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Posted: April 20, 2010

Top 5 marketing and PR blunders: No. 5

Playing it safe

Esty Atlas

(Editor's note: This is the final column in a five-part series.)

I believe there's a lot to be learned from success stories, so here's a great example: Who said: "If everything seems under control, you're just not going fast enough"?

Some clues: He is (to date) the only person ever to win the Indianapolis 500, Daytona 500 and the Formula One World Championship. In fact, no American has won a Formula One race since. There is something to be said about what it takes to control a high-performance race car and compete at break-neck speeds over and over again. Italian born-American Mario Andretti holds 109 career wins on major circuits; he is only one of three drivers to win races on road courses, paved ovals and dirt tracks in one season; he did that four times.

And with his final IndyCar win in April - 1993, Andretti became the first driver to win IndyCar races in four different decades and the first to win automobile races of any kind in five. Fifty years of success. I could list many more of his accomplishments, but you get the point. Playing it safe, a.k.a., not taking some risk, could not have produced such phenomenal results. Yet, when it comes to marketing one's business, looking at it from the outside in (not from the inside out) is often a great challenge.

Making changes takes even more courage. Large companies are slow movers. I call them cruise ships (the objective being to stay on course with no sudden moves). Mid to smaller size companies have more flexibility, less corporate structure, and can be much more nimble, more like sailboats, that can, and often should, change course as the need arises. Too often, companies just do what they've done for years (even if it's not working anymore) just because, "that's how we've always done it." I've heard that a lot and seen the downside.

True, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." But are the decision-makers really able to see the whole picture? Is the company gaining ground in market share? If not, are appropriate changes being made? Not surprisingly, change IS hard. Most people hate change. But, a very interesting new study took a close look at what goes on psychologically in the human brain, and this can hold the key to how individuals, groups, teams, organizations, and companies can apply more strategic behaviors to achieve a more strategic business outcome.

First, here's a little homework assignment. Read the book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath. They ask why some huge changes, like marriage and having children, come joyously, while some trivial changes, like submitting an expense report on time, meet fierce resistance. It's a fascinating read, and one that will help you understand the two (separate) systems (psychologists have discovered) in the human brain that affects our behaviors, both personally and professionally.

For example: People fighting to lose weight and keep it off; managers trying to overhaul an entrenched bureaucracy. If you're looking to get out of a rut, start here. Second, invest in an ‘objective' study of your current marketing, advertising, and public relations efforts. Enlist a qualified opinion and evaluation - outside of your current decision makers. I would hope you'd do that if you needed a medical procedure.

Find a marketing company that is highly experienced, been around at least two decades, and removed from your day to day operation. Third, determine what a new flight path might look like. What stays; what goes? What's been missing? A new, creative direction? A new, public voice among your customers? Maybe just a fresh coat of paint, so to speak. It is a process and one to not face alone with the same set of eyes.

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Esty Atlas is a four-time Emmy award-winning writer, specializing in leadership communications, media and public relations. 303-919-2425; email: estycreative@yahoo.com or www.estycreative.com

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