Michele Drohan, EVP, Client Services

A client called me several years ago with a spectacular idea for his marketing program.

“I love it!” I said. “It’s fresh, it’s different, it’s relevant to your customers, and it’s testable. Let me know how the CMO likes it!”

He grew silent on the line. And then said quietly, “Um, could you bring the idea up to him instead? I’m afraid to.”


I think about this moment a lot, and it’s still something we see clients reckon with every day: Fear.

Fear of failure. Fear of job security. Fear of office politics, disparate internal agendas and confusing, cross-purpose objectives. These fears may seem personal, but they also play out on a much larger scale, keeping many companies from moving forward and so many brands from making positive changes.

We are in an environment now where change is mission critical. How we reach and grow our customer base, what we say and where, when we reach them: these are moving targets now and there is no longer one right answer—at least not one that sticks for long. Nimbleness is mandatory. And there is no room for Fear.

So, how do you get past it?

First, take the personal out of the picture. Push away the personalities, the politics and the panic.

Then consider the following as starting points to advance an Idea Without Fear.

  1. Dip your toe in the water.

What are the three most important rules in marketing? Test, test and retest. Testing ensures that we don’t drive a good business off a cliff with a bad idea. But it also allows us to try something new without Fear. Looking to reskin a website? Try a new landing page first. Catalog design overhaul? Start with a front cover test if you’re nervous and don’t want to spend the dollars for a full head-to-head test. Not sure if your idea for a new product or promotion will resound with your best customers? Do a four-hour A/B split with email to a subset and get a quick read on how they respond (and send the rest of the list the winning promotion!).

  1. Rely on the numbers. They don’t lie.

Find case studies and examples of other companies or brands that have tried something similar and succeeded (or didn’t). There are myriad resources out there to find information to help prove out your idea with some semblance of confidence before jumping into the deep end. You already know them: the DMA, Forrester, 4As, MarketingSherpa… you get the idea.

  1. Use your agency. (Really. It’s why we’re here.)

Remember the client I mentioned earlier? He knew how to use his agency. He understood that sometimes it’s our job to keep companies from talking too much to themselves. He understood that our job is to continually bring in fresh perspectives from the outside, and that it’s expected that we might have an idea that pushes the envelope. Or maybe even one that goes just a little bit off the reservation if the time is right and the need is there. And by the way, agencies also have visibility into case studies and examples that might help prove out your idea, and some creative test designs that might help you step into the water with reassurance. Your agency is your partner. Let them hold your hand.

Deep breath. Now go for it.

If you want to head into the New Year without fear, I’m here to help. Send me an email at micheled@jschmid.com

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