October 4, 2023

The Risk of Playing it Safe

Dallas Erwin

LinkedIn | Heinrich Thought Leadership

Uncertainty, it’s the ever-present excuse to shy away from trying something new with your brand and marketing. Whether it’s global current affairs or internal company concerns, the lack of predictability in the world makes it intimidating to try novel creative concepts. But uncertainty should drive creative exploration rather than limit it. Keeping your marketing team ready to try new things, think on their feet, and move forward with well-planned ideas keeps your brand adaptable so that it can thrive in a world of constant change. The process that’s required to discover bold ideas not only ignites intelligent thinking, but it pushes your team’s collective creativity as well.

At first, telling leadership they should or need to take risks with creative output might appear mockingly heroic. Whether it’s revamping your website, playing with new taglines, or incorporating different design elements, all of it can sound costly and time-consuming. But does your brand have the time and money to be irrelevant and boring?

Creative risk-taking isn’t as hedonistic as it first appears when it’s calculated risk-taking. We can’t scrap brand guidelines or forget where we came from. Calculated risk-taking is about maintaining authenticity and relevance while forging new paths to your audiences' hearts. The benefit for clients is that it distills what’s most captivating about their brands while igniting the kinetic energy that keeps audiences intrigued.

Finding the Time
Fostering a healthy process for ideation is a good place to begin taking calculated risks. Actively seek opportunities for your creative team to branch out of their comfort zones. Advertising, marketing, and branding teams intrinsically want to create—they feel rewarded and invigorated when you unleash their minds to discover. Brilliant ideas need a place to exercise so that they can grow. Opportunities for these brainstorming endeavors won’t pop up on their own. Set aside time to explore those concepts that you’ve been kicking around.
A space free of breakneck deadlines is ideal. The goal of these brainstorming sessions might be more analytical than a lot of the daily tasks you ask of your team. Style guides have some good avenues to go down if you’re stumped on topics to focus on. Perhaps there’s a brand pillar that everyone in the company seems to interpret differently—use that as a topic and spend a meeting mapping it out. This could lead you to questions that your audience has been wondering about too. Team building and growing trust are two biproducts of these types of brainstorming meetings that can help you justify the time and resources necessary for creative play time.

Keep it Fun
People need to feel comfortable to get wild, and the best ideas fall somewhere between the absurd and the obvious—to get there, make your team feel like they can voice anything and everything. Some argue for shelving every idea (even the really bad ones), no matter how off-the-wall they might seem initially. Best of all, you’re elevating trust through these processes when you let people get weird with ideas. Humans want to feel like they’re discovering and not just going through the motions. A culture of trust makes it easier for people to share, and this allows decision-makers to have the information they need to operate with an analytical perspective, keeping risks calculated and not a guessing game.

If you need help creating an ideation process for your brand’s creative concepting and execution, hire an agency. Find one that’s been around for a while. Older agencies have weathered more changes than the younger ones and have seen what works and what doesn’t. You might also find that they care more about client success than winning awards for themselves.

Listen to Creatives
Whether you’ve hired an agency or have a robust in-house creative team, listen to your expert writers and designers with patience and an open mind. It’s easy to fall into the same thought patterns in creative reviews. Hiring intelligent people and not listening to them isn’t the best use of your time. It’s like buying an expensive candy bar, then taking the time to dissect all the peanuts out, when all you originally wanted was a few peanuts.

Are You Playing it too Safe?
There’s no definitive checklist for knowing if you’re playing it too safe with creative output, but a positive place to begin is asking yourself, “Are we doing the same thing and hoping for different results?” This notion is raised in famous quotes and countless motivational talks, but it’s rarely embraced with sincerity. Posing this question productively is challenging because identifying what “doing the same thing” looks like can feel subjective. The purpose of cultivating a culture where ideas have room to play, creatives are listened to, and ideation is fun, supports fearless conversations. And this sense of fearlessness is essential for healthy discussions that lead you to the exploratory creative work that your brand's audience is looking for.

New ideas can be scary and, at times, even sound foolish. The creators of one of the most successful video games of all time had to go to their boss and say: I have an idea for a game where mustachioed, Italian[NF1] plumbers hunt down mushrooms in plumbing while fending off turtles in hopes of finding a princess in the piping. Super Mario Brothers is now a household name despite how absurd that idea sounds. Learn to see creatives’ new ideas as opportunities to explore more and dig deeper. Stay fearless while brainstorming. Grow trust with your creative team through team-building ideation time and, most importantly, don’t take the risk of playing it safe.

I'd just say Italian. The game originated in Japan. [NF1][NF1]