About risk and reward in marketing: Can you take the (rational) leap of faith?

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A dramatized simulation of a 1979 Rhodesian soldier. I rationally decided to stay far away from the actual war zones -- though folks at home in Canada thought I was a daring risk taker
risk
A dramatized simulation of a 1979 Rhodesian soldier. I rationally decided to stay far away from the actual war zones — though folks at home in Canada thought I was a daring risk taker

Hopefully, I’ll be able to attend the annual Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) Build Business conference in Philadelphia this summer to see speaker Capsar Berry explain risks and rewards.

Berry, a former UK poker player who reinvented himself as a business consultant/motivational speaker will describe the importance of overcoming the fear of failure. He says, when he concludes his presentation, he hopes individuals will feel “like not everything they do has to succeed in order to succeed in the long run.”

“That’s what you call innovation and risk taking,” he told The SMPS Marketer. “Once you understand that and are liberated from that, you feel more confident to do things that you wouldn’t before. I will show the audience mathematically that might be a really good thing.”

Motivational speaker and former poker player Caspar Berry will discuss risk taking at the SMPS Build Business Conference.
Motivational speaker and former poker player Caspar Berry will discuss risk taking at the SMPS Build Business Conference.

I think we see the consequences of the fear of failure in our business lives quite frequently in the sales calls not made, the advertising campaigns not tested and the new ideas put on the back burner to preserve the status quo.

Yet I also understand the reason for this risk-averse behaviour.

Consider, for example, your thought that you might want to consider advertising your business/practice.

The challenge here for larger contractors, architects and engineers is that the data points for successfully measuring your results are truly challenging to validate. (The situation is much different for larger-scale residential contractors, who might do hundreds of jobs a year. But it is still a leap of faith for the smaller contractor who has lived with word-of-mouth referrals from the start.)

You can add some tools and take some measures to mitigate your risk; for example, designing your campaign to reach previous/repeat and referral clients. Or you could establish rational goals, where you can benchmark your progress. However, nothing you do can overcome the first-time experience risk and — more seriously — the likely result that experience will fail, at least from your expectations. You need to plan for your failure and take enough shots at the effort to ensure you’ve tested it properly, without banging your head up against the wall.

My views of risk and reward are always shaped by my youthful African experiences. In my first visit, I joined an organized expedition tour (reducing the risk of the unknown) and, after the tour ended, continued with my own journey for a few months (by then I knew something of the lay of the land. )

However, my second visit about a year and a half later, at age 25, cemented the concepts. I had a specific goal in mind — to experience the end of the Rhodesia/Zimbabwe civil war as a journalist — and by then had gathered enough knowledge to know the rules of the game. One of the most important rules was that if I entered the country as a journalist, I would be put on the next plane out. I decided to use the country’s racist policies to my advantage: Entering as a student and then finding a local job as a journalist, and applying to the immigration department for a work visa once I had found employment. That allowed me to live through the experience.

However, in researching local jobs, I listened to the lay of the land. “Sure, they are looking for people in Internal Affairs,” young fellow travellers told me. “But you would be sent out to the bush, and you wouldn’t be properly armed, and you likely will be killed.” I think I made the right decision in avoiding that career opportunity.

When I returned home, credentials in hand, folks around me thought of me as a daring risk taker — and that opened some really good opportunities in the real world. But there was much deliberation and real learning behind the experiences, and they weren’t so dangerous.

And in a paradoxical opposite to the risk taking rules, I realized that continuously spending my life experiencing war-ending risks would not get me where I wanted in the real world. A healthy family life is for most people not compatible with a foreign correspondent’s career. In other words, sometimes it is foolish for us to take continuous risks, even if these may lead us to greater superficial glories.

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