Wisdom of the Breakdancers 

"Breakdancing is about messing up and turning it into something new...never stop!" Jared Hughes, breakdance instructor

That piece of wisdom comes from my son's breakdance teacher. He shared it after a class and it seemed to me really important.

So much of the communications I see out in the world, whether branding, email marketing or something else, is too safe. It's limited by fear of making a mistake, instead of boldly inspired by passion.

Being risk averse may be the safe thing to do but it doesn't move things forward.

Though he may not be a breakdancer (but I wouldn't put it past him) Mark Zuckerberg does seem to have his finger on the pulse of people communicating with one another. His thoughts on taking risks?

"The biggest risk is not taking any risk at all. In a world that's changing really quickly, the only strategy that's guaranteed to fail is not taking a risk." Mark Zuckerberg, Founder & CEO Facebook

The calculation is pretty simple, when you are faced with a strategic or creative decision, choosing the safe road will likely keep attention off of you. Bosses and colleagues will be content and the outcome will most likely be adequate.

In some situations, that may be the rational thing to do. It's why most of us don't bet our life savings on a horse or a hand of cards. It's why a company's marketing professionals are less likely to push for communications that shake things up. They want job security.

If your brand's strategic goal is to communicate stability and little more, then this might be a useful strategy. But if you're looking to change or revitalize people's perceptions and associations of your brand, you are guaranteed to fail.

We were working with Giant Bicycle some year's ago. They were trying to bridge the deep chasm between being a price driven commodity and being a heart-throbbing brand. One way we helped was by giving meaning to their logo. 

This logo, the one that appears on all of their products and every branded communication, was disparagingly referred to at Giant USA as “The hamburger.” There was no story attached to the logo, or at least none communicated, so it was a meaningless mark at best. At worst, it perpetuated Giant’s heritage market position as a low-priced commodity. They were investing heavily in evolving their business into a quality brand and this so-called hamburger was counter to the effort.

The risk we faced was putting attention on the brand, specifically the logo, sharing an "emotional" story, and it somehow being received as inauthentic or a gimmick.

I interviewed a member of the founding family and heard a story that no one in the building seemed to know. The logo was a kind of yin-yang symbol. It showed the earth and sky and the pathways created by cycling that lay in-between. Balance and harmony were the product of cycling, an important philosophy for the entire brand community to hear, especially from a company wanting to be more than just manufacturers.

The story was first introduced in an internal brand guide titled, Smells Like Giant, and became part of the mythology of the brand. And the discussion evolved from solely the rational (feature-benefits and price) to the emotional…Giant was a brand with a soul after all.

The next thing we did was craft a consumer focused campaign based on a manifesto. It was a little edgy for the time and not what the dealer network was expecting. We wanted them to distribute the booklets and display posters that used the same messaging.

This was a big leap for a brand that was positioned in the industry as safe and solid. We quickly were made aware of the reality of the risk we were facing. The day retailers received a little package from Giant filled with manifestos and posters, the president received several scathing emails and phone calls from irate dealers who found the campaign offensive. Two spreads in particular were mentioned, one for the turn of phrase and the other for the image (we were assured that no animal was harmed during photography).

Keep in mind that the cycling industry is passionate and hierarchical. Mavens, like those who work in bike shops and lead group rides, tend to take other riders under their wings and educate them. We had to get mavens to see Giant as heart throbbing, fist pumping riders to get them to recommend our bikes.

Despite the few people who were offended, most loved the campaign and kept the posters up for years. It was the start of a transformation that Giant Bicycle is still benefiting from years later.

Remember Jared the breakdance instructor? "Breakdancing is about messing up and turning it into something new...never stop!" Leave it to a breakdancer to break it down for us all.

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