In a fast paced, thought provoking opening speech on day two of the ANA Masters in Marketing Conference, Progressive.com CMO Jeff Charney outlined his risk mantra. By challenging the circa 3,000 strong audience to participate, Charney outlined his views on risk and provided insight into how, under his stewardship, the Progressive.com brand has grown in both stature and value.

Charney posed a number of questions/statements and asked the audience to respond:

First, he asked whether marketers are born with risk taking in their DNA - true or false?  In his view, attitude to risk is defined through personal experience - often at an early age. 

Secondly, he asked whether by reading the definition of risk makes you want to take less risk. Again, his view is that the answer to this question is in the definition you find. In other words, it's absolutely true.  

However, Charney then offered up his own neat definition of RISK as being:

  • R = relevance. Stay relevant
  •  I = information. Make insight led decisions but avoid data paralysis
  • S = speed. Make decisions fast, get things done. Avoid silos
  • K = striKe outs. If you strike out, move on but learn from it

Charney then asked the audience whether across the industry marketers are taking now taking bigger risks than ever. The answer he sought was that this statement is false. Charney asserts that many marketers have gone into creative hibernation. A sentiment shared by several other speakers.

Coming from a middle aged dude with a tattoo on his neck, a presentation around risk was always going to be 'out there'. But the impact and growth of the Progressive.com brand in the US is truly impressive. The brand is now in the top ten media spenders in the country and has iconic status. Charney is fascinating as he's balanced the right level of risk with the return that shareholders demand.

The take away from this is that although consumers might be low on the risk scale, brands must be prepared to take risk in order to break through the clutter. It just the degree of risk and the approach to taking that risk that matters most.