do better than that.’ It’s so often the case that organisations piggyback the good ideas of their competitors, but surely it’s better to be the company that others want to be!