Running your own business is, at its core, a risk. A huge one. A giant one. There’s little safety net, and there’s not much between your hard work and failure. But your risk was calculated, and you did your research and your planning. You put in the legwork and your risk paid off. In the same way that starting your business took risk, it’s important to understand that growing your business requires risk as well.

One of the best places to take new risk is in your marketing plan. While the fallout in case of failure can be significant, see my post on marketing fails, taking a risk in your marketing can also be incredibly beneficial, just like this bit from the New York Times shows.

What’s important to remember is that, like our mantra here at Content Equals Money, content marketing at the Fortune 500 level is no different than at the $200k a year level. It boils down to content and creativity — not budget.

Let’s look at some creative marketing ideas that turn out to be success stories.

Risk #1

I love this example from, from the University of Kentucky. UK is using the Instagram photos of students and other fans to create billboards for a statewide marketing campaign. It’s a risk because you never know what kind of pictures you’ll get, and while UK maintained editing capabilities, they never knew if they would get enough of the right kind of pictures.

It turns out they got plenty, and were able to create a great marketing campaign from a great, risky, starting point.

Risk #2

I’m a sucker for food. Actually, I’m a sucker for unhealthy food — and like a lot of people one of my favorite foods is pizza. Rest assured though, the second risk we’re looking at doesn’t have as much to do with my stomach as it does with a marketing campaign that screams risk because of its blatant honesty.

This blog from a healthcare marketing company succinctly notes how Dominos engaged in a bold and risky marketing strategy of honest appraisals regarding their pizza.

Notice how open and honest Dominos was with their negative feedback. There’s definitely a second marketing lesson in here, around using negative feedback in a positive way to turn your company around, but our focus is on a risky marketing campaign. I mean, think about it. It’s incredibly risky to start out a marketing conversation with something similar to “We’re terrible, you’ve told us, and we understand. Here’s how we’re going to fix it.”

There’s something very risky, yet very courageous about it as well — And let’s not forget very delicious! And for Dominos it’s also very successful.

Risk #3

From Mashable in mid-2011, Jennifer Van Grove gives us a very detailed analysis of a risky marketing campaign by Ford Motor Company. For a brand like Ford, traditionally seen as conservative and perhaps even bland by many, a marketing campaign involving standup comics and hand puppets was certainly a gamble.

It’s definitely a gentle walk on a thin limb to use sock puppets and comedians to promote a vehicle. Doug, the puppet in question, is a so-called irreverent centerpiece to a series of ads featuring the puppet and a traditional comedic straight man, which travel on various road trips and constantly update their various social media profiles.

A nice dual-effect here is how Ford is not only using a risky marketing campaign to increase brand awareness and brand positivity, but also using social media to supercharge their sales (Doug’s Facebook page has almost 45,000 likes.)

Now it’s true this isn’t the most risky, but what Ford does well is setting goals and metrics for measuring their success, even if ventured from a moderate risk. If you look towards the bottom of Grove’s post you’ll see her citations of the goals and actual results of the campaign:

  • Goal: 10,000 total Facebook fans
  • Actual: 35,650 Facebook fans in four weeks
  • Goal: 2.5 million YouTube video views
  • Actual: 1.7 million views, or 67% of the goal with several months to go

More Stats:

  • Facebook post views: 725,000
  • Facebook “likes” and comments: 7,019
  • Facebook demographics: 70% of status updates reach Ford’s target 18 – 24 year-old audience
  • Twitter followers: 1,000

Part of what makes this campaign risky for Ford is that rather than posting the ads on or airing them on television, Ford posted them exclusively on YouTube. While YouTube is a proven medium, it’s difficult to gauge if posting videos with prominent calls-to-action will make much difference. But Ford set their goals, and did it anyway.

Clearly Ford has set goals, engaged in a risky marketing campaign, and succeeded.

In these three examples you can see just a small sampling of risky strategies. What’s key to learn here is that risk can pay off, as it has for all these campaigns. Bloomberg tells us that Dominos share price and sales increased, we’ve already seen the Ford metrics, and the UK campaign paid off in attractive and noticeable billboards.

What’s also very important to note is that these companies were first in their risks. When engaging in a risky marketing campaign, it’s easy to copycat another company, but that can easily lead to failure. In the era of everything social, your potentially-savvy marketing campaign can quickly change from “social marketing success” to “social mocking failure.”

Lucy Handley at Marketing Week, an online UK marketing publication, writes that risk matters. Indeed, it does. With a creative mind, and the necessary tools, you can easily duplicate these mass-market campaigns on a conservative and responsible budget that fits your company size.

It’s an overused phrase, but in this case it’s apt: Think Outside the Box. Get original, get creative. Use social media to your advantage, plan properly, and take your calculated risk. If you do, you never know; you might just be able to have your cake and eat it too.

But I can’t end my post nearly as well as Handley can: “I say here’s to brands being more ballsy.”

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