Almost every entrepreneur is focused on doing things differently: creating a different product or a different culture in an effort to stand out in a crowded marketplace.
Everyone wants to be unique but very few companies are willing to do what it takes to achieve it because they are stricken with a condition I like to call marketing cowardice.
What is marketing cowardice?
It's a fearful state of existence that prevents creativity, risk and individuality. It infects the actions of marketers and it is directly responsible for stale communications, easily forgettable campaigns, products, services or ideas.
Where does marketing cowardice come from?
The principles are ingrained in students early on when they are told how to accomplish a task or solve a problem according to how it's been done before. They listen because as far as they know, these methods are "tried and true."
Many veteran marketers are prone to marketing cowardice. They ask peers what they are doing to solve a problem and their peers are following the same "tried and true" methods they learned in school. Then students ask these same marketing executives how they solve a problem and the same approaches are passed on to these fresh thinkers to confirm what they've learned. As a result, the fresh thinkers inadvertently train themselves not to challenge the status quo, not to make too much noise, not to be too different and not to rock the boat, in order to avoid disagreement or nonconformity. It's a vicious circle.
Once marketing cowardice spreads in an organization it often grows into soulless communications, forgettable trade show events, listless website copy, impersonal brands, and an inability to create an impact.
Symptoms of marketing cowardice
Marketing is not merely about following a set of systems and putting all hope in them. Instead we need to approach marketing as a living, breathing, always changing and evolving art. Marketing is about creative problem solving and approaching tasks with the courage to jump out of a comfort zone to make an impact. If you need to be unique in the marketplace you can't afford to exhibit symptoms of marketing cowardice.
Those symptoms include but are not limited to:
• Fear of criticism from peers, co-workers, competitors and media.
• Inability to think at the extreme ends of the spectrum of concept development.
• Fear of breaking free from expectations.
• Inability to recognize the status quo and/or a fear of challenging it.
• The need to please everyone.
• Being comfortable with compromise during concept development.
• Inability to step outside the comfort zone.
Treatments for marketing cowardice
It's often treatable but only with complete dedication to a new way of thinking. Those wanting to eliminate marketing cowardice need to:
• Recognize the status quo in their industry and in the overall market.
• Develop strategies to challenge it.
• Become a persuasive communicator.
• Learn to be at ease with being uncomfortable.
• Focus on developing solutions, products, services and ideas that are worth talking about and sharing.
• Embrace creative problem solving.
• Learn that it's okay to make mistakes as long as it leads to your team learning and growing.
• Take risks.
Financial services and marketing cowardice
The best examples of marketing cowardice come from the financial services industry. It's riddled with banks, credit unions and brokerage firms that are scared to stand out.
Nevertheless, there are always examples of organizations willing to take risks. They aren't afraid to challenge convention and reject marketing cowardice – like discount brokerage firm ThinkorSwim.
With a simple visit to ThinkorSwim's website you get a feel for the brand it is building. Everything about it says it isn't just another uninteresting brokerage firm. It has the courage to try something different. Whether it's the creative banners, the quarterly magazine thinkMoney, or the stuffed monkey it sends in the mail when an account is funded, it refuses to follow the status quo by building a brand that is drastically different from that of its competitors.
It takes a tremendous amount of courage to be different, which is why most people feel comfortable just blending in. It's time to recognize the symptoms of marketing cowardice and act in spite of fear to try something that will help your company stand out in a crowded marketplace.
Special to the Globe and Mail
Ryan Caligiuri is a Winnipeg-based marketing specialist who has worked for companies of all sizes. He has collaborated with sales teams and marketing departments to introduce new ideas that he argues have refreshed the way people think about marketing. Engage with him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ryancaligiuri.