Thinking Outside of the Box (a Technique for Marketing)

By Jennifer Craig | February 7, 2012

The term, “Thinking Out of the Box,” is one of the most overused and under-appreciated phrases in modern marketing. In fact, most people would define the term as “a different way, of thinking, from the norm.” However, the problem lies in asking and answering, “What is the norm?”

Creative thinking has been linked with it, but even that does not truly characterize this popular catch phrase. Instead, look at the way we think. Our thoughts have been developed since childhood, based on life experiences or influences from family and friends.

In marketing, we are forced to look at past activities to see what has worked and what has not. If we are expected to think out of the box, we certainly need to know how that box is structured. When looking at what has worked in the past, I am reminded that, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Many times we jump into new marketing strategies and campaigns that are expensive but may not be more effective than something we have done in the past. Be careful not to fall into that trap. Newcomers to the team want to do something different to prove that hiring them was a good decision. Even though we may not want to repeat a phrase that can be annoying, “We’ve done it before and it didn’t work,” we still need to weigh all ideas based on current market, cost, effectiveness, and merit.

The best method to use for discovering how we think, as individuals or as groups, is to brainstorm. Brainstorming requires free-thinking, a chance to throw out ideas (regardless of how absurd) without criticism, and someone to write all those ideas on a large surface so that other ideas can form from the ones being presented. When the exercise ends, select (as a group) several good ideas. Then ask the group to be extremely creative on each idea until they have expended their energy. From that exercise decide which idea best serves the organization at this time, again based on budget, market, and merit.

Once the idea has been selected, the marketing begins. Many people believe marketing is advertising only and they put their budget toward that end. However, marketing itself requires as much thought and creative activity as the, “Thinking out of the box,” exercise. An effective marketing program requires a multi-faceted approach, using a vast array of methods to reach the intended market (targeted or niche). Again, the best way to be sure of reaching the target market is to look at the past. What method reached more of its intended market? If there is no past efforts, know your market (research when, where, how, and why those people buy and what they want to buy). If you do not understand your customer, you should not be marketing.

Presentation of the marketing strategy is another element that becomes a challenge. The marketing message, as well as your tactics, needs to be something positive and reflective of your business.
If your message is unclear or your methodology is out of character, your customer may become confused and not sure of your purpose (thinking, possibly, it is under new management or changing from something familiar). It is fine to increase your target market (bringing in new customers; older or younger, men or women) than before, but do not exclude your current target.

Success depends on the effort you put into the process. Consider:

  • Planning is everything. Put your strategies into a Marketing Plan (of action), setting realistic, achievable goals.
  • Look for cross-promotional opportunities (spas and gyms, massage and acupuncture, tires and car parts, carpet and property managers, etc.).
  • Think of incentives and promotions (free services for referrals, discounts for volume purchases, monthly drawings for discounts, quarterly drawings for free merchandise, etc…).
  • Find networking prospects – Economic Development, Chambers of Commerce, Associations, and other professional meetings and events.
  • Build relationships in the community. How many times have you heard, “It’s not what you know but who you know?” The truth is that we are loyal to people with whom we have built a relationship.
  • Create a data base of current customers. Too many times, they are overlooked and should be notified by phone, letter, postcard, or email (do not spam, get permission to contact them) about specials.
  • Build a professional, search-engine optimized website.
  • Survey current customers as well as potential customers to get their ideas about products, types of services, or even location and prices. Find out their needs and wants.
  • Package your program as attractively as any new product – color, design, themed, etc.
  • Deliver with zest, enthusiasm, and diversification.

When everything is said and done, measure results and track customer purchases. The more information you acquire, the better for your next marketing blitz. Stay aware of trends and changes in sales. Knowledge is power and keeping abreast of marketing successes gives you an edge over the competition. This opens the door wider the next time, you decide to “Think out of the box.”

About the Author

Jennifer Craig

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