Image: Courtesy of 27.media

Fear passes from man to man
As one leaf passes its shudder
To another.
All at once the whole tree is trembling
And there is no sign of wind.
– Charles Simic

Most marketers live a fear-driven life in which thoughts, decisions and actions are motivated by fear. Fear is quite insidious. It creeps into our lives and stops us from doing the things we want. Fear stops marketers from experiencing things that could really allow them to grow a brand into greatness.

We experienced this fear-driven marketing paradigm in the first stages of the digital revolution. How many PowerPoint presentations were developed to convince brands to invest some of their traditional dollars in digital initiatives? I must have created at least 50 decks just speaking to that topic. Someone must have listened because digital marketing spend is increasing yearly. But the tactics are not changing – It continues to be about reach: According to Razorfish and their media budget report for 2009, site specific buys commanded more than 30 percent of client budgets, search and directory buys held 25 percent, ad networks had 20 percent, and portals had more than 10 percent. Proving my point: Fear reigns supreme in marketing.

While the tool boxes have changed dramatically, the marketing paradigm hasn’t shifted a bit: Reach at an affordable cost. Period. End of story. Clients have entrusted me with rather large digital accounts and this is what you get when you engage in the ‘Reach Game’: Tons of impressions that nobody can account for, horrendous click-through rates and a bunch of visitors to your site. To save your job, you better negotiate a few awareness studies with publishers, communicating to executives that people actually saw your advertising and responded positively. Did they respond to your product or the ad? Will the positive response lead to purchase? Oh, come on, you’re asking too many questions. We already had to bribe the respondents with Amazon gift cards, can’t be too specific in our questions.

Sure, marketers venture out of their fear-driven existence once in a while to develop a Facebook page or even allow for a Twitter feed. As Razorfish’ report indicates, these are just some crumbs of the overall marketing pie. Marketers continue to go for the Time Square stunts, Yahoo home page takeover, plastering their advertising all over the Web in the spirit of “You can run but you can’t hide” and the always popular celebrity endorsement. Why? Because it’s safe. It’s what they taught us in marketing school decades ago. And the C-Level suite understands reach metrics.

Ironically, because most marketers don’t take risks they risk the existence of the brand they are asked to grow and, ultimately, they risk their job. Don’t try to buy time by asking for gazillion decks explaining how Social Media can drive your business. (Just Google it – there are tons of case studies.) Don’t cover your behind by delaying any innovative Social Media initiative by letting Legal run the show. Stand up to everyone in the organization (even your agency) and lead your way out of fear. Dump tactics that don’t perform or are kept alive for any other reasons than driving sales. Allocate a healthy portion of your budget to innovative ideas. Take risks. Show your leadership. And kick fear. Hard.

The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing.
They may avoid suffering and sorrow, but they simply cannot learn, change, feel, grow, love, live…
Chained by their attitudes they are slaves.
Only the person who risks is free.

(Author unknown)