Monthly Archives: January 2014

Ha-Ha-Ha. (How To Laugh at Risk.)

Sir Alex Ferguson Photo courtesy of Link:
Sir Alex Ferguson
Photo courtesy of

Chancy, dicey, uncertain, precarious, perilous.

Risk is complex and difficult. And seen mostly as foolhardy.

Nothing earth-shatteringly new there. It can be a pitfall.

But what if you have a wholly new take on things in your company or your industry? A brilliant insight as to the way ahead.

How do you get traction for fresh ideas that have nothing to do with the accepted strategy of the day? The stuff set in stone.

Would you risk going against the acknowledged norm?

How would you have fared as a risk-taker at the now-floundering Kodak, inventors of digital photography?

Would you have chanced everything in 1979 to shout bravely in the boardroom that Kodak needed to change — to go beyond film?

Against Kodak’s vast revenue stream flowing in for generations, could you have argued that the company needed to reverse direction and put everything into developing their fledgling digital process?

Of course, it takes guts, knowledge and more than a little bit of the Nostradamus factor to do that.

Yet Sir Alex Ferguson had it all.

He built a $3 billion global brand, Manchester United, on risk.

Starting in 1986, as team manager, Alex Ferguson, complied a  stunning record based on uncertain decisions.

He put aside conventional wisdom and textbook thinking, often axing bright stars and bringing up untried players to win the day. Flexibility reigned.

As you probably know, his team won season after season.

Manchester United achieved an incomparable record amassing League Titles and European Cups.

You’d soon wear out your arms if the job of polishing their trophies fell to you.

What an organization! As a comparison, a team heading to the Superbowl, the Seattle Seahawks, is worth $1 billion.

When it comes to strategy and content, too many marketers are on the slippery slope of risk. The foolhardy position.

They’re in jeopardy because they are approving work you might call formulaic and drab —  too often it’s feature-based instead of stressing customer benefits.

It’s reflective of boardroom views, not the customer’s view.

It’s the kind of advertising that’s risky because simply, you can’t bore people into buying your product. I think it was  Bill Bernbach who first said that.

An alternative would be to focus on prospects’ problems, worries, needs and deep-seated desires.

Get your agency aligned in that direction.

If they present work that strikes you as something wholly logical but somehow familiar, don’t feel reassured.

Because when your strategies and solutions are no different from everyone else’s that’s the definition of mediocrity.

But if the ideas that cross your desk are shockingly new and unfamiliar you may be on to something that’s cut-through and effective.

Originality is the way to make risk work for you and leave your competition behind.

Sir Alex Ferguson was knighted for it.

You could be forever praised for it.


‘Dear Sir/Madam’ emails.

Cartoon by Geoff Stevenson
Cartoon by Geoff Stevenson

‘Dear Sir/Madam, nothing about your product is mind-numbing but your advertising comes close.’

Get a note like this and the best response is to reward the writer in a grand way.

Send them your sincere thanks and a value coupon.

Because it’s a prompt to get your messaging in step with user experience.

It’s an opportunity to realize that whatever your product or service may be, you’re also in the boredom alleviation business. We all are.

So start by avoiding the big-brag approach — one-way messaging — and erase drabness with imaginative, impactful stories.

No doubt you already live and breathe this, but here goes anyway.

A boardroom view doesn’t always double as a road map for strategy and content.

In fact, what a CEO believes his/her brand to be and what customers think can be different.

We met a marketer yesterday who had a telling story on the subject.

She started a new job and spent the first week in orientation. Shaking hands at the C-level and seeing powerpoints because as she was told, the sales force could always wait.

Of course, the sales people see customers daily. They’re the eyes and ears of the company.

Their take is often key in helping to connect with customers and build immunity against the competition.

On Friday afternoon she acted and took home a print out of emails from customers.

Many revealed problems and opportunities the current strategy didn’t cover. What boardroom logic dictated wasn’t always the case and there was little emotion in the company’s messaging.

More’s the pity, because people buy with a healthy dose of emotion from those who display an understanding of their problems.

As you’ve probably guessed, her next move was two-fold. Research and testing.

After all, a better knowledge of customers, lapsed customers, the competitions’ customers, prospects and the category is commonsense.

As is testing.

What’s happened to testing in the digital age?

As a sidebar to the last, there are the Steve Jobs stories that circulate online.

He would answer customer emails and even calls from time to time.

A frontline approach to gather intelligence. A great way to find out what people think as it gives you the opportunity to make a customer for life.

‘Ring-ring … hello, this is Steve from Apple, how can I help?’

Imagine the ‘Dear Steve’ thank-you emails after it was revealed he was The Steve.

As the marketer mentioned above will tell you, start from the customer’s point of view and develop messaging from there.

Without that, as they say, you’ve got all the potential of a blind roofer.

Has customer response changed your approach to the market? Tell us how.