American Footballer Colin Kaepernick may not be a household name in the UK, but in the United States, he will be forever connected to the stand he took (or lack of it, so to speak) when he knelt during the American national anthem as a protest against racial injustice. His actions polarised public opinion, with some, President Donald Trump included, saying it disrespected the American flag and the military. On the contrary, many saw Kaepernick’s actions as positive, with Amnesty International awarding him an ‘Ambassador of Conscience’ award. Following his protest, Kaepernick’s football jersey sold more than any other on the NFL’s official shop website. Nike, pouncing on the potential to boost their sales, featured a close-up picture of Colin Kaepernick on an advertising poster on the Labour Day holiday, emblazoned with the words ‘Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything’. And the effect? Nike’s sales were 31% higher in the same period in the previous year.
A risk worth taking?
There is little doubt that by advertising in a manner that emphasised the racial divide within America, and raising the ire of the President, Nike took a risk that could have led to escalating protests and alienation of a large portion of its buying population. There is little doubt that Nike’s top-level executives would have thought carefully before giving the green light to this campaign.
What does taking a risk in marketing achieve?
According to Forbes, high-risk strategies should not utilise all of your marketing budget; they favour a 70/20/10 approach, whereby 70% is bread and butter marketing with little risk, 20% is spent on innovative semi-risky ideas, and 10% is high-risk, high-reward. It’s not blindly about taking risks, it is also about experimentation and seeking new methods which will become the norm in the future.
What marketing strategies such as that executed by Nike achieve is to cut through the cacophony of promotion and messaging that pervades modern society, and more importantly, takes a stand. Todd Fischer, vice-president at GMR Marketing, a global marketing firm, was quoted in the Guardian as saying, “more and more, consumers are looking for brands that stand for something and take a position, so that they can decide for themselves if that represents their identity and their values”. For those with their finger on the pulse of modern marketing, this should come as no surprise. Millennials don’t want marketing for marketing sake; they want to trust businesses, and they can sense authenticity a mile away. By taking a strong social stand, Nike tapped straight into this in a way that came across genuinely. Millennials are expected to represent the largest generation since the baby-boomers; in fact, overtaking them in 2019, so it is imperative to understand their thinking and gain their trust.
5 top tips for taking risks in marketing
Get behind a worthy cause or charity – Millennials want to know they are making the world a better place, and by buying from you, they will be doing so. By authentically undertaking this, your audience will back you and will be loyal to your products.
Embrace all forms of social media – it is no longer enough to sit on the periphery of social media and offer little to the conversation. Companies must now truly engage with their audience through Reddit, Snapchat, Pinterest and Tumblr, not just Facebook and Twitter. Reddit is perceived as risky because anything that appears to be marketing will be swiftly dismantled by disgruntled users – but as a method of engaging with individuals who are passionate about fields of interest, it can be very effective at creating a following, and allows firms to listen to what people really think of their products and services.
Make predictions – by making predictions, you will attract attention, and signal that you are at the cutting edge of your chosen sector.
Be controversial – many blogs and social media posts go ignored, but by being selectively controversial, you can provoke discussion and raise your company’s profile. Controversial doesn’t mean offensive though.
Invest in marketing expertise – it is vital to engage the services of those who can carry out your new marketing strategy in the most effective manner. You might have a great idea for a viral marketing campaign, but if it is not undertaken professionally, it has a greater chance of back-firing. Risk needs to be managed, and the best way to achieve this is to hire those with a track record of success in taking marketing related chances.
Prospective and existing clients are becoming increasingly oblivious to traditional marketing methods, and new models are needed to break through and gain their attention. Taking a risk doesn’t mean putting it all on the line; it is about trying new ideas, embracing the future of commerce, taking a stand, and getting real with your audience. One thing is for sure, playing it safe and adopting the same marketing approaches as your competitors will not be effective in the long-term, so better to take off the arm-bands, and learn to swim away from the edges of the pool sooner rather than later.
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