Risk in business is everywhere, it seems. And it’s important to manage risk. We need to understand how to identify, assess, monitor and reduce problems.
Risk management covers occupational health and safety, your staff, your finances and cash flow. But should you manage risk when it comes to marketing?
Let’s face it; starting a business in the first place is a risk. If you were to undergo a risk assessment for leaving a secure, full-time job or to mortgage your house on building a new product, more than likely you would come up with the conclusion that it’s too risky to go ahead.
So why do we ever have start-up businesses when every piece of logic says it’s easier to not take the risk? Because business owners (and entrepreneurs) have a passion to do something different – to leave their mark on the world. These people – we – believe it’s better to risk failure than to not try and have regrets.
With this in mind, why on earth would you then leave all your passion and courage to the side and be safe with marketing you and your business?
I don’t want to sound like I am a completely free-spirited gal who throws caution to the wind. I don’t. But sometimes there is a place for it. And I also know there is a hunger for it in the wider community. People want to be inspired with real life, tangible stories that demonstrate bravery and difference.
The easiest thing you can do is to look and sound the same as the rest of your industry. It’s seemingly worked for your competitors. It’s a ‘no risk marketing plan’. You review your competitors and what they are saying and where they are saying it. You assess their products and offer the same and at the same price.
Right? That makes sense and is what many marketers will tell you to do.
Or maybe you do the complete opposite and think creatively and do the hard work to be different. To risk standing out and have people look at you and your industry in a completely unique way.
Imagine having your competitors chase your tail rather than the other way round.
This type of marketing is not easy. I know. When I decided to risk a secure income and run my own consulting business I did it from a passion to be an alternative to what was being offered and actually care about helping business owners with honest marketing advice. I also knew I wanted my story to be a part of my business, because surely the real differentiation from other consultants was me, as a person.
In my first years of launching, I attended business, networking groups (as you do). I sat amongst some amazing people and put my heart on my sleeve and told them this: I have recovered from agoraphobia and debilitating anxiety with bouts of depression and I want to incorporate this element into my business. I believed this could help people beyond marketing.
The overall response: Do not do it. In fact, most believed I couldn’t show such vulnerability because it is too risky – people just want a marketer.
Did they really?
I chose to ignore this advice and do tell my mental health story. I decided the risk of having prospects walk away and not contacting me was worth it – they are not my customers.
But, confession time: It was truly frightening being so open. The first article my story appeared in was a national newspaper’s weekend magazine. When I looked at my photo and name in print and I burst out crying and said “What the f#ck have I done!” I believed my 6 month business would be in ruins.
In the market though, the opposite reaction was occurring. People who never knew my story reached out and congratulated me. People googled my name and found me. I had started a connection with my people.
I have no delusion that I lose clients from being so open about my background. However, I also know another reality is that I have gained clients because of my story. I don’t just tell people to care and be brave in telling their unique story, I actually do it, and my people like that.
Heart and bravery, and vulnerability and authenticity have become buzzwords within the marketing world. I really hate saying that, but do so seeing the number of presenters holding workshops on these topics who say nothing about their stories or look anything less than “perfect” (whatever that is meant to mean). So what can they actually teach if they don’t walk the walk?
When I say I care about my clients beyond their marketing, people usually believe me. Why? Because of my story and that I am an ambassador for both beyondblue and RUOK?Day.
Does that automatically make me a good person? Of course not, but it certainly builds trust for a prospect.
The point is this: Marketers talk about attracting your “ideal customers” to your business. I question: How can you do that if you do not risk (or embrace) sharing your unique qualities – to risk being different? And that means being transparent with your whole story of business: the good, the bad and the ugly.
To deliver great marketing you need to observe the world. I observe that the social media posts that I am most afraid of are the most liked and commented on. People want to know they are not alone. Life and business is not perfect.
But maybe it’s just me that feels this way? So, let me ask you the question:
What marketing makes you want to reach out and contact a business or person? How did their marketing make you feel? What made them stand out? What made you trust what they said?
I know there will be people reading this saying “risky thinking” isn’t always necessary or actionable, especially if your business delivers a plain ol’ widget. But you’d be surprised how often your unique offering is sitting right there for the taking if you think back to why you started the business (and, if you’re a marketing manager, challenge your CEO on this).
Next I’d like to ask:
Can your ideal customers be everyone?
It’s time marketers showed businesses how to get back to the core of marketing and define your USPs (unique selling proposition or points of difference) with context. We also need to do the difficult work and understand and communicate our whys of starting the business.
You already made the riskiest decision to start the business. Now honour this and continue with the same guts and determination and let your whys ooze in your marketing content.
Stand out! That’s your marketing goal. And that can be as scary as hell, especially at the beginning, but it’s also the most rewarding and does get easier.
Trust me, I know!
This article first appeared in My Business, August 2016 issue.