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Stepping out of your comfort zone

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How often do you look around at other businesses and how they promote themselves and think “I wish we were brave enough to do that”, or feel like you’re stuck in a marketing rut?

Doing what you always do gets you what you’ve always got, they say. That’s not always a bad thing. If it’s working, why change it? Congratulate yourself instead. If you’ve got your targeting just right and you understand your audiences and what works for them – good job.

If you’re telling them what they need to hear about your product or service and also giving them a clear vision of what your business and brand is all about, even better. You’re nailing it.

But we really shouldn’t pat ourselves on the back too freely, not without taking the time to make sure our message isn’t getting stale. Or that the way we present our brand isn’t stuck in a long-gone era.

Doing things differently can be a challenge. Change is hard. For someone who happily packed up their life to move to the other side of the world and then, more recently, quit a stable job to go it alone, you wouldn’t think I’d describe myself as overly cautious about doing something differently. But I am. I’m a consummate over-thinker, frequently guiding myself down the safer path for fear of getting lost.

If you do switch to a different lane, make sure you have a good reason. Being bored or personally wanting to change things up isn’t a good enough reason. Overtaking the competition is a fair enough objective, as is getting to your destination quicker, but make sure you’re still driving safely.

The new New Zealand Post branding is an intriguing example. I was on their marketing communications team during the early stages of the last update. There was a lot of brand strategy work around product brands, but the main logo was also reviewed. At the time, it got a simple design update to make the icon and typography more contemporary, which was a fair call as it was clunky and dated. But the envelope icon was sacrosanct back in 2000 because, despite the knowledge that the business was rapidly changing, it symbolised the heart of the NZ Post, and customers told us so in no uncertain terms.

But now, reflecting a major shift in focus, the envelope is gone, replaced with a symbol that represents a road for delivery, rather than a letter. (Personally, it makes me think of an S-bend but, hey, I get where they’re going.) They even front-foot it in their advertising, with a kid asking the delivery guy where the envelope’s gone, handing him the opportunity to tell us all that they’re about more than just letters nowadays.

It’s interesting that the name still contains ‘Post’, but that change would be one step too far outside the comfort zone for the organisation, I’m sure, and too big a change for customers. For brands that are part of the fabric of our community like them, history and nostalgia are often stronger binds than any functional references can ever be.

Understanding your customers’ comfort zone is equally as important as being authentic about your own parameters. For example, how about if your business is targeting a more mature and conservative audience. You may choose to update an old-fashioned looking brand identity to bring you more up to date but if the design and marketing you use to tell your story goes too far in its trendy modernity, you risk some alienation.

It would take a brave retirement home to decorate its foyer with a graffiti wall or to start using language in its ads that you’d need Urban Dictionary to translate. But stepping outside of the messages of safety, care and wellbeing has seen this particular sector create a new comfort zone for its marketing.

They now focus on championing the young-at-heart, community and fun, with Ryman being one of few in the category to take an edgy and more sophisticated approach to their advertising storytelling. I don’t know if this reflects the brand experience – I’m not ready to investigate retirement living options quite yet! – but it certainly makes them stand out from the crowd.

Just like with most marketing decisions, authenticity to your brand and building connection with your target audiences are the main drivers of any move outside your comfort zone. Consider how far you can push things, how brave you can be, how deep the risks you can take.

Consider consequences, but also consider pushing your boundaries. Doing something you’ve never done, may get you something you’ve never got before.

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About Author

Vicki Jones

Vicki Jones is director of Dugmore Jones, Hamilton-based marketing management consultancy. Email vicki@dugmorejones.co.nz