Taking Risks in Digital Marketing Doesn’t Always Work & That’s OK

As children we were all encouraged by our parents, coaches and teachers to “learn from our mistakes” and “get back on the horse after you fall.” No this isn’t quite the same as the “everyone gets a trophy” jab that younger generations these days get tagged with, but rather the encouragement to take risks in search for high reward and learn from the mistakes and failures along the way in order to improve against the theory and try again for a better result.

At some point, whether it was during higher education or entering the professional workplace, the idea that risks can be taken and theories could be tested gets buried deep inside in favor of the lowest risk option that guarantees some level of security across the board. This is a chain of command issue professionally and it starts at the C-Level, where corporate culture is set and coached down through the chain of command. Typically, the CEO is protecting profit margins, the Marketing Director is protecting growth percentage, and the marketing team and vendors are told to make decisions based on numbers. The idea of risk vs. reward no longer exists. The idea of long-term gains gets pushed aside for short-term wins. In turn, a waterfall effect that punishes those looking to push for ideas that deliver results beyond industry standards by effectively implementing a “one strike and you’re out” rule.

The absence of risk taking creates a wake of mediocrity. Mediocrity, by definition, means the results will not exceed those of the other players in the market. Furthermore, there will be little to no differentiation in brand or product choice over others beyond price. No strategic business plan or marketing should be built around having the lowest price, therein lies the issue.

One of my favorite stories is that of Squatty Potty CEO, Bobby Edwards, defying his board of directors and forcing the company to make a huge brand push with the help of Harmon Brothers, the agency famously known for the Poo-Pourri campaign that went viral online, making Poo-Pourri an instant hit as a stocking stuffer and gag gift idea. The board wanted no part in a campaign that looked ridiculous and joked about the product. Bobby didn’t care and hired Harmon Brothers anyways. A campaign was developed featuring a sparkling unicorn pooping rainbow ice cream effortlessly while using the Squatty Potty accessory. The campaign, in combination with a Shark Tank appearance, caused product sales to soar in 2015 after a few years of stagnant growth.

How does this all relate to digital marketing or marketing in general? Well, taking risks in digital marketing campaigns doesn’t always work. We’re all scared of failing. In this new digital age, where every movement and action is trackable online and data can be reported in real time, as a society we’ve started playing to the averages to limit risk. We’ve forgotten that big ideas can overpower and push beyond calculated projections. We neglect to recognize that the data is there to help us course correct, not to condemn the first attempt at achieving success as a total failure.

Data is great, but how it’s used is key. Data can help identify if the idea, landing page, or ad architecture are underperforming and allow for adjustments. A great idea can fall flat if targeted to the wrong audience. A great ad architecture can fall flat if the landing page under-delivers on the ads/brands promise, thus failing to convert. A great landing page won’t do anything if the idea is not enticing enough to motivate a viewer to click. A great campaign could underperform if the advertising spend is under-funded for the target local and keywords bidding. Data can point out the opportunity for improvement.

The trick here is to understand that no matter how you slice it, risk can always be mitigated well after the fact if course correction is allowed to be a part of the process. It’s ok for a digital marketing campaign to not work immediately. Digital creative, marketing executions, and ad spends can all be easily adjusted on the fly. In fact, they should be adjusted on the fly constantly in order to continually learn and improve the campaigns performance.

So let’s avoid shying away from big creative ideas. Let’s test the boundaries of audience targeting. And remember to not give up on campaigns prematurely.

Let’s remember what our mentors taught us as children and learn from our mistakes to continually dream up and improve on our big ideas and maybe start taking risks in digital marketing.