If niche marketing is the most misdirected object of contempt in my profession, then “thinking outside the box” is the most misdirected object of admiration.
In fact,Â the box is the strategy.
The truth is, any idiot can think outside the box. You can make noise there, but it’s’ irrelevant. To be fair, the most unimaginative manager can easily stay in the middle of the box. It may be relevant, but it’s awfully quiet in there. The real challenge is to punch the hell out of the edges of that box- from the inside, because that’s the only way to change the size or shape of that box.
You spent a lot of time building that box, so why abandon it now? Spend too much time outside the box and everyone gets confused. Moreover, the position gradually loses relevance as too many creatively driven tactics assault the customer. In the end, while going outside the box is almost always presented as brilliant rebellion, it is, in fact, the easier road to take and a recipe for failure.
Of course, staying dead center is obvious, predictable and boring.
Moving from strategy to execution, it’s always interesting to review work from inside an ad agency. Too often you see brilliant, creative ideas that are disconnected from the strategy- outside the box- and when these go to air, we are left scratching our heads. You also see ideas that are dead-on strategy- so much so you could have written them yourself. When these ideas air, no one notices.
Ideas that delivery the strategy in a highly creative, intriguing way are few and far between- and al the more valuable because of their rarity.
Again, your task is to create innovative and fresh ways to punch the edges of that box from the inside out. Hit those edges hard. This is the only way to make that box bigger and to change its shape. After all, who says the box needs to be a box in the first place?
Take Nike and ESPN, two powerful and highly differentiated brands in related markets. As defined by results, their architects were geniuses. Over time, they have moved from strength to strength, and many layers of business and meaning have been added to the original brand and business definitions. They never left their boxes, they have continued to push their own boundaries, dramatically changing the size and shape of those boxes.
In addition, these two are particularly well maintained and remain flexible. Both are also served by an agency that “gets them,” and it’s the same agency for both companies. Coincidence?
This leads me to another point: There are noisy boxes and quiet boxes. In other words, there are noisy strategies and quiet ones. Noisy strategies grow out of positioning that is inherently provocative. Positioning that contains a strong point of view, an attitude, and an edge. In contrast, quiet strategies don’t make you think. They don’t provoke. They don’t inspire.
You measure the effectiveness of your strategy by marketplace response. The noise isn’t in the stimulus, it’s in the audience recognition. When everyone is yelling, you measure your strategic volume by who’s listening.
So take a look at your strategy and ask yourself:
Is the basic idea around which the strategy is built compelling?
Does it have creative energy?
Does it lead to great tactics? If you test them was it easy and fun?
Were lots of options created by the team?
If you answered yes to all of the above, you’re ready to make some noise.
Austin McGhie, Sterling Strategy