Be a Marketing Risk Taker

When John Mellor, VP of business development and strategy of Adobe, took the stage to commence day two at the Adobe Summit, he addressed the audience with a very therapeutic approach.

“Normal people don’t even care how hard our job is,” Mellor said. “They don’t care how complex technology is. They just want it their way.”

Tell us how you really feel, John.

But after Mellor vented to the audience—“it’s like a big group therapy session,” he said—he discussed the pressures marketers feel to live up to consumers’ ever-growing expectations. The only way marketers can meet, and even exceed, consumers’ expectations is by taking risks personally and by taking risks as an organization.

If there’s one man who knows a thing or two about taking risks, it’s Felix Baumgartner, the fearless base jumper who made history when he completed an approximate 128,000 ft freefall from space at 843.6 mph.

“It was a breathtaking and unique moment,” Baumgartner said during his conference keynote.

But Baumgartner didn’t only set records with his freefall. The daredevil also shattered digital records by having his jump be one of the most-watched live stream events of all time. His jump currently has more than 33 million views on Red Bull’s YouTube channel.

So what does this thrill-seeker have in common with marketers? Baumgartner identified himself as a “risk manager” rather than an adrenaline junkie and he attributes his success to having a clear vision and the right team. He advised the audience to concentrate on individual project elements and how to advance to the next step, rather than dwell on the overall picture.

“You cannot look at the big picture, because it’s overwhelming,”

If base jumping wasn’t enough to perk up the morning keynote session attendees, Adobe continued its risk-preaching by shifting adventures from space to race with NASCAR. By teaming up with Adobe and SapientNitro, NASCAR was able to provide its racing fans with a more personalized, multichannel experience.

“We’re a community of various types of fans that seek and crave interactions,” said Marc Jenkins, VP of digital media for NASCAR. “From a digital standpoint, we wanted to provide this personal interaction.”

Jenkins told the audience that using responsive design to provide experiences for mobile, PC, and tablet allowed NASCAR to shift gears and enable its fans “to lean back, but also lean forward.” For example, NASCAR’s RaceView Premium for PC, mobile, and tablet, provides fans with 3D race virtualization, position tracking, and driver telemetry to give them a number of ways to view races.

“Our digital revolution is really just beginning now,” Jenkins said. “The way we’re going to keep that fan-forward [mentality] is through rigorous analytics and through our fans telling us what they want to see next.”

Adobe continued to ride the adrenaline rush of sports by also introducing Julie DeTraglia, SVP of digital and broadcast marketing at NBC Universal, to discuss the 2012 London Olympics.

DeTraglia described last summer’s games as “the first tablet Olympics.” And while she acknowledged that NBC still strives to drive viewers to broadcast, she describes the tablet as “a companion device to the broadcast.”

In addition to its television broadcasts, NBC showed 3,500 hours of live video on and uploaded 1,000 clips of highlights, DeTraglia said. “People want to use digital to create their own Olympic experiences,” she said. “We can’t cover every single sport on television.”

NBC also launched the Billion Dollar Research Lab as “an opportunity for us as researches to test and innovate,” she said, adding that the lab provided NBC with real-time metrics in terms of behavior across devices. For example, through the lab NBC was able to detect a “multiplier effect,” saying that the more devices people use to watch an event, the more time people are spending being involved with the Games. In fact, while TV drives reach—95% of the Olympics is captured via TV—digital drives frequency; 43% of viewers had been exposed to content 21 or more times, according to DeTraglia.

For example, the most-watched Olympic video was neither Gabby Douglas’s gymnastic routine nor Ryan Lochte versus Michael Phelps 400 meter medley; it was Stephan Feck’s epic dive (or flop, rather). “It really illustrates the point of digital,” DeTraglia said. “This clip was never shown on television…. It’s the exact kind of content that catches fire online.”

Changing channels

Perhaps the most moving speaker of the morning keynote was Salman Khan, founder of Khan Academy, an online educational resource that has reached more than 75 million students and delivered more than 220 million lessons.

By marrying data with video, the free site aims to “let every student learn at their own pace,” Khan said. The more than 4,000 videos cover a number of topics, including biology, K-12 math, and history, and the interactive knowledge map provides students with a guide as to what skills they should start reviewing first and what skill they should move onto next.

After hearing how Khan originally developed the site for his cousins, how Khan Academy was originally headquartered in Khan’s walk-in closet, how the site truly took off after winning praise and sponsorship from Bill Gates, and how it has helped students solve more than 900 million problems, I wasn’t surprised when Khan received a standing ovation. However, I was surprised when I left the session and I overheard several marketers admit to crying during his presentation. The number of student success stories and heartfelt thank-you videos Khan showed tugged at many of the attendees’ heartstrings. Why? Because so many of them were parents.

This is when it hit me. Part of taking risks is knowing your target audience and surrendering to being emotionally raw. I can’t say for certain that Adobe purposefully targeted the mothers and fathers in the room or that Khan meant to make delivering emotion a part of his presentation, but the combination worked beautifully. Marketers are often so focused on data and analytics that they forget to be human. But being vulnerable and letting the consumer into their personal worlds of the faces behind the brand is one marketing challenge, and one risk, I encourage more marketers to take.

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