Innovation Doesn’t Mean Risk

Zach Newcomb is executive strategy director at digital agency Rokkan. Follow him on Twitter @znewcomb.

Constant change is a reality of our business, and our survival and success depends on accepting this. To many, this means embracing risk. There’s a lot of talk about successful brands’ willingness to go out on a limb and comfort with risk. We often think that’s a dangerous paradigm and on the whole, can be misguided and misleading.

In reality, risk has always been a part of any marketing or business decision. It only seems more prevalent today because of a marked increase in uncertainty. But what hasn’t changed is that intelligent decision makers still identify the risks associated with any strategy while also considering the rewards — and only then make a decision. And while this approach certainly won’t help you avoid failure altogether, it will allow you to diversify your efforts in a way to manage that risk and ensure that every dollar you spend is guaranteed a predictable amount of success.

That approach is drastically different than one that’s simply built on accepting risk and investing in platforms, technologies or efforts whose benefits you don’t fully understand or whose risks you can’t quantify. Brands should never be convinced to take risks simply because “that’s what innovative brands do.”

At the end of the day, our job isn’t to advocate risk for risk’s sake. We feel that’s both reckless and lazy. Our job is to figure out where a brand wants to go and what opportunities exist to help them realize their business goals and solve for their biggest challenges, not to simply come up with cool concepts and convince brands to buy into them.

It’s easy to get lost in the big idea with visions of taking home that Cannes Lions or being the talk of the town at SXSW (don’t get me wrong, those things are cool). But we see that the most successful brands today are demanding real clarity on the associated risks and rewards of a strategy vs. simply buying in emotionally to an overblown plan that may never see the light of day.

A valuable partner develops rational and substantiated strategies to grow its clients’ businesses. The real risk lies only in the agency not clearly communicating its point of view, thus leaving brands confused about what direction is good for them and their businesses. In the end, every strategy we recommend should account for risk, but no strategy should itself be inherently risky.

Don’t be romanced by the notion that innovation and risk are necessary bedfellows. Risk is always a constant, and it should never be confused for innovation. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. Your success will be defined not by your ability to embrace risk, but rather your ability to properly identify it and maximize return for your partners while minimizing liability.

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