"Fail fast, fail often" is a familiar business phrase, but perhaps counter-intuitive for many recession-scarred marketers who have learned to live in a world of safe bets.
But, as the economy slowly recovered, it seems marketers have their mojo back and are now ready to live by new rules. The Advertising Association recently predicted that 2014 and 2015 would be the strongest consecutive growth years for UK adspend this century. Marketers now have the space to embrace risk not as a dirty word but as the doorway to untold rewards. With the best and brightest from the worlds of technology, marketing, art and music on their way to or from Austin, Texas, for SXSW this week, now is the time for marketers to pay attention to this start-up mantra and push their creativity to the limits.
Between ambitious goals and strict budgets, it can be unnerving to knowingly take risks that may not always pay off – and you might also wonder how you sell them to your board. But it’s important to keep in mind that no-one ever achieved anything great without taking a risk.
There are some consumer brands that really push the boundaries. Paddy Power’s hoax about clearing the Amazon before the World Cup garnered plenty of social buzz and column inches when other brands were struggling to cut through. Last year, Airbnb launched a £9 glossy magazine, turned a jet into a pimped-out hotel and debuted a social media campaign that involved giving $10 to 100,000 customers.
These out-of-the-box moves have arguably contributed to Airbnb’s rise in valuation from $10 billion to $13 billion.
Being an early adopter can give companies a much-needed competitive advantage
You don’t have to be a big brand or an edgy start-up to ditch the status quo and look to new ways of working. Some of the most successful global companies have been risk averse when adopting new technologies, for example, but being an early adopter can give companies a much-needed competitive advantage.
Taking the risk to invest in learning a new technology can provide a crucial competitive advantage. The online gaming company Jagex wanted to reinvent its marketing by not just adopting programmatic but by taking the technology in-house. This change seemed daunting at first, but embracing "test and learn" has paid off.
Introducing a "test and learn" culture might be one thing but maintaining it is another. Big brands such as Coca-Cola, Mondelez International and Unilever have created their own start-up programmes to tap into a wealth of new ideas and stay ahead. Coca-Cola, for example, can harness the agility of a start-up, using its partners to gain new insight and jump on the latest trends.
These companies have shown that pushing boundaries pays off. The unknown is not always a dark place – and these success stories are testament to that.
Chris Le May is the country manager, UK and Nordics, at DataXu