Marketing Effectiveness
Differentiating Your Content Marketing Strategy

Are You Taking Enough Risks with Your Marketing?

July 13, 2016

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10-second takeaway: Taking great risks is easier said than done, but my team recently challenged me to practice what I preach. One thing I realized? When you make calculated decisions and create a plan, you’ll wonder why you ever hesitated to begin with.

Every time your company decides to build a new product, it takes a sizable risk. A new product can easily cost hundreds of millions of dollars just to develop – not to mention the opportunity cost of having your developers not working on something else. Sure, this risk is a calculated one that’s hopefully backed up by research and customer validation. But, at the end of day, it is still a risk.

However, it also begs the question: Are the marketing departments of these same companies also taking calculated risks and pursuing the upside they can offer?

In my experience, the answer is often a resounding, “no.” This is particularly so in technology companies where there is less sophistication in marketing analytics. No tech marketer was ever fired for doing trade shows, tear sheets, a website and a sprinkling of social. But just playing it safe in marketing is playing to lose in the long term because you’ll ultimately never break through the clutter.

In tech companies, marketing should be the place where risk-taking is encouraged the most. The upside of breaking through with a campaign is huge – you create a big presence in the market without needing a big budget. And the downside is limited – if you use a “test and learn” approach you can kill any program that’s not working before it consumes too much of your budget.

My team recently pushed me to take a risk and I have to admit I was initially skeptical – like a doctor ignoring his own advice. But then I was excited. Their idea was to do something totally different than traditional semiconductor marketing which is usually something like this: 25% faster and 25% lower power than the previous generation, plus some charts to prove it. They wanted to skip over the spec and instead talk about the user experiences possible with our newest Snapdragon processor.

The idea? They wanted to do this by shooting a 30-minute thriller film in which the protagonist used a smartphone to find his missing girlfriend. It would be the world’s longest product demo that people actually wanted to watch.

The target market? China.

They lined up incredible talent to make the thriller: Armando Bo (who recently won an Academy Award for writing Birdman), Olivia Munn (X-Men: Apocalypse), Leehom Wang (the #1 recording artist in China [and hence worldwide]) and Joan Chen. The combined social following of the talent (i.e., ~50M) exceeded the population of many countries, so we didn’t need to invest a lot in media. And my team had smartly mapped the customer journey from the discovery of content through social and iQiyi (think Hulu) to consumers purchasing a phone online at JD.com (think Amazon).

So what was the risk? Our 30-minute thriller didn’t mention the product name once – or contain a single call to action. This, in turn, made it incredibly watchable. No worries about consumers abandoning the video because it was too commercial.

But we were relying on consumers then watching a “behind the scenes” video to see that the experiences in the thriller were enabled by a Snapdragon processor. If we missed the conversion rate from views of the thriller to views of the “behind the scenes” video, the return on investment would be underwater.

Of course, we proceeded, or I wouldn’t be writing this article. But the interesting thing is how we managed the risk. The team rightly pointed out that they had budgeted for this big bet and weren’t tapping into foundational program spend. The media value, even assuming no incremental sales, exceeded our costs because we were relying more on the quality of the content and the talent for views than paid media. And, after some back and forth, the team built a re-targeting program to minimize the risk that viewers of the thriller would not watch the “behind the scenes” video and get on a path to purchase.

The program is still running, but results have already far exceeded my expectations. And for this article the details are not important; what is important is that we remembered to take risks and actually budgeted for it.

So remember to plan for and take calculated risks with your marketing. And to hire strong teams and partners who will hold you to this.

If you want to watch the thriller our team produced and deplete a couple day’s worth of adrenaline, you can do so, HERE.

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