“You can’t be cool and dress like Elmer Fudd” – Jeffrey Hayzlett

I had the opportunity last week to hear Jeffrey Hayzlett, former CMO of Kodak, speak and he reaffirmed something I’ve long supported. And that’s the need to take risks with your marketing. To push the envelope and ruffle a few feathers. If you’re not, then you’re trying to appeal to everyone and will find it tough to cut through the clutter. If you’re not upsetting someone then it means you’ve watered down your message, your creative to the point that it’s innocuous. And it’s going to get ignored.

You simply can’t matter to everyone. Plain vanilla is just that. Plain vanilla. As Jeffrey said, your marketing needs to create tension. Find the line you need to hit and go there. Not 60 steps away from it. And if you cross it, then you definitely know where it is!

How likely are you to respond to a message that says ‘we’ve got the next generation solution that’s going to revolutionize your productivity’? Right. Means nothing doesn’t it? It’s convenient because all you have to do is insert brand or company name and off you go. My colleague Jason just returned from Confab and in one session speaker Eric Karjaluoto of Vancouver, B.C. based Smashlab talked about how no one wants to read your press release. You know the one filled with jargon? He quipped that there’s a fax machine that takes it in and spits it into the garbage as it’s transmitted. Rather, he says people want to know your story. What cool things have you and your company discovered or done? What really gets you up in the morning?

So stop with the milk toast marketing speak! It’s funny how we humans become so much less so behind the guise of marketing. As if we’re not able to speak like the real people we are.  Yes, it’s harder because you actually have to know a little something about your prospects. Like what really matters to them. And it’s not your leading solution! It’s how you make their lives better.

And you know what? Your customers want to see that you’re a real human! Warts and all. Based on data from Bazaarvoice, Mitch Joel talks about how negative online reviews drive sales more than positive. Why? Because it means the company’s not afraid to let you know some people don’t like their stuff. And it gives them an opportunity to show you how they addressed the problem. In fact, it gives the company a front row seat into where they need to innovate. It’s simply REAL LIFE! No one seriously believes all the hype marketers spout.

“No one is going to die.”

Yet so many companies are afraid to let you see they actually make a mistake now and then. And even more are afraid to create marketing that actually gets noticed. Partly because of the layers of approval campaigns need to go through – causing death by committee because no one wants to take credit for creative that pushed the envelope and failed.

And that’s where Jeffrey’s final point comes in: No one is going to die. It’s marketing after all. So if it doesn’t work, try again. Keep innovating and pushing; don’t fall back on what’s safe.  And just as you can’t go out and make something go viral, you don’t always know what’s going to work.

Companies need to foster a culture that rewards smart risk taking over safety. Note I say smart – this isn’t a license to risky just because. Otherwise few are going to stick their neck out if no one else in the room will back them up. Yes, it takes guts. It takes a willingness to stand for something and risk being wrong. To risk ridicule and embarassment. Use such moments to learn and teach. Yet the safe path isn’t really that safe. More and more marketers are going to find themselves deleted. Tuned out. Trashed. Ignored.

But before you start down the path of radical creative, you have to set what Jeffrey calls conditions of satisfaction. You must always be relevant. You gotta know what it is your customers want. What they expect. And deliver on it. Because once your radical marketing brings people in the door – whether that door is physical or virtual – you have to fulfill their expectations or you just wasted your money.

There’s plenty of time for the safe stuff. Save it for giving your customers the reason to believe. For backing up your claims and proving you’re the partner they want to work with. Just don’t expect safe to bring them in the door.

Oh, you also have just 8 seconds to capture their attention. Try doing that with safe.

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