As marketers go, I’m far from typical. The other day at lunch, I met with someone who asked me about whether my company did flyers and marketing packages. I honestly blinked a few times before realizing that these were things that most people still equate with marketing.
Before I go on, realize that I don’t think of myself or my methods as any better than anyone else’s. I simply took a completely different road to get where I got in the world of marketing. Traditional marketers and advertisers are, I surmise, very good at what they do. I’m just good at doing something different than what most of they do. And that’s the topic.
While I’m writing this, I’m listening to an audio program on how to be a network marketer. This term rankles most. It’s related to a whole leg of marketing that people think of as scummy. So, why am I listening? Because I’m going to bet you money, the cost of this audio program, that I’ll find and lift an idea from what this person does in a scammy way, and I’ll be able to apply it in a nice, relationship-minded way, that will be effective to my clients. (I haven’t found that yet, but I promise that I’ll share it, if I do.)
If everyone is reading and learning and practicing the same things from the same sources, then we’re all going to run into the same roadblocks, the same problems, and we’ll experience the same results (more or less). Why would that seem satisfying? Don’t you want to leapfrog everyone and find something more successful?
Fishing for Ideas
Designers do this all the time: they look at something way outside their field, and they then try to apply it to a new problem. Do you think the Flip video camera owes nothing to the iPod? Do you think the new interior design trends don’t harken back into last year’s TV shows, but also next season’s clothing fashion? Fishing for ideas requires looking in places where others aren’t.
My favorite place to fish is in the past. I’m a student of Napolean Hill, of David Ogilvy, of Albert Lasker. I just downloaded a book about Vanderbilt and several of the other tycoons of their time, and found it stuffed full of ideas that I can move into a new venue and suddenly have them seem fresh and useful.
Cognitive Resonance and Dissonance
The best tool to start practicing relates to “cognitive resonance” and “cognitive dissonance.” The first means being able to see how one thing might be similar to something else. The second means being able to realize where one thing differs from something else, but in a meaningful way. Can you see how the craft brewing trend in the US lends itself to other artisan foods? The advent of more coffee shops in the US led to the rise of Altoids. That’s a resonance between one trend and another. You with me?
Want a quick dissonance example? I have been thinking for months on how to send whoopie pies (look them up) in the mail. Premium whoopie pies. You know how cupcakes are all the rage? I’m thinking, “how do I send an expensive, delicate pastry through the mail without mushing it all up?” It shouldn’t be a mailable item. Thus, I’ll find more business, if I solve that.
Find the Discards
So far, I’m not really excited by this network marketing audio program. It’s not my kind of thing. I don’t see how I’ll employ what he’s saying to my work. But I’ll tell you what I did get from him: he repeats a lot in his presentation. That repetition, I suspect, really drives his points home better than how I present. It sounds a hair annoying to me, but maybe that’s me. Maybe more people need more recurring thoughts to get something driven home. So, I’ve found a value.
Peeking through the discards of other thoughts, looking at things that shouldn’t really be useful, is where I find a lot of ideas. Often times, if a book or other learning material is five or more years old, no one thinks it’s valid. Sure, technology has changed. Yes, economic conditions have changed. Real estate books are mostly useless, given the US situations from 2008 to now. But there’s still lots of gold in these programs, if you’re willing to apply your own knowledge to what’s being said.
Seek Out the Less-Traveled Roads
If you want to appear unique and well-considered and mindful of solid trends, you’ll do well to look out into those areas that don’t immediately make sense to plumb, and you’ll find new ways to look at old things. The more you bring these back to your business, your clients, your tribe, the more you’ll seem like the most wise person they know.
That’s a secret between you and me, right?
Chris Brogan is president of Human Business Works, an online education and community company. He blogs regularly at chrisbrogan.com.