Years ago I had a boss, Dick Miller, who was the President of our snack food company (Goodmark Foods). He was a marketing guy so we worked well together and I got to learn quite a lot from him. He was always open to wild and crazy ideas that pushed our marketing toward uncomfortable edges.
Looking back on it, one thing stood out from the hundreds of conversations we had about our marketing approach.
"If you aren’t making me, as the President, a little uncomfortable, you probably aren’t taking enough risks."
Marketing is often about experiments that help you learn and recalculate your approach. You can’t just do the same old thing over and over in a changing market. Testing the waters and trying new things was critical to continuous growth because competitors get smarter, competitive product offerings get better and things don’t stand still.
I approached Dick with a new ad campaign to reach our irreverent teenage male target with the phrase "Eat Me". It was an obvious double entendre and was a perfect call to action. I remember his response, I'm really not sure how our friends at Wal-Mart, Costco or Target will feel about this. But our job is to get product off the shelf. If I'm a little uncomfortable, that may be a good sign that we will get noticed.
The Slim Jim Guy and His Call To Action: EAT ME
If you are responsible for the marketing at your own small business or in a mid-sized company, what evidence do you have that you are pushing the edges hard enough?
Three questions to diagnose risk:
1. I like to ask myself, is the owner/President/senior leader going to be a little uncomfortable with what I am recommending?
2. Will he/she challenge me to pull back a bit, try something a little less aggressive or take a more predictable path forward?
3. Will there be rumblings from my management team colleagues that this is too much, too fast and too soon?
If the answer isn't yes 2 out of 3 times, I'm not pushing hard enough. To get somewhere new, you can't repeat the same things over and over again.
The risk adverse brand manager or small business owner needs to get themselves into the territory where their stomach rumbles, their palms get a bit sweaty and they generally feel like they may get a bit sick.
I’m not urging you to go off strategy to be different; I am urging you to test the outer limits of where that strategy can go. Like taking a car for a test drive, you better push the limits to see if you can achieve the speed necessary to move ahead of the pack.
Slim Jim Sales Spike
If you are wondering how that ad campaign worked, we did manage to annoy quite a few buyers with our point of sale material, but we also experienced double digit growth year over year. We got noticed and our target audience (young male teenage boys) did what we asked them to do - they ate lots of Slim Jims. (Credit to Good Steve/Bad Steve for their brilliant work)
No Risk, No Reward
Brands stake out new corners and spaces in a market place. They need a bit of crazy to fuel that action.
As Seth Godin likes to say...
“If you are deliberately trying to create a future that feels safe, you will willfully ignore the future that is likely.”
That queasy feeling is a healthy sign that you may start to get noticed again. In a busy world, getting noticed matters.
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