Almost immediately, someone says, “That’s too costly,” “That’s too complicated,” or, “We tried that once before and it didn’t work.” People shut down, no new ideas emerge, and your marketing challenge remains.
But what if the group were to ban negative thinking and instead welcome every possible idea, no matter how zany it might be? With some creative thinking techniques, marketing strategy meetings like this can go from deflating to uplifting and productive.
Creative brainstorming can be an effective way to consider new target audiences or innovative ways to promote your product or service. But to turn these creative ideas into viable, logical strategies for your organization, you’ll need to first lay some groundwork.
In this post, we’ll cover ways in which you can gauge the efficacy of your marketing strategy, and how to employ creative thinking to solve for deficiencies.
Evaluate Your Current Marketing Strategy
You’ll want to prepare for your creative thinking sessions by identifying what is working, as well as any potential weaknesses in your marketing strategy.
Start by examining your digital data and online presence. How long are users staying on your site? How often do they abandon their shopping cart? Have your leads dropped on one particular channel? Are negative reviews on the rise?
To pinpoint areas for improvement, you might conduct a marketing audit like a SWOT analysis, covering strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Evaluations like this can help you step back, spot what’s working and what isn’t, and make informed decisions about where to invest your marketing resources. They can also illuminate whether your marketing activities truly align with your organization’s mission and goals.
Regular audits of your branding, website, social media, market share, media coverage, and other aspects of your online and offline marketing strategy are valuable, especially if you’re not aware of any obvious issues. The audit process may uncover activities your competition is doing that might work well for your business, too.
Areas to examine for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats include:
- Brand positioning: What makes your product or service unique, and what problem does it help your clients, or potential clients, solve?
- Messaging: Are you telling your story — that is, communicating the key features of your product or service — in a clear and compelling way?
- Web design and content: Is your website engaging, easy to navigate, and driving people to your/their desired action?
- Pricing: How does your price point compare with the competition? Are you a value provider or a premium provider?
- Product: Does your product or service address a real need? Are there gaps in your product portfolio?
When conducting your audit, ensure your scope is wide enough to include the full story of your strategy performance. Once you have your results, you can use those learnings and metrics as guideposts for creative solutions.
Creative Thinking for Creative Marketing
The results of your SWOT analysis or marketing audit will help guide you in employing creative marketing strategies. Holding brainstorming sessions without a thorough understanding of the problem is like trying to create lightning in a bottle, so be sure to dig deep before letting ideas fly.
“Creative thinking is really a set of tools and ideas to help you solve ongoing difficult problems in new ways,” says Anne Manning, a founding partner of Drumcircle.
Manning, a marketing strategy and communications expert, is co-instructor of Marketing Re-Imagined: Creative Thinking for Breakthrough Marketing. She teaches the Professional & Executive Development course with Tony Gallo, a partner at HawkPartners LLC with expertise in marketing strategy, planning, and brand development and positioning.
One of their favorite creative thinking tools involves understanding the difference between convergent thinking, in which you analyze situations and make decisions, and divergent thinking, which happens when we explore ideas that stretch our imaginations and comfort zones.
Divergent Versus Convergent Thinking
The secret to creative thinking is separating those two thought processes, but we typically do this very poorly, according to Manning. One, we are trained to think analytically, and two, new ideas are inherently pretty scary.
Divergent thinking can be used to inspire creative marketing, for example to identify potential new target audiences, refresh your positioning in unexpected ways, or discover unique social media opportunities.
Here’s how it might work: During a brainstorming session, your team agrees to follow the real rules of brainstorming, meaning you stop judging your own ideas or the ideas of others and go for quantity, uniqueness, and breadth of ideas. You invite your colleagues to suggest a number of new ideas for tackling your marketing challenge. You’ll want to record them on a flip chart, board, laptop, whatever. Then leave time at the end to group your ideas and choose the ones you’d like to pursue in the future.
Creative thinking can also be used to review your team’s overall marketing strategy. Gallo suggests starting with a “blank piece of paper” each year and soliciting fresh ideas from your team, without judgment. Then you can look at what worked and didn’t work the previous year.
Of course, actually implementing these concepts is the hard part. On the other hand, it’s easy to get complacent in any workplace, and applying a new approach like creative thinking to your marketing strategy can be stimulating and yield results.