Brand leaders often enlist PR agencies to get a push out of their comfort zones -- to help the brand be bold, be differentiated, be meaningful. However, too often, initial excitement for a concept turns into cold feet because the idea feels “too risky.”
I know this feeling. As a first-time mom during the pandemic, I had to embrace the uncomfortable in unprecedented times with my new family. Similarly, marketers are emerging from recent events trying to guide brands forward and resume proactive programming while safeguarding reputations and bottom lines. If risk is critical for growth, how can today’s marketers warm their feet to the risks worth taking?
After a tough call with a prospect who admitted their PR program wasn’t mature enough for the big ideas proposed, I realized that marketers, like parents, need a toolkit that helps them trust when an opportunity or idea presents a smart risk. Extending a few toddler parenting lessons to the world of brand management can ease the anxiety of these daunting decisions. Here is a brief guide to help build your risk confidence:
Understand the objective -- and the journey to get there. After months of maintaining a small bubble, I wanted to help my son learn socialization. I knew that would entail exposure beyond me and his father. Introducing a new element like daycare or playdates was necessary.
Now, think of a desired outcome or brand benefit: to reach new audiences, establish thought leadership, build customer affinity, increase sales, etc. Achieving this almost always entails a change in brand behavior like a new campaign approach or communications strategy. As a marketer, you must understand that a change in behavior inherently means introducing something different. Yes, it may feel uncomfortable, but trust that your agency partner has your best interest in mind.
Change your mindset: Reframe the question. I reviewed endless research on the health and safety implications of daycare and interactions outside the household during the pandemic. Every article ultimately encouraged parents to “do what was right” for their families. Nothing felt “right.” That’s when I realized I was asking the wrong question.
The toddler parenting tool from @safebeginnings helped ease my safety anxiety: 1) Learn the difference between a risk and hazard, and 2) decide which category your safety concern falls into. A risk has some degree of “danger” but also offers benefits. A hazard has potential “danger” without any benefits.
Reframing “Is this right for the brand?” to “Is this a risk or hazard for the brand?” can help clarify otherwise subjective decision making.
Assess the facts. Know the dangers AND the benefits. One common thread among brand leaders in cold-feet situations is a heightened focus on the potential “danger” of a brand action, with very little discussion of the benefit or reward.
Give any idea the proper due diligence by examining all the possible benefits. Perhaps the campaign elevates a company value or mission (making it vulnerable to possible criticism among select audiences), or it helps curate modern relevance (while alienating a legacy customer), or it expands the brand into a new category (deviating from the founder’s vision). Once you accept that risk is twofold, presenting both benefit and “danger,” it’s easier to overcome the emotional hurdle of doing something different.
These small but tangible shifts in how you approach an opportunity can help when you find yourself in the gray area of “this feels risky.” Marketers should feel empowered, not burdened, by the responsibility to discern what risks or opportunities have the potential to deliver high brand rewards, versus the hazards that truly have no upside for the brand.
Today there’s incredible opportunity for brands that are willing to do something different -- and the marketers who are willing to embrace calculated risks to be brave.