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Taking a Risk Can Lead to Great Success

This morning we listened to a brief interview of American Idol's Simon Cowell. Something Simon said jumped out as important—perhaps life changing. Certainly something worth discussing here.

The interviewer was reminiscing of the days when American Idol was an idea, not an icon. Simon made the point that nobody thought that a talent show where the public decides who wins-would be successful.

"Perhaps that's exactly why it was successful," Simon explained.

Holy Toledo!

What a simple, yet brilliant, concept that is. American Idol was so outrageously successful specifically because nobody thought it was possible. In other words, it was a risk.

Risk is frequently discussed in small business marketing. To even get started in business is a risk. And certainly getting out of bed each morning and continuing is risky. But the type of risk Simon took is different than the kind most of us usually endure.

You see, when big production companies, record execs, and broadcast networks get together to produce a show, they're always risking money. And big deal—they have plenty of it. One show succeeding or failing doesn't really make a difference in the grand scheme of things for these big companies.

But this different kind of risk seems to transcend money. It goes straight to the core of who we are as intelligent beings: our ego.

Simon and the gang had plenty of money to risk. The real leap of faith was the potential ridicule they faced. Their strength was the ability to forge ahead even when everyone else said the idea was a bad one. Sometimes that's all the encouragement we should need (none).

Marketing a business or yourself is really no different. If you were to develop and refine a marketing campaign that was extremely successful, then asked all your friends, family, neighbors, customers, country club members and church congregants what they thought of your campaign, you would find that nobody really liked your campaign.

That's because effective marketing isn't about what people like. In fact, effective marketing usually stings. It hurts. It makes you uncomfortable enough to move—take action!

And if you reversed the process and held a focus group and did surveys to come up with the next idea for marketing your business, you would have a losing campaign on your hands in most cases.

Good ideas often times have whiskers. Mark Twain said, "Opportunity is missed by most people because it's dressed in overalls and looks like work." Once you allow people to start changing your ideas to "fit the mold" the idea will be destroyed.

But the biggest mistake people make is stopping before they start…surrendering before the fight. The world's best marketing efforts can be found scattered along the cliffs of friendship & marriage and around the walls of country clubs across the country.

Right now, one of our private consulting clients is marketing directly to physicians, inviting them to attend a financial workshop. Nothing new. But rather than invite them with the standard invitations, we use hand-written notes and printed newspaper articles—the whole package appears to have been sent from a fellow doctor (and it has been since one of the partners is a physician himself).

In the process of seeking out testimonials, they have acquired a vote of confidence and recommendation from the director of the medical society in their local county. However…in order to use her words, she has requested that she sign off on the package they are mailing. Well I am almost certain that she will not sign off.

The "hand-written" note has scribbles and scratches and looks a mess and the newspaper article (advertorial reprint) is loaded with heavy duty statements. No "normal" person would sign off on this. It violates standard practice. It isn't normal. And it shouldn't work.

But guess what? It does work. Physicians respond. The question for this client becomes, do they have the fortitude to withstand her criticism, forgo the testimonial, and keep going with what works? We think they do.

We'll see.

Another private consulting client of ours has spent almost a full year trying to decide on an image to paint on their fleet of trucks. Last year we told them to slap a headline and an offer on all sides of the huge trucks and see what happens.

They didn't take our advice (we're almost certain the owner's wife shot the idea down…"what would our friends at church think??"). So for months they've been driving around with blank, white box trucks—getting no value from the hours of time each truck in the fleet spends in traffic each week.

Wasted opportunity. And now, they're about to settle on a watered down image that will mean nothing and deliver no impact.

Wouldn't want to offend…

But for you the question is, do you have the guts to run an ad or send a letter or put up a web site or make an offer or run a promotion that everyone else thinks is bad? Or are you willing to try an idea without asking anyone else's opinion? We hope so, because after all, what do they know? Usually, when it comes to marketing, not much.

When marketing, frequently the best ideas fail and the worst ideas win. Why? Who knows. But the lesson is that it's not about perfection; it's not about beauty; it's not about gloss; it's not about public opinion.

It's about tapping deep into the primal desires within each one of us and uncovering the skeletons in our closet, the bumps in the night, those things that keep us up at night and give us heartburn during the day—then swooping in and magically curing those ills and saving the day.

And if what you deliver is a gift, who cares how you got there?

What if Simon had heeded the advice of the naysayers?

What would we do on Tuesday nights?

More importantly, imagine the impact the show has had on modern culture (like it or not) washed away having never existed.