Marketing is about taking risks

We all know the risk-reward ratio, right?

The usual way we learn about this ratio is with money.

You can place your savings in a Post Office account and watch it grow steadily and slowly in relative safety. Or, you could invest in a new technology company. You like their idea, but you have to hope other investors or customers do. And even then, competition is fierce. But if they make it to that IPO…

This risk-reward ratio is at play every single day, but you probably don’t even notice it.

You could try a new toothpaste, different route to work, one of those Latte Macchiatos, asking that good-looking guy in Accounts to see Alien Resurrection on Friday night. Almost every decision we make is laced with this tempting risk versus reward outcome.

Normally the risk is failure and the reward is success. The balance is the degree to which we’re prepared to accept the former in pursuit of the latter.

If this risk-reward ratio isn’t evident in your marketing decisions, then maybe you need to rethink your approach?

Because marketing is about creating a different outcome. And that necessarily means taking risks.

The downsides of any campaign are obvious.

It might not work. We might have wasted our money. Although some would argue you learned a valuable marketing lesson, which maybe a price worth paying. Think about it. How else could you determine the factors which influence improvement if you don’t try changing some of them: price, packaging, promotion, place?

The upsides? More sales, awareness, and whatever other measure of success you’ve defined.

And there must be a risk-reward ratio in evidence, otherwise why are you doing anything at all?

One of the failings of marketers over the years has been to up-play the risks and downplay the rewards. This results in the curse of marketers everywhere – blandness.

The safe approach feels good. We’ve minimised risk. We don’t stand to lose too much – budget, face, reputation, responsibility.

But such thinking can be flawed.

Why? Because few brands operate in a vacuum. And while you’re busy playing safe, someone else (challenger brand, bold activist, new entrant) is out there trying something different. Taking risks.

One of the best ways to ensure your risk-reward ratio is in correct balance is to take time before each campaign to sit down and draft the real risks versus the potential rewards. And weight each accordingly.

What’s the real risk of losing your job if a campaign fails? If you can show your thinking was sound? If you can demonstrate a considered rationale?

Versus, the real upside?

Just a simple table – drafted like a set of scales – might push you to take greater risks.

Those risks should manifest themselves in bolder, more engaging campaigns. And it doesn’t always mean doing it louder or more brash. In a world where everyone is shouting it can sometimes pay to whisper.

Not swimming with the tide. Instead doing something bold. Standing out.

Marketing is about taking risks. Standing out is the risk worth taking.