Nick Westergaard

By Nick Westergaard on February 7, 2013

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Being Fearless with Strategy

being fearless

In work, as in life, success can be elusive. Adding to matters in our hyper-connected digital culture is the fact that we are bombarded with examples of success left and right. On one hand, this is good as it provides access to models and case studies we can utilize to further our own pursuits. On the other hand, it encourages an adherence to the norm that does not always produce optimal results.

These “echoes” are frequently seen when we build brands online. We know what good brands are supposed to look like, so we focus on looking like them — designing logos that look like what good logos are supposed to look like and writing slogans that sound like good slogans are supposed to sound.

When it comes to social media, we know from books and experts that we are supposed to be more like the Old Spice man and less like United Airlines, who “breaks guitars,” in case you missed all of the articles, speeches, and books that cite this bluder.

The Strategy Beneath the Surface

This isn’t to say that we can’t find teaching moments in high-profile brands. However, beyond simply emulating the style of these well-worn examples, we need to observe the strategy that lies beneath the surface.

You need to internalize these brands’ strategic examples — Old Spice needing to appeal to a younger demographic, for example — and diagnose your own social business objective before applying strategies that merely look like ones that work. In other words, don’t let your tactical form overcome your strategic function.

Once you’ve anchored your campaign with a sound strategy you can’t fall back on others, either. Indeed this is the very moment when you need to swing for the fences.

Swinging for the Fences

In a noisy world where few ideas are truly new and original, you have to push yourself even harder. It’s what entrepreneur, author, and speaker Seth Godin calls “edgecraft,” which encourages businesses to take established systems and push them toward soft innovation in a particular edge.

This sounds simple but when you combine this idea with the prevalence of successful campaigns and case studies, you can see that it’s also quite scary to do something that deviates too far from the norm.

This is where we need to invoke a saying from one of my acting teachers in college, Eric Forsythe, who encouraged students to “fail fabulously.” While parents footing the bill for college might be alarmed at first, this simply means that in art — as in life and, it would appear, business — we need to push ourselves and our work to the edges to create something that stands out in a chorus of “also rans.”

In art, this thinking is easy to embrace, while the business community is still steeped in a “failure is not an option” mindset.

Being Fearless

To be clear, I’m not taking about being fearless about financial failure, but rather encouraging us to try swinging for the fences when it comes to our social business strategy and execution. To stick with the baseball metaphor, those with the most home runs are often the ones with higher strike rates as well.

We could all stand to be a little more fearless when it comes to failure in business. As the Dowager Countess reminds us in PBS’s Downton Abbey, “Life is a game in which the player’s must appear ridiculous.”

Swing for the fences and don’t be afraid to fail fabulously.

Photo via Flickr user hans.gerwitz


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Nick Westergaard
Email Brand Driven Digital

is Chief Brand Strategist and founder of Brand Driven Digital, where he helps build better brands online. In addition to his agency work, he teaches social media marketing at the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business and is the co-host of The Work Talk Show podcast. More about Nick.