Risk Averse B2B Brands.

I met an old school friend for frothy coffee the other day. He’d been promoted to ‘Global Director of Risk for Bleedin’ Everything.’

I asked him what, for the feeble minded, that actually meant. He said he was, “Tasked with assessing and reporting on the actual and perceived risk to the business of internal and external influences.” My, my, I thought. That’s heavy. So I asked him to give me an example. He said, “Well, it could be assessing the risk of anything from the potential flooding of one of our facilities in the Philippines, to hiring you.”

Naturally, I gave the Philippines the bum’s rush and asked him to explain why I might be a risk to his global multi-billion dollar enterprise. Lil’ ol’ me? Surely not. He said that in a recent meeting my name had been mentioned and, to his surprise (and secret delight I’m sure), everyone at the table had not only heard of me, but had a very firm opinion as to my suitability for the role of brand guardian to their business. “You’re a bit like Marmite,” he said. “Some thought you were a loose cannon, some thought you were full of shit and some thought you were a heaven-sent genius.”

I was of course flattered to be the subject of such polarity of opinion, but I would be lying to suggest that the perceived ‘risk’ associated to my engagement didn’t leave me with a little bit of sick in my mouth.

Had I gone too far? Were my opinions too extreme? Was my pathological need to drive creative change in B2B marketing limiting business opportunities? In short, was I just too risky to engage?

We discussed the matter of risk for a while. My friend pointed out that ‘vanilla’ is the nation’s favourite flavour of ice-cream and that ‘beige’ is the most popular colour. His role was to assess and reduce risk – his business decisions were made based on ‘least impact’ and I would do well to remember that.

“And that…,” I told him, “…is why we can never work together.” He looked a little upset – as if I should bow to the commercial imperative of corporate engagement and offer assurances of conformity.

“Low-risk, low-impact brands are everywhere. They’re the majority.” I said. “There are Marketing Directors who wrap their brands in a beige blanket and tuck them up safely every night. There are agencies that prosper on their perennial ability to deliver ‘meh’. Most of their brands will survive and even grow simply by being… benign. But where’s the satisfaction in that? Where’s the benefit? How does that make a difference?”

On my deathbed, and on principal, I’d like to think that my time had been spent searching for maximum impact (even if it’s not always achieved, or achievable). The prospect of a life spent in B2B marketing being ‘average’ is too depressing to contemplate. Every business brand should start with truly radical aspirations. You can always soften the position later, but if you start from a position of safety, when will you ever take the risk needed to make a real difference? So ‘Marmite’ is fine with me. As long as there is just one B2B brand seeking change, we’re in business.

And on that note, the heaven-sent genius wiped the milk-froth mustache from his top lip and left. Principles upheld. And still full of shit.

Scot McKee