Wholesome Marketing Ideas, Bite Size

Wholesome marketing ideas, bite size

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Where do you find your most useful ideas?


Where do you get your best ideas? Are they all from within your industry? 

Many of the managers I know and speak with are constantly curious -- they seek out ideas, incessantly ask questions, read the business press, attend conferences, network, seek out consultants, or even sign up for training and management development courses. Their goal is to find new ideas, the best ideas, and take them back to their jobs, their companies, their markets, and their customers. Most managers I speak with are clearly not averse to learning -- they eagerly seek it out. 

But once in a while that desire to learn is coupled with an odd aversion to learning from other industries. In fact, some managers in B2B industries go into anaphylactic shock* if you suggest they can learn from the consumer goods business. These situations are sometimes awkward, sometimes comical, but always instructive.

I've come across that allergic reaction twice this year. I had two separate conversations about branding with executives, one from the energy sector, and another from the fascinating world of industrial tubing sub-assemblies. As though they had been talking to each other, both managers said “but the example you’re describing happened in the consumer goods industry, we’re in the business to business market, so it does not apply to us.” They couldn't have been talking to each other -- these conversations were eight months and continents apart.

“It does not apply to us.” No matter how prepared you are, that line always catches you by surprise. "Sure it does," you want to say, and follow it up with a detailed demonstration of how. But you know you need to do a lot more work. You take a step back to re-establish common ground with indisputably relevant materials whose applicability does not require an analogy, or any strenuous stretching of the imagination.

Yet, all the while, you want to come back to that perfect example from outside the industry because you can't help but think: "Wait a minute! Outside your industry is exactly where you should be looking for ideas!" For two reasons.

First, if you constrain yourself to learning from examples or ideas within your industry, you will, at best, match your competitors. You’re unlikely to find anything radically new, and if you do, your competitors are already doing it. Very simply, you're unlikely to find sources of competitive advantage.

Second, where you look for ideas should depend on where best practice in that field occurs, not where they do things most like you already do them. For example, if you’re a petroleum extractor, and you want to learn how to build a brand, you want to start with best practices: start by understanding the “why” and the practices of consumer goods giants that have a track record of building and managing the most successful and enduring  brands; start by looking at P&G, Coca-Cola, Nestle and so on. 

Once you get the principles from those industries, you take the learning back to the context of your own industry, observe what your competitors are doing, and differentiate on the basis of best practice you’ve picked up in the consumer goods industry.

Limiting yourself to your own industry is like the proverbial drunk looking for his keys under the lamp-post. Not because that's where he lost them, but because there's more light there.

Part of the problem resides in the difficulty of drawing analogies from specific cases. To carry lessons from the cola business and apply them to the petroleum extraction industry requires more than just a stretch of the imagination: it requires you to understand what happened in the cola industry at a conceptual level, then translate those concepts to your own industry. 

For example, if vending machines have been successful for the cola industry, what can the tubing supply company learn from it? Drawing lessons may require a more conceptual understanding, one that can take you from vending machines to vendor-managed inventory.

Conceptual analogies are a valuable way of transporting learning from one setting to another. 

Where do you turn to for new ideas? Do you look far afield?

Is it possible that an ability to draw conceptual analogies may itself be a competitive advantage?



 
*Anaphylactic shock is an allergic reaction to an antigen that causes circulatory collapse and suffocation due to bronchial and tracheal swelling. – Wikipedia.

1 comment:

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