Marketing risks…what if they aren’t that risky?

Robin Emiliani  /  Oct 15, 2020

Marketing risks – should you take them?

Industry standard. Tried-and-true. Time-tested. Proven.

Humans—marketers included—love it when we can grab hold of a strategy or tactic that has worked over and over again. It’s why every time a novel is a breakout success, about 100 other novels fly off the presses with stories so similar they’d make your head spin. It’s why movies that do well suddenly have 10 mediocre sequels coming to theaters soon. And it’s why marketers flock to the tactics that are safe. Tested. Time-worn.

If it worked once (or twice or ten times), you can pry it from our cold, dead fingers.

And, hey, it makes sense. Tried-and-true seems less risky, right? If it has worked before, our brains are comfortable assuming it’ll work again. 

The only problem? Our brains are actually really bad at assessing risk. They were built at a time when risks were simpler. Our ancestors ate those blue berries once, twice, three times and didn’t keel over and die, so we can keep eating the blue berries. Our ancestors heard a wolf howl and retreated to the cave and lived to fight another day, so when a wolf is howling, our brains scream retreat, retreat, retreat.

But now that same oversimplified risk system is applying its logic to more complex modern risk assessments. And since marketing tactics aren’t berries or wolves, our risk-averse reactions to them don’t really serve us. 

Now, I’m not pooh-poohing all tried-and-true marketing wisdom. There are things that work, and work consistently, and we love those strategies and tactics as much as anyone. 

But the really big wins—and huge losses? They boil down to whether or not you’re willing to take risks and make changes.

Just look at our old friends Netflix and Blockbuster: Both had streaming technology. But one (Blockbuster) listened to that risk-averse lizard brain screaming “Turn away! New is risky! Tried-and-true is where it’s at!” The other embraced the new, risky model of movie rentals. We all know the risk paid off.

Because here’s the kicker: One of the things our lizard brains hate is change. But change is essential for creative success.

No one wants to read 10 knock-off versions of Gone Girl. Nobody loved Jurassic Park 3 as much as the original. Nobody wants to be forced to use your outdated website form when they could order a pizza faster on an app. 

We want the companies we buy from and work with to adapt, grow, and improve. We want them to delight us with unexpected marketing campaigns. 

So, how do we find inspiration for pushing our marketing boundaries and keeping our businesses on the cutting edge?

We believe it starts with truly considering ludicrous ideas. Because every idea seems pretty ludicrous before it works. So instead of going with your gut when something ridiculous comes up, sit with it. Disinvite your lizard brain from the conversation. Could it work? Is it really as wild as it sounds at first?

I’m sure the snuggie sounded ridiculous when the idea first hit the scene. 30 million sales later, the inventor is laughing all the way to the bank. 

I’m sure Tesla releasing flamethrowers and short-shorts elicited an “are you high?” response from some early skeptics (and, let’s be honest, the answer might have been yes). In both cases, the whimsical releases bumped up stock prices (and sold out fast). 

And I know that when Anheuser-Busch purchased the St. Louis Cardinals in ’53, people thought naming a stadium after a brand sounded wild. That marketing tactic is now pretty tried-and-true.

So here’s the part where I remind you to pause before you jump to no. Consider your ridiculous ideas. Push boundaries. Embrace new technology. Keep some tried-and-true strategies going, but don’t discount the big, audacious, weird ideas. The flamethrowers and snuggies and one-click pizza-order-on-its-way apps.

And if you need help figuring out which risks to take and which can wait? That’s the kind of task our team thrives on. Reach out anytime


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