TAL. 024: How to De-Risk Risky Content Decisions

The Arete Letter

Fear of failure and blowback shouldn’t stop you from making better decisions. Here’s how to avoid it.

Good marketing is often about repeating what works.

This letter makes the case for strategically doing the opposite.

(This is the ninth letter in a 12-part series that started with issue .016, which you can find here.)

1. The Problem

Marketing budget is often limited …

… and marketers themselves are under a lot of pressure to show results.

Those two factors create scenarios in which risk is the enemy.

The result: careful content strategies that improve only incrementally on what’s been done before.

But marketers aren’t engineers or builders or scientists.

Our discipline is about humans and their behaviour – and that means things change.

Content strategies that worked five years ago = ineffective now

In marketing, being risk-averse isn’t a route to success.

Failure just looks different: a slow, grinding death through budget attrition, where the realisation that a strategy may be outdated comes too late.

2. The Solution

So how can you take risks – in a thoughtful, strategic way that doesn’t jeopardise your political capital?

Make decisions using OODA loops.

OODA loop = an iterative process of observing, orienting, deciding and acting

ooda loop
Image courtesy of Frost et al, 2012.

If you want to pursue a risky strategy, justify it by gathering data, collating options, and then deciding on a given option based on the data available.

Being able to show stakeholders why you made a specific decision helps a) get buy-in, b) defuse potential blowback, and c) actually make the right choice.

When observing, keep in mind that data =/= statistics or facts.

Data is any type of information – it could be peer-reviewed research, your CMO’s briefing, or signals from social media.

Try to collect high-quality, reliable data from at least three different sources.

Once you have that data, orient it in the context of your previous experience and distil possible courses of action to accomplish your goal (whatever that is).

Then decide on the course of action most likely to succeed – your hypothesis.

Finally, action your hypothesis in the real world and collect feedback data.

(Make sure you have robust reporting mechanisms in place.)

Then, with the new information gleaned through those mechanisms, repeat the loop and adjust your hypothesis and execution as necessary.

The result: a clear line from observation to execution that makes it explicitly clear to stakeholders why you made a given decision.

That means your ‘risky’ course of action is much more likely to get buy-in – and carries less risk of blowback if it fails.

3. Implementation

Because OODA loops vary so much across different decisions, I’ve omitted the ‘Tech Needed’ and ‘Ease of Uptake’ sections for this issue.

Instead, focus on formalising the following for a risky decision, even if you just write them down in a Word document.

  1. The data sources you have available in relation to the decision
  2. All possible decisions
  3. Your hypothesis and reasoning
  4.  How you’re going to execute your hypothesis

And, of course, make sure you have good reporting systems – you can’t course-correct without feedback.

By Duncan Croker

Duncan is a copywriter with a background in editing and storytelling. He loves collaborating with brands big and small, and thrives on the challenges of hard marketing.