We’re all working in uncertain times.
After more than two years of the pandemic, we’re now going eyeball-to-eyeball with a recession. Online, the woe-is-me crowd dominates.
In this atmosphere, it’s not a crazy idea to think let’s just sit tight. We can kick the decision can down the road and live to fight another day. After all, the first rule of marketing is, “Physician, do no harm,” yeah?
And, that might be the right approach for you and your company. Your particular business might be more directly in the possible-recession crosshairs, so you might want to hang back for now.
But, for most companies, doing nothing is a mistake.
It reduces us to idling in place. It is willfully saying that we don’t want to grow. It underestimates our audience. And it lumps us together with all the other scaredy cats who decide that receding into the background is the best strategy.
As marketers, it flies in the face of our professional purpose of getting people to notice and trust our company.
Now is the time to embrace courageous marketing, moving boldly ahead with messaging that resonates, tactics that separate you from the pack and a willingness to realize you can’t be all things to all people. It’s time to stand for something so you become known for something.
What is courageous marketing?
Marketing with courage requires a willingness to stick your neck out. Sure, we could play it safe and progress slowly up the corporate ladder, all the while talking about our admiration for the brands that really make it big.
But that talk is empty if you never screw up the courage to take the big swing. Marketing is a business discipline intended to hit grand slam home runs, and if you’re too afraid to swing for the fences, you’ll never actually fulfill your job.
Courageous marketing is rooted in Why You Exist. It takes a stand it believes in, knowing competitors will disagree with the stand.
Courageous marketing doesn’t follow what everyone else is doing. It doesn’t get bogged down in industry best practices, which are too often tomorrow’s outdated sclerotic processes.
Courageous marketing is messaging that is unique, powerful and brave. No “innovative solutions” here.
Courageous marketing is not just about messaging. The goal is not to be an outlandish bomb thrower; it’s to have a differentiated message and to share it in a unique way—maybe a different graphic approach than the rest of the industry or engaging story “container” that creates a new level of content experience.
Courageous marketing doesn’t automatically jump into specific tactics and channels. It thoughtfully identifies the best way to connect your message to your prospective customers.
Courageous marketing doesn’t try to please everybody. It is an earnest attempt to generate an affinity and relationship with your ideal seek-to-serve clients.
Courageous marketing isn’t angry, but it is defiant.
4 pillars of courageous marketing
There are four pillars of courageous marketing: Knowledge, Confidence, Action, Evolution. In a perfect world, you’ll work your way through these pillars sequentially, but it’s okay if you toggle back and forth between pillars—just don’t let yourself get bogged down and take forever.
Knowledge begins with organizational self-knowledge. Who are you? Maybe more importantly, who are you not? Where do you want to go, and how can you get there? What’s a better, more courageous way to state your message? Always start with an audience-focused message before you try to figure out the best channel to transmit that message.
Determining this requires experience and/or education. You can’t rush this. This requires some hard thinking. It demands different perspectives, including an understanding of what the outside world thinks about you.
Once you’ve got a firm grasp on who you are and where you’re going, you need to build up your Confidence. Get comfortable in this discomfort. You and your team need to develop belief in what you are and what you’re not, what you’re doing and what you’re not doing. Because people will question you. The CEO will give you heat when things take longer than expected. Sales will wonder where the hell their leads are. Outsiders will mock you. You must have the belief to stay the course, so make sure your idea can withstand scrutiny. If you’re lucky, you’ll work in an organization where you can access mountains of data on customer behavior. If you’re in a (typically) smaller company that doesn’t have such data, you might need to lean more on your gut, or past experiences, or your own deep understanding of the marketplace.
And then it’s time for Action. There are two phases of Action:
- Creating your campaign
- Launching your campaign
Creating your campaign should naturally grow from the work you’ve already done. You’re looking to tell your story in a new way, which means throwing down a challenge to your industry through messaging, design and distribution. You’re telling a new story, so think about new ways to tell it.
When you hit the Launch button on the campaign, you will not be 100 percent sure of your plan. No one ever is. This is normal … fear is as normal as the air we breathe. If you spend all your time planning, refining and tweaking, you’ll never put it out into the world, and you’ll never know if you were right. And, even if your concept was right, you will be wrong. As Teddy Roosevelt once said, “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”
Once the campaign is out in the wild, Evolution is a must. The best approach is to be data-focused. What’s resonating? What’s not? What channels are working? What else can we do? Double down where you should.
Importantly, the evolution phase cannot be a time when you backpedal. Don’t shrivel up in the face of opposition—you’re supposed to be ready for this. Iterate forward, not sideways or backward.
Philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer once said, “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”
That’s courageous marketing—being ahead of the slow-moving, often meek marketing masses. And it’s what all successful companies did somewhere along the way.