Take More Marketing Risks: 3 Lessons from Toddlers

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I always marvel at the fearlessness of children. Now that I’m working from home, spending most of my hours, days and weeks watching my two-year-old son’s every move, I do it very often. In a single day, I can easily count at least a handful of moments in which I’m intently watching him navigate a new challenge. Sometimes, these tasks are basic, but for the most part, they’re a bit risky.

One of his favorite games is “the floor is lava.” While not as intense as the new Netflix game show, it’s the same premise: We throw pillows and couch cushions on the floor in abstract patterns. His only objective is to get from one side of the room to the other without touching the floor. I get a kick out of watching him try to solve the puzzle in his head, conjuring up the most seamless path. I inevitably cringe with concern as he wobbles along his journey, often fumbling off one of the squishy stepping stones.

In those moments, I hold my breath, waiting to see whether he’ll let out a cry. More often then not, he boisterously laughs and shouts “I’m okay!” Then, he gets back up, composes himself and does it again. This isn’t just a lesson in fearlessness but in resilience—and in these times especially, I think it’s something we can all learn from.

In fact, it’s something I ponder often: Why can’t I be more like my son? Why can’t I take more chances without fear of the potential outcome? Like many others, I can be averse to risk, especially in a professional context. I like structure, I like rules and I tend to be a bit “by the book” when it comes to procedures.

But at the same time, I love being creative and finding new ways to reach and connect with people. That’s why I set a goal this year to take more risks, do less “by the book” and find ways to challenge my own biases and status-quo thoughts. Like my sweet little boy, I’ve tumbled along the way and learned some hard lessons. But I’ve also discovered productive ways to integrate risk taking in my daily work. Here are some daily reminders to help you take marketing risks:

Small Moves Can Make a Big Impact

Many associate risk taking with grandiose gestures, pivots in strategy and flouting the rules. But sometimes, it’s as simple as going a bit outside your typical approach.

As an agency, we know that our clients and prospects receive an overwhelming amount of emails daily. We are consistent with our communication; however, we’ve focused on prioritizing messages that really matter, and promoting resources we believe are truly valuable for them.

To help these messages stand out, we’ve taken a few risks with our subject lines. We’ve seen a boost in click and open rates when adding relevant emojis and using more playful, personal messaging. In fact, we’ve had a few people reply to our messages and share them with their teams for inspiration. That’s a huge win for us, and it was a very small risk for us to take.

Some Situations Offer More Freedom

Sure, certain industries may be a bit less responsive to playful messaging and emojis. But at the end of the day, we’re all human and we all respond positively to powerful storytelling and more personal engagement. That’s why, when appropriate, I’m always a big fan of a good theme or quirky title.

Please note the use of “when appropriate.” There are certain circumstances where quirkiness is simply frowned upon. If you’re trying to stand out, though, it may be a powerful way for you to test a new approach.

We’ve tested a variety of themes and design approaches for our webinars and virtual events. We know we’re competing for attention (especially now), and a session title and cover art are typically what grab the audience’s eye. For a recent Demand Gen Report webinar series, we decided to put a fun spin on our session that focused on creating content for ABM.

During our initial planning process, we brainstormed around the fact that a lot of our clients are ready to embrace ABM but don’t know what actions to take to create content for their programs. To show our audience that we empathize with their struggles, we titled our webinar: ABM Without the WTF: 8 Lessons from Top-Performing Brands.

We believed that in addition to being a bit in your face, it illustrated to our audience that we would be breaking down the confusion that may come with ABM and also integrate some case study examples.

I know using swear words in titles isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. I had a pit in my stomach when we went live with it. But in this case, it made sense in context with our content goals and our goal of standing out against a large roster of impressive sponsors.

Ultimately, the session garnered the highest number of registrants, live attendees and requested follow-ups for our branded webinars to date.

Challenge the Status Quo

As I was putting together my thoughts for this piece (and mindlessly scrolling LinkedIn), I stumbled across this post from Allen Gannett, author of The Creative Curve. The first sentence was like a punch in the gut: “A major mistake in creativity is following trends or best practices.” Oof.

My whole career is fundamentally based on applying best practices for content marketing. But it’s also my job to be thinking one step ahead. Combining established best practices with actual buyer behaviors to find new ways to create content, inform and engage audiences.

He continued: “Think about this. Ideas that take off tend to have one foot in the old and one foot in the new. They’re intriguing because they’re different but not too different.”

This goes a step further than our emoji-touting subject lines. You have to get uncomfortable, push creative limits and go beyond what has been done by others in your field. There is no perfect formula to doing this, which is where things get risky, but exciting. We’re pushing the boundaries of today’s best practices to create new ones.

Risks Sometimes Go Awry

I hope these reminders help you see that you can take marketing risks every day. They don’t have to be big. Sometimes they make a positive impact, and other times they fall flat.

With that, I want you to remember that the outcome of these marketing risks do not define you as a marketer—or as a person. We must own our decisions and, in most cases, that means taking negative feedback from your colleagues and peers. It’s our job to learn from these situations, and most of all, adapt and grow from them. If we do that, it’s fair to say that even the risks that don’t pan out come with a payoff. 

So what do you say, are you ready to take some marketing risks with me? If you need some more inspiration, take a look back at Creativity in a Digital World, our take on some of the most inspirational lessons from the B2B Marketing Exchange in February.

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