Safe Is the New Risky in Marketing

Read the original post published on iCrossing’s Great Finds blog on May 3, 2013.

“Safe is the new risky in marketing,” asserted iCrossing Chief Creative Officer Pat Stern during his May 2 presentation at the iCrossing CMO Summit. To build connected brands in a world of always-on consumers, CMOs should take calculated risks, learn, and innovate, according to Stern.

He began his presentation by sharing a formula for managing marketing opportunities and processes. According to the “70-20-10” rule, 70 percent of your marketing resources should go toward activities that you know will work; 20 percent should go toward innovating from that 70 percent; and 10 should go toward risk taking, or “swinging for the fences.” Gone are the days of taking major risks and hoping for the best. Digital marketers should take calculated risks to learn how to create experiences that connect with customers in different ways.

Stern gave detailed tips to guide marketing experimentation and innovation, including:

  • Listen closely to your customers. Consumers have certain expectations, and sometimes technology can’t meet those expectations. To meet their own needs, Innovative consumers will create their own experiences and their own interactions with your products and your brand. Stern shared an example from the era of audiocassette tapes: innovative consumers used to create mix tapes consisting of their own musical experience by editing together their own versions of songs and albums. Had record labels been paying attention to this activity, they would have understood the need for technology to help create unique musical experiences. Consequently, the way in which we listen to music now could have been drastically different, or much more advanced. The answers to consumer problems are there – you, as a marketer, just need to be willing to dig for it.
  • Swing for the fences. According to the “70-20-10” rule, 10 percent of your marketing efforts should be used for experimenting with something completely new. That 10 percent is a calculated risk based on your ability to listen and learn from consumers, and discover what else may make them connect more strongly with your brand. By taking risk, no matter the outcome, you’ll learn something important. And that knowledge will help you hone your skill and master your technique.
  • Average is no longer good enough. Some brands used to focus on providing average products to average people. However, consumers have a lot of choices these days, and “average” won’t cut it. Not only do consumers want extraordinary products, but they want to be thought of as extraordinary too. Consumers deal with choice by developing tunnel vision. Marketers need to find ways to break through that tunnel vision with something remarkable, unique, and exciting. Taking risks to be extraordinary or trying new brand messaging or a different brand experience, can wake consumers from their tunnel vision daze — and encourage them to engage with your brand in a new way.
  • Change your frame of reference. As consumers change the way they engage with brands, the traditional marketing funnel needs to change as well. New media has increased the amount of touchpoints and messaging channels that brands can leverage to better connect with customers in real time. Although new media presents opportunities for marketers, new media also presents challenges. According to Stern, the solution is to change your frame of reference and modify your interactions as needed. Be willing to deviate from the traditional marketing funnel and target not only your customers but also influencers. Not everyone who interacts with your brand is persuadable, but consumers do have networks of their own friends who may be willing to try out new products. By encouraging interaction at a variety of levels, you can see an increase in brand engagement.
  • Understand your value exchange.  What are you offering that brings value to your customers? Stern, when referencing Judy Christa-Cathey‘s discussion of the “Hamptonality Moments” campaign, stated that Hampton isn’t selling a clean bed and a hot breakfast for its customers. Hampton is selling a value exchange that connects the experiences shared at Hampton Hotels with individuals who are persuadable and who will want to engage with Hampton – either online or in one of their hotels. The risk of sharing experiences versus sharing products is a big one — but one that allowed Hampton to connect with customers on an open and honest level, which is a value that many hold in high regard.

Stern counseled iCrossing CMO Summit attendees to just “do good work” by taking risks and connecting with customers. In order to do good work, take your brand values, combine them with your business needs, and connect with your consumers’ needs. The intersection of those three elements will inform your strategy for taking a calculated risk. When it comes to taking risks with your brand, understanding what your influencers want, what they expect, and what they are willing to learn about can help guide your experimentation in a way that is less risky and more rewarding. Success can be yours with the right risks and the right innovation.

– Dana Notman is a senior natural search strategist at iCrossing

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