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Why marketers have to be inherently more courageous than most in business


Good marketing has the power to transform a brand’s image and reputation, yet so many companies are losing out from ideas and campaigns that underperform. Ho hum work that fails to connect with audiences and draw them in. Work that burns budget to little end result.

It’s easy to write this off as ads simply not being as good today as they used to be, or the “sameness” of digital stuff, but the problem runs deeper.

Effective marketing has to be brave marketing. Marketers must be willing to take uncomfortable creative leaps – leaps that contain risk – which in turn requires them to be courageous enough truly do something different. Particularly when the results can’t be proven ahead of time.

Put simply, boring risk averse marketing won’t get attention. And it won’t persuade anyone to change what they do.

Being brave in a difficult market

The uncomfortable truth about marketing is that in too many firms it’s seen as a nice-to-have, but expendable during tough periods. Today’s uncertain environment is therefore particularly anti risk taking and a barrier to pushing creative boundaries. Rather companies may stick to “safer” campaigns that already have easy buy-in from leadership. Even if the results are less than stellar.

With marketers traditionally undervalued by many businesses, it takes an immense amount of bravery to push a bold or innovative campaign on your own, championing it to get buy-in from above. Even more so with job security hanging in the balance. The result is an echo chamber of the same old ideas, and campaigns that fail to do anything new or worse, simply disappear into the background of customers’ busy lives.

Risk vs. reward

Marketing is a delicate balance of risk and reward, with the biggest chance of a good payoff also posing some of the greatest risk to both budget and, worse, reputation. This means, too often, brands and their marketers stick to “safer” ideas.

I am not advocating engaging with controversy for controversy sake or leaping blindly into a campaign without due diligence. But for business managers it does mean accepting that marketing is complex and reward requires risk taking. Alongside this, an over-reliance on data or market research can only take you so far before you need to step outside your comfort zone and take the plunge with a new idea. One that’s hard to fully prove ahead of time.

Take the Guinness Surfer ad, which aired in 1999 and was voted among the UK’s most popular ads of the time. The agency behind it, AMV BBDO, found the ad earned a lukewarm response during the market research phase, and for sure management were nervous, but they stuck with it because they had confidence in bringing the idea to fruition. It broke many rules of advertising, and the category. But became a turning point for the brand.

And you don’t have to spend the budget Guinness does to face a similar challenge of using a creative idea to drive change.

Challenges of feedback

No marketer wants their great idea to become weakened through a redesign by committee, but knowing when and how to seek outside perspective also takes a certain amount of courage. And think of this: a decent set of objective feedback can be more power to your elbow in persuading others (or being confident enough to press “go”).

It’s worth also remembering when considering creative assessment that while marketers are passionate about what they do, working so closely on campaigns can leave us unable to see our work through an external fresh eyed lens, limiting the ability to see work as it truly is, or escape our own confirmation bias.

Soliciting feedback and the perspectives of peers in and around the marketing sphere is useful for this (and hence mitigating the risks of breaking out of your tramlines). But it comes with a fear of criticism. It just doesn’t always feel good to have one of your ideas judged by others.

Given the need for greater creativity and risk taking to drive better results, perhaps being “brave” around feedback is a necessary balance. To feel yourself being prudent whilst still recommending a strong idea. Balancing one form of courage to support a bigger one.

Final thoughts

If you are in charge of marketing, courage has to be part of your professional make up. Same goes for owners and founders. You can’t risk being bland or uninspiring. That kind of marketing fails (so you lose in the long term). Nor can you rely on numbers or science to tell you the answers. Taking an appropriate risk balanced with feedback to help you win support around you is definitely the way to go.

Roger Jackson

A marketing enthusiast and natural entrepreneur, Roger has enjoyed an illustrious career in sales and marketing for major brands including Unilever, Kraft Foods and United Biscuits. Having established his own independent peer-to-peer marketing platform, SenseCheck, Roger uses his unique insight and years of marketing experience to support SMEs in making the most of their marketing budgets.

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