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Four Ways Marketers Can Take Risks Without Being Risky

by Carl Marci  |  
August 7, 2017
  |  2,085 views

In today's consumer environment, marketers must take risks. The landscape is just too crowded, and consumers are too distracted. So doing the same old thing and expecting a different result; that isn't just the definition of insanity, it's also a recipe for getting lost in the clutter and risking brand irrelevance.

Success, however, lies in understanding the difference between taking risks—and being risky. The former can expand your audience, awareness, and brand perception; the latter will detract from your ability to do so.

The Super Bowl earlier this year was a microcosm of taking risk vs. being risky, with brands straddling the line between the two while pushing the boundaries of a platform once reserved for beer, scantily clad women, and cheap laughs. If you were one of the 100+ million who watched the game, you were exposed to social issues and messages that once were taboo from advertisers—from taking stands on equal pay for women and immigration to FOX's patriotic messaging and Lady Gaga's halftime performance nods to the NFL's "Inside These Lines" unity advertisements.

But those messages and the reactions they generated certainly raise questions:

  • How do you push boundaries without exceeding them?
  • How do you take chances while remaining true to your brand?
  • How do you engage your audience without offending them?
  • And, most important, is there a way to know the answer before your campaign ever hits the market?

One of the keys is having a deeper-level understanding of your consumer—which is where neuroscience plays an important role. Neuroscience has shown that more than half our brain processing occurs below conscious awareness, and that conscious responses (to surveys, dial tests, etc.) only reveal a portion of what affects consumer behavior.


By fully understanding your consumer, you can understand the limits of risk—before it becomes risky.

Through years of research, we've identified four key areas in which brands might take risks with the appropriate level of riskiness for the brand.

1. Social Activism


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Dr. Carl Marci is chief neuroscientist of Nielsen Consumer Neuroscience.

LinkedIn: Carl D. Marci, MD

Twitter: @CMBiometrics

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  • by SteveAlker Tue Aug 8, 2017 via web

    An excellent article. Could I also add that a further way of being risky without taking unnecessary risks is to model the situation?

    My brand of OR which I have practised alongside marketing management for 38 years, allows a risk in marketing to be modelled in the context of existing information. If the company has a substantial set of metrics, then the risk of a given course of action can be quantified and more importantly, it can be looked at in terms of the knock-on effects it will have on all other company activities.

    I have just written an article called how Big Orders Can Kill a (successful) Company and how to avoid it from happening. So a big step change in marketing can seriously damage a company. However, with modelling (I use OR and the Optimisation of companies using Linear Programming) you can see exactly what the consequences can be and avoid those which will have a negative impact or at least plan for them.

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