News and Insights

Rise Up, Risk-Takers!

May 16, 2024

In today’s hyper-connected, data-driven world, it’s easy to understand why so many in the communications industry have made predictability the standard and “risk” a four-letter word thou shalt not speak.

Even though history has shown us that bold and daring campaigns are the ones that captivate audiences, alter perceptions and help shape our culture, we, as a sector, remain more risk-averse than ever. We play defense to protect our turf rather than looking to conquer new ground with the types of original ideas that drive game-changing work. We build analytical walls around ourselves or our clients. We misinterpret “data driven” to mean we can’t move forward without the certainty we believe data can provide.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. We can do the opposite—and with an expectation of success our predecessors never had. These days, we have more capacity than ever before to anticipate, with a reasonable degree of accuracy, whether the marcomms innovations we envision are likely to land with audiences. We have predictive models and data-driven insights into consumer behavior.

So let’s work up the guts to use them to inspire us, to give us the green light to move sure-footedly into unknown creative territory. Here’s some food for thought to take us out of our safe spaces and into new frontiers—where true success and satisfaction lie:

Minimize Your Defensive Mindset

At nearly every step of the planning, creative and delivery process, the pressure to play it safe, follow best practices, and prioritize short-term gains is immense. If it can’t be measured, then it can’t be managed, right? Wrong.

We must let measurement guide us rather than dictate to us. We must resist the demand to budget-ize and optimize ourselves into insignificance. We must focus on storytelling so powerful it moves people to act.

Instead, build teams whose members embrace ambiguity as a stepping stone to greatness. Then plan to take those steps, using metrics to inform the adventure. This is the best way to bring clients or the c-suite along for the ride. You don’t have to say, “We have an idea for a big campaign. Let’s try it and see what happens.” Instead, say, “We have an idea for a big campaign and the insights to suggest it will work.”

Take Dove’s “Real Beauty” initiative for example. In total contrast to how a defensive-minded team would have behaved, the Dove team leveraged a single, human insight that only 2 percent of women felt they were beautiful based on today’s standards, and they’ve been on a 20-year offensive ever since. While competitors jockeyed for increased fractions of revenue using the latest point-of-sale products, and showcased evermore airbrushed supermodels, the Dove team, led by insights and fueled by human connection, went directly against industry norms to build one of the most successful brand evolution stories of our time.

Continuing to zig while others zag, Dove’s latest risk-taking leap is pledging to never use AI-created imagery when most others are running toward AI. The Dove team, and others like them, remind us that success lies in reimagining the cultural landscape and then continuing to reshape it for the better.

Eliminate Procedural Correctness

Nothing kills creativity more quickly than a committee approach to concepting, decision-making and planning

Simply put, marketing by committee is a recipe for normality. Launching campaigns in this highly bureaucratic style is ideal for a risk averse team because it evenly spreads the responsibility and the accountability such that no one person is guilty of failure. Unfortunately, working this way also stifles the creative spirit, resulting in milquetoast campaigns that go unnoticed.

So it’s essential that we take a hard look at the bureaucratic hurdles standing in our way and tear them down.

We can do this by relying on channel experts, investing in better research to inform those accountable, asking teams to explore ideas from any industry, setting aside testing budgets to try new ideas, and streamlining processes to launch and adapt faster.

When we nurture an environment where innovation can come from anywhere, and boldness is celebrated instead of feared, our teams will be empowered to take ownership of their big ideas and reap the huge rewards that can come from stepping out of comfort zones.

Harness Social Risk Takers

Social risk takers are those who speak up when others do not. They reject conventional thinking and believe following the status quo is a greater risk than trying something new. Social risk takers are excellent drivers of innovation because they thrive on uncertainty and aren’t afraid to fail, seeing it as a necessary stepping stone to success. Additionally, they follow trends and new technologies that offer insights into the next big idea.

Some studies suggest that a key factor in a team’s ability to create groundbreaking campaigns is its ability to nurture social risk-taking within the group—and you probably already know who your risk takers are. They speak up in meetings, constantly share new information, look for what isn’t there, examine all the angles, and continually ask why.

Make it your mission to nurture these folks. Ask them to lead or collaborate on strategy, and then allow them to explore uncharted territory. They may not hit the mark every time, but assure them—and those around them—that it’s ok. In fact, it’s how big ideas are born. This will foster a larger culture of social risk taking and result in the creation of more campaigns that stand out and cause a stir.

Focus On The Long Game

One of the primary culprits in maintaining our risk-averse culture is the growing pressure to deliver tangible results and measurable ROI on all marketing investments. In an era where every dollar spent must be justified by metrics before it can be called a success, agencies and internal teams are under increasing pressure to produce immediate financial returns—even though we all know paradigms never shift overnight.

You can combat this by refocusing everyone’s attention on long-term ROI, using data analysis to convince decision makers that taking a risk on a bold new approach will likely pay much bigger dividends down the road.

Rely on the past to make your case for moving fearlessly into the future. Provide examples of big risks taken that paid off (Dove, for example). Then offer a reasonable assessment of the time it will take for something new to not only get traction—but likely bring bigger returns.

In this way, you’ll have a good shot of convincing the risk-averse that there is more ROI in testing big ideas than in optimizing small ones.

Don’t Let Data Drag You Down

In our quest for efficiency, we’ve lost sight of what truly matters. We’ve become obsessed with metrics and measurements, turning marketing into an elaborate game of budget optimization rather than building human connections.

So we have to ask ourselves a critical question: Do we want to follow data down the road to mediocrity or do we want to lead, using data to clear our uncharted path? If our answer is that we want to lead, then we need to get comfortable again with testing new ideas and learning from our failures. By shifting our focus away from optimization and towards experimentation, we can unlock new levels of creativity and drive real, meaningful change.

Remember, when we are beholden to metrics and financial goals at the expense of creativity, we betray the very essence of our craft and rob ourselves of the opportunity to make an impact that matters for our clients and the people they care about.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember as you consider the rewards of risk—and how to attain them—is that leaps of faith are essential to greatness. Sure, we all want to guarantee ROI for our clients. But sometimes the best way to ensure the long-term viability of their brands is to convince them—as well as ourselves—that the future belongs to the innovators.

Originally published on O’Dwyer’s on May 16, 2024

POSTED BY: Chad Smith

Chad Smith