Being married to a northerner has many benefits but one of the greatest is the widening of my vocabulary. I take a great pleasure in coming back from trips up there with new expressions. My all-time favourite has now become our family motto “Shy bairns get nowt!”.

The reason that popped into my head is that I have just been reading The Financial Services Forum Marketing Trends Report 2019 and one of the biggest challenges participants felt they had was struggling to differentiate. This is something that comes up all the time in meetings we have with clients both on the internal culture front and the external brand front. According to the report a common blocker appears to be lack of board level support and “permission to fail”.

Here’s where the family motto chimed in my head. That statement is all sorts of wrong, it positions differentiation as a risk in a sector that is, rightly, utterly risk averse and it puts the onus on the board in an unfair way. So let’s unpack “permission to fail” firstly: in marketing what is the primary risk of a campaign? In my humble opinion it is wasting money on something that makes no difference to the business. More specifically that it doesn’t shift your position in the market. Sure you can spend your way to a shift with media but if there is no differentiation all you’re doing is wasting money on shouting louder than everyone else. Really you should be saying something different to everyone else so you don’t have to shout the loudest. But it’s the “permission” that worries me especially, why would anyone ever give you permission to fail and why would you ask for it? I keep picturing the board meeting, taking them through an exhilarating campaign that shows real differentiation and get to the last slide – “Thank you for listening, please can I have permission for this to fail”, I know what I would say.

Instead let’s take the “Shy bairns get nowt!” approach – This is the campaign we have come up with, it looks nothing like anything else in the sector. We felt the risk of looking like everyone else and having to spend our way to standout was too great. So we would like your permission to sell this business better than our competitors and do it cheaper than them as well. Again, I know what I would say.

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